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Robert Mugabe has been offered immunity from prosecution as part of a deal that led to his resignation as Zimbabwe’s president this week, paving the way for him to remain in the country that he ruled for nearly four decades.
George Charamba, Mr Mugabe’s spokesman, said that army generals who led a military takeover last week wanted to avoid a “dishonourable exit” for the 93-year-old. Mr Charamba added that there was no question of the former president being forced out of the country or surrendering his assets.
A security official familiar with details of the talks between the military and Mr Mugabe also said that there had been repeated assurances by the army that he and his family, including his wife Grace, would be allowed to remain in Zimbabwe.
Mr Charamba, who attended the negotiations between the generals and the former president, said that once the “madding crowd had calmed down”, they would forget their criticisms of Mr Mugabe who, like the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, would remain a core element of the ruling Zanu-PF’s ideology and legacy.
“There will not be a repudiation of Robert Mugabe. Forget it, forget it,” he told the Financial Times. Seeking to dishonour Mr Mugabe, he said, would be “a casus belli, the cause for another war”.
Mr Mugabe, an autocrat who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980 and was criticised for overseeing mass corruption and widespread human rights abuses, has been replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa, his former vice-president.
Mr Mnangagwa, who has strong ties to the military, will be sworn in as president on Friday.
The immunity deal is likely to anger Zimbabweans who celebrated Mr Mugabe’s resignation and hoped for an end to the alleged looting of the state by the former president, his family and his allies.
“I want them to take all the properties of Mugabe,” Lost Tamboya said over the din of rude songs about Mrs Mugabe, whose spending on luxuries abroad sparked fury among Zimbabweans. “Especially the Mazowe farms and the Alpha Omega dairy. He has looted us.”
Seized farmlands and the dairy, both situated in Mazowe, a valley north of Harare, are examples of assets that Mr Mugabe and his relatives have been accused of stealing under his rule. The Zimbabwean opposition and Human Rights Watch have alleged that the Mugabes ordered police to forcibly evict hundreds of residents from the Mazowe farms so they could take them for themselves.
A villager weeps in front of burning and demolished makeshift shelters at Manzou Farm in Mazowe, in 2015. Critics alleged that farmers were forced off the land to enable Grace Mugabe to expand a neighbouring property © Reuters
Mr Mugabe’s successors, including Mr Mnangagwa, have also faced allegations of corruption. The agreement with Mr Mugabe is likely to reflect a desire to avoid scrutiny of their own dealings in land, state contracts and mineral wealth in the twilight of his presidency, activists said.
“This effectively has been a palace coup, and the people who are taking over were Mugabe’s own allies for many years,” said Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director of Human Rights Watch. “The expectation of transition and accountability is unlikely to be fulfilled.”
Mr Mnangagwa has denied any involvement in corruption. Mr Mugabe this year denied that there was any corruption in his administration.
As Zimbabweans celebrated Mr Mugabe’s ouster this week, many said that they did not care what happened to him once he had stepped down. Some suggested that he could live out the rest of his days in his rural birthplace of Kutama, an hour’s drive from Harare.
So far, there has been little interest in the wealth that military officers and Mr Mnangagwa have allegedly made in the same corrupt system.
In Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields, undisclosed investments in mining companies mean that army commanders “have secured themselves a potentially lucrative source of off-budget financing”, Global Witness, an NGO, wrote in a recent report. In 2002, UN investigators named Mr Mnangagwa as an important participant in alleged looting of mineral resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo, under cover of a Zimbabwean military intervention in the country.
So pervasive is the alleged looting that it may have been a factor in the military takeover that precipitated Mr Mugabe’s ousting, activists said, citing a battle in Zanu-PF that pitted a faction loyal to Mrs Mugabe against Mr Mnangagwa and his supporters.
Mrs Mugabe made “personal threats and was berating the military at every turn, but it may also be corruption, in terms of senior generals’ access to public resources — minerals, tenders, and so on” that the army was trying to defend from her influence, says Martin Rupiya, associate professor at the University of South Africa and a former Zimbabwean army officer.
The Mugabes’ ostentatious spending increased competition for resources, which were already becoming scarce as the economy buckled, Mr Rupiya says.