African leaders were embarrassed by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and already encouraging him to step down before the army began moves last week to oust him, according to a secret Zimbabwean intelligence cable seen by Reuters.
The cable, dated Oct 23 and written by someone within the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) to an unknown recipient, also says Mugabe spoke to South African President Jacob Zuma about his rivalry with Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice president whose sacking by Mugabe prompted the army action.
The 93-year-old president stepped down on Tuesday, the speaker of parliament said, in the middle of impeachment proceedings from his own ZANU-PF party and after a week of pressure from the military and crowds which thronged the capital at the weekend.
Two party officials said Mnangagwa would take his place.
The cable, one of a series seen by Reuters this year which give a detailed, insider’s view of Zimbabwean politics, described intelligence officials warning Mugabe he would face “fierce resistance from the military” if Mnangagwa was removed.
First seen by Reuters before the army intervened, it said the 16-country Southern African Development Community (SADC) led by Zuma was pressuring Mugabe to resign and Zuma had suggested offering him a senior African Union role to ease him out.
Zuma’s spokesman, Bongani Ngqulunga, dismissed the account as “completely untrue and scandalous”. “President Jacob Zuma did not communicate with President Mugabe about former Vice-President Mnangagwa at all about the issues you mention.”
Regional support allowed Mugabe to overcome an election setback in 2008 and could have held the key to his future as leader this time round.
SADC leaders met on Tuesday to discuss the crisis in Zimbabwe; Zuma and his Angolan counterpart, Joao Lourenco, were set to travel to Harare on Wednesday.
“All SADC leaders and African leaders want Mugabe to retire. Mugabe is seen as an embarrassment to the whole African continent,” the document said.
A Zambian government source said Zuma, at the SADC meeting in Luanda, floated the idea of an AU position for Mugabe although the consensus was that he was too old.