In his debut book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell describes a tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”.
Robert Mugabe’s decision a fortnight ago to fire Emerson “The Crocodile” Mnangagwa as vice-president – a relatively unremarkable event in the cut and thrust of Zimbabwean politics – turned out to be such a tipping point.
With the death-grip which the ageing dictator has had on Zimbabwe for the past 37 years, he has routinely dismissed formerly trusted allies who in his fevered estimation have become a threat, with no consequences, but this time, it was different.
Underlying his decision to dismiss “The Crocodile”, the man who has supported him through thick and thin for decades, was the undue influence exercised by Mr Mugabe’s wife, Grace, who fancied herself as a worthy successor to her husband’s 37-year presidential reign.
The war within Zanu-PF over Mr Mugabe’s eventual successor has raged for years, with the incumbent neutralising challengers to his reign as and when they arose, but once Grace Mugabe set her sights on the presidential throne, the game changed completely.
She managed to persuade her husband to literally declare war on the very faction in Zanu-PF that had worked so assiduously to keep him in power for 37 years – the war veterans – and it was the dismissal of struggle and war veteran Mr Mnangagwa that finally tipped the scales.
Intent on saving Zanu-PF, the Zimbabwe military, headed by another struggle and war veteran, General Constantino Chiwenga, stepped in and staged a bloodless coup, neatly sidestepping the Southern African Development Community (SADC), by insisting that Mr Mugabe remained president and had not been deposed.
The decision by the military to step in was motivated not by altruism, but by self-preservation.
Grace Mugabe was hollowing out Zanu-PF before the very eyes of Zanu-PF, and setting herself up to be parachuted in to take over from her husband.
In the resulting power vacuum, the opposition MDC would have seen an opportunity to assert itself, and perhaps wrest power from Zanu-PF, and that was not to be tolerated.
As we all know, a week(end) is a long time in politics, and literally in that timespan, the unthinkable came to pass in Zimbabwe: by Monday morning, His Excellency Robert Gabriel Mugabe, was president of Zimbabwe in name only.
Despite a rambling address to the nation on Sunday night, in which he insisted that he was still firmly in control and planned to remain so, Zanu-PF’s deadline for his resignation – 12 noon – loomed, after which the chief whip would institute impeachment proceedings in Zimbabwe’s legislature.
Zanu-PF has finally grown a pair and done what it ought to have done years ago – recalled the man who has systematically destroyed the party and the country in pursuit of self-interest.
For the generals and Zanu-PF, there is no going back. If this gambit fails and Mr Mugabe regains the levers of power, the vengeful bloodletting that will follow will make the the infamous Gukurahundi – the massacre of Ndebele civilians by the Zimbabwean National Army’s notorious North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade in 1983 and 1984 – look like a teddy bear’s picnic by comparison, driven as it will be by Grace Mugabe, she of the electrical extension cord and the Sandton hotel room.
Of course, the parallels between what has unfolded in Zimbabwe and what might potentially unfold in South Africa are inescapable.
The 64 million dollar question is: what will be the tipping point that will galvanise the ANC into doing what it knows full well it ought to have done years ago – ejecting Jacob Zuma from the presidency of the party and the country?
That he has survived eight motions of no confidence, any one of which would have resulted in his politcal demise, is testament to the ANC’s indefatigable support, irrespective of the damage which he has done to the party, and the country.
In the same manner that Zanu-PF has blindly supported Mr Mugabe, the ANC has also blindly supported Mr Zuma, but as Zanu-PF contemplates the final removal of Mr Mugabe from office, it must embark upon the previously unthinkable – a legislative accord with the oppostion MDC, without whose support it cannot get the two-thirds majority it needs in both houses in a joint sitting to impeach Mr Mugabe. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
That Mr Zuma sent a delegation to Zimbabwe on a fact finding mission must not be misconstrued. Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and State Security Minister Bongani Bongo – our head spook – are ostensibly there to figure out what’s really going on, and to make it clear that an unconstitutional regime change will not be countenanced.
But what they really need to figure out is how the man who had an iron grip on Zimbabwe and seemed to be in an unassailable position, was removed from power in two short weeks.
If it can happen in Zimbabwe, it can also happen here. And Mr Zuma knows this.
That our generals are highly unlikely to play any overt part in the removal of Mr Zuma from office, the ANC most certainly can, and the party apparatchiks must be looking north with a great deal of interest.
If Zanu-PF can work with the opposition MDC to remove Mr Mugabe from office constitutionally without losing control, so too can the ANC, without the co-operation of the opposition.
What must Mr Zuma do to finally convince the ANC that keeping him in power will do more damage to the party – because it is most assuredly about the party rather than the country – than removing him from office?