© 2023 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

What's Next For Zimbabwe


Zimbabweans were on the streets of Harare yesterday celebrating the resignation of 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe.


MARTIN: Mugabe's fall from power all started last week, when the military took him into custody. Lawmakers from his own party expelled him over the weekend. And Mugabe stepped down yesterday in the midst of impeachment proceedings. The tumult of the past few days, though, is unlikely to stop with Mugabe's resignation. The country faces the prospect of an extended military rule or the rise of an even more violent leader than Mugabe. Peter Godwin is a journalist and an author who grew up in Zimbabwe, and he joins us now from New York. Peter, thanks for being with us again.


MARTIN: Take us back to yesterday. This has been a slow burn in a lot of ways getting to this point when Mugabe actually resigned. What was going through your head when the news actually came down?

GODWIN: Well, it's been a slow burn. It's been an even slower burn insofar as it's taken 37 years. That's how long he's been in power. And then, you know, a full week for this slow-motion military coup to play out. And I was, you know, I was on air at the time, you know, talking about Zimbabwe and trying to be sort of very kind of rational and analytical. And when he actually resigned - and I suddenly kind of - it kind of welled up inside me, and I broke down. And I realized that like a lot of Zimbabweans, we've waited so long for this and this.

And this man, Robert Mugabe, has cast this enormous shadow over so many of our lives for so long, that he's had this kind of dead hand that's been, you know, sitting on this country that prevented it from finding its full potential. Our initial reaction's just one of enormous relief, just huge relief that whatever else follows, at least he is gone.

MARTIN: Can you take us back to the beginning of Mugabe's reign? So it was 1980. Zimbabwe had gained independence. It was a hopeful moment, right? What changed?

GODWIN: It was a hugely, hugely hopeful moment. And lots of Zimbabweans of all races and colors and creeds, including me, went back to Zimbabwe at his urging. He said, come back. The war is over. There's, you know, there's reconciliation. We're going to put this all behind us, and we're going to launch this amazing country which will show the world that we can be post-racial and progressive. And Zimbabwe is an extraordinary country in terms of its potential. I mean, it was already one of the wealthiest countries in Africa, with the highest - way highest educational standards, literacy rates.

So I went back. And so many of us went back. And really, my first big, big story as a kind of cub foreign correspondent ended up being the Matabeleland massacres, when Mugabe sent his North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade down to the south of the country, and they killed more than 20,000 civilians. And that happened, you know, started in late '82, '83. And so for me, that was his original sin. I suddenly realized what he really was and how, for him, power was much more important than democracy.

MARTIN: So change is afoot finally after all these years. Mugabe is out. But what next? I mean, is it his ousted vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who's going to lead the country in this moment? And what would that look like?

GODWIN: Yes. I mean, it's pretty clear that Emmerson Mnangagwa is going to be the new leader. And so the fact is that what we've seen here is a kind of little relay race with only one team, which is his ruling party, ZANU-PF, and that the battle has been passed or rather kind of grabbed from one ZANU-PF contender to another. Instead of Mugabe's wife, Grace, who wanted to succeed him, it's going to be Mnangagwa. But that's when the really difficult calculation begins because if they think they can just carry on and give more of the same, I think they're going to be mistaken.

I think Zimbabweans these last few days - you've seen these jubilant scenes in Harare and else - other cities in the country. Zimbabweans are expecting something different now. They are expecting some sort of dawning of freedom. And I think if the ruling party, ZANU-PF, if Emmerson Mnangagwa just tries to sort of clamp down again, they may find it much more difficult, I mean, to repress the people.

MARTIN: Are you hopeful? Are you personally hopeful?

GODWIN: (Laughter) I wish you wouldn't put me on the spot like that. I mean, I'm not. Listen. I have to say, I wanted, you know, I feel like you should give us this moment. Don't begrudge us a couple of days of sort of, you know, of jubilation. But the truth is that Emmerson Mnangagwa has been Robert Mugabe's main enforcer ever since he got into power 37 years ago. And, you know, in many respects, he's cut from the same cloth. So not really.

MARTIN: Peter Godwin, journalist and author who grew up in Zimbabwe. Thanks so much for sharing your reflections.

GODWIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.