‘Zimbabwe’s new opposition leader Robert Mugabe’: is this really a possibility?

Harare – Here’s a scenario suggested recently by Zimbabwe’s popular commentator Prophet Cynic: “You wake up from a long coma only to find Mugabe now an opposition leader… and Zanu-PF is now a puppet of the West.”

Persuaded to resign in a military takeover last November, the 94-year-old former president was expected to live out his remaining days in lavish obscurity in return for not meddling in the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

But Mugabe has been meeting disgruntled politicians. There was that meeting with newly-formed National Patriotic Front (NPF) leader Ambrose Mutinhiri.

More recently there are claims Mugabe tried to meet with the MDC’s disgruntled Thokozani Khupe, perhaps with a view to setting up a wider opposition grouping.

Could Mugabe, at 94, really be heading back into politics – but this time as an opposition leader?

Could lose his farms

Zanu-PF under Mnangagwa has accused the veteran president of trying to destabilise the party, and warned he could face the loss of his farms and even his pension benefits.

Members of the party’s youth wing denounced Mugabe during a meeting last week. At the weekend, war veterans went as far as to say their former patron wasn’t a war veteran after all – a criticism that the ruling party used to level against the late opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

“[Mugabe] should just keep quiet and rest peacefully,” Victor Matemadanda of the war veterans’ association told a meeting in central Gokwe, according to the private Newsday.

Mnangagwa’s biggest test

Lawyer and former Tsvangirai advisor Alex Magaisa said that Mugabe joining the opposition will be the “real test” for the new president.

“ED (Mnangagwa) has tried to cultivate an image of a reasonable and tolerant leader. But this could all be forgotten against the old man,” tweeted Magaisa.

Grace ‘is behind everything’

State media commentators are partial to this theory: popular Sunday Mail columnist Bishop Lazarus said things will end “very very bad” for Grace.

Some in Mnangagwa’s Zanu-PF are convinced that Grace is bitter and resentful. There’s a theory that Mugabe is being used as a front. Those who support this theory point to the recent pictures of Mugabe at his birthday party and with NPF leader Mutinhiri. Mugabe looks shrunken and ill-at-ease, hardly ready to jump back into the exhausting political arena.

‘Puppet of the West’

Mugabe used to say that the opposition MDC was a puppet of the West. But now opposition leader Tendai Biti is alleging that Zanu-PF, under Mnangagwa, is just that. “We will resist these post-colonial imperial manipulations by the former colonial power,” said Biti in response to claims that Britain has cosied up to Mnangagwa.

Could Mugabe echo these words if he bounces back into opposition politics?

In Zimbabwe, it seems, anything is possible.