The coup was engineered by his deputy Constantino Chiwenga, then the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, who wanted Mnangagwa to serve only one term, with him taking over in 2023.
Following the coup, Chiwenga was in charge of the levers of power, dictating cabinet and Zanu PF appointments in the process.
A deadly struggle for the control of Zanu PF and government ensued, but Mnangagwa emerged victorious after a brutal political battle characterised by plotting, internal strife, purges, poisoning and a grenade attack amid dead bodies. It was certainly not an easy road to victory, but as shown in the timeline below, the incremental gains scored by Mnangagwa decimated Chiwenga and his military camp over the years, leaving “the Crocodile” firmly in charge.
Below, find a timeline to how Mnangagwa brought Chiwenga to his knees:
– 6 November 2017 — President Robert Mugabe dismisses his deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, from government.
–8 November 2017 — Zanu PF expels Mnangagwa from the partyMnangagwa goes into self-imposed exile in South Africa.
–13 November 2017 — Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) Commander Constantino Chiwenga issues a hard-hitting statement saying Zanu PF has been infiltrated by people seeking to reverse the gains of the liberation struggle. He calls for drastic immediate action.
“It is pertinent to restate that the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) remain the major stockholder in respect to the gains of the liberation struggle and when these are threatened, we are obliged to take corrective measures,” Chiwenga says.
–14 November 2017 — Armoured vehicles are seen on the outskirts of Harare.
–15 November 2017 — The ZDF seizes control of Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) building in Pocket Hills, Highlands, Harare. Major-General Sibusiso Moyo appears on ZBC in the wee hours of the morning to announce that the military had moved in to deal with criminals around President Mugabe. He emphasises that the president and his family were safe while insisting that the ZDF was not embarking on a coup.
–16 November 2017 — President Mugabe and General Chiwenga have a meeting in the presence of South African envoys at State House.
–18 November 2017 — Thousands of people march on Harare’s streets demanding that Mugabe relinquish power. The protests were organised by the military behind the scenes. Mugabe hangs on stubbornly despite pressure.
–19 November 2017 — The Zanu PF central committee holds a meeting in Harare. The party resolves to remove party president Mugabe as well as reinstate Mnangagwa, who was then elected as interim party president.
The central committee gives Mugabe until midday 20 November 2017 to resign as President of the country.
Mugabe’s G40 allies, including his wife Grace, Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko and ministers Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere, Patrick Zhuwao, Ignatius Chombo, Samuel Undenge and Walter Mzembi are expelled from the party.
At a time he was expected to announce his resignation, Mugabe in a live broadcast acknowledges difficulties facing the country, but says he will preside over the Zanu PF electoral conference in December.
–21 November 2017 — Legislators accept a motion calling for debate regarding Mugabe’s impeachment. Zanu PF and opposition legislators resolved to jointly support the motion.Mugabe announces his resignation, in a letter read out in Parliament.
–22 November 2017— Mnangagwa arrives back in Zimbabwe from South Africa.
–24 November 2017 — The High Court rules that the ZDF’s actions were legal: “It is ordered by consent that the actions of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) in intervening to stop takeover of first respondent’s [Robert Mugabe’s] constitutional functions by those around him are constitutionally permissible and lawful”. The ruling was based on an application made by the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association. Mnangagwa is inaugurated as President of Zimbabwe.
– 27 November 2017 — Mnangagwa dissolved the Mugabe-era cabinet, and appoints several interim ministers.
–1 December 2017 — Mnangagwa announces his first Cabinet — which included several senior military appointments, among them Major-General Sibusiso Moyo who was appointed Foreign minister and AirForce of Zimbabwe Commander Perrance Shiri as Agriculture minister.
–15 December 2017 — Mnangagwa sends Zimbabwe Republic Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, a Mugabe loyalist, on leave ahead of retirement.
–16 December 2017 — Chiwenga pressurises Mnangagwa to appoint retired Lieutenant-General Engelbert Rugeje as the Zanu PF national commissar ahead of his preferred person Victor Matemadanda.
–23 December 2017 — Chiwenga retires as ZDF commander.
–27 December 2017 — Mnangagwa reluctantly appoints Chiwenga as his deputy. Mnangagwa preferred Oppah Muchinguri.
– 19 January 2018 — Mnangagwa fires 30 senior police officers from the rank of Senior Assistant Commissioner and above in a major purge of the police. Among those fired were Deputy Commissioner Generals Innocent Matibiri, Levie Sibanda and Josephine Shambare, as well as Commissioners.
– 5 February 2018 — Mnangagwa fires 17 top Central Intelligence Organisation officers deemed loyal to Mugabe.
–31 May 2018 — Mnangagwa says he is aware of a plot to impeach him after the 30 July 2018 elections as tension rises between him and Chiwenga.
“Some of those who have won these primary elections have two minds. They have gone to join the Zanu-PF wagon using various tricks, money included, to be elected with a possible view that, once in Parliament, they will band together and move a motion of impeachment,” Mnangagwa says.
–23 June 2018 — A grenade explodes at White City Stadium in Bulawayo just after Mnangagwa finished giving a speech at a campaign rally in what many insiders say was an assassination attempt on the President. The bombing resulted in scores of people being injured, including Vice-President Kembo Mohadi and other high-ranking government officials. Two security agents died from injuries sustained in the blast.
–30 July 2018 — Zimbabwe holds the first general elections after the coup to elect the President and members of both houses of Parliament.
–1 August 2018 — Six civilians are shot dead in broad daylight on the streets of Harare by security forces following protests over a delay by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) in announcing poll results. Mnangagwa’s supporters initially sought to lay the blame squarely on Chiwenga and his military faction.
–3 August 2018 — Zec announces that Mnangagwa has won Zimbabwe’s presidential election with 50.8% of votes, compared to 44.3% for opposition leader Nelson Chamisa.
–7 September 2018 — Mnangagwa announces new cabinet dropping several Mugabe-era ministers, who were redeployed to party headquarters. Among the new ministers is Mthuli Ncube and Olympic swimming legend Kirsty Coventry.
– September 2018 — Mnangagwa shocks the Chiwenga camp in an interview during the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York when he announces that he would seek re-election in 2023
–October 2018 — Chiwenga whose skin has been lightening, receives treatment in South Africa, signaling the start of an arduous journey.
–December 2018 — Zanu PF holds its annual conference in Esigodini, where a campaign for Mnangagwa to become the party’s candidate in the 2023 polls is initiated, shocking Chiwenga and his supporters in the process.
January 2019 — Mnangagwa’s backers, among them legislator Justice Wadyajena, claim there is a plot to remove Mnangagwa through a vote of no confidence.
–February 2019 — An ill Chiwenga is flown to South Africa for treatment. Chiwenga’s health continues deteriorating and he is flown to India for treatment, giving Mnangagwa an opportunity to consolidate.
–18 February 2019 — Mnangagwa removes key commanders — who pivoted the coup, including the commander of the Presidential Guard battalion retired Lieutenant-General Anselem Sanyatwe — while Chiwenga was battling ill-health in India.
He also retired several commanders ahead of diplomatic assignments, including Zimbabwe National Army chief-of-staff retired Lieutenant-General Douglas Nyikayaramba, who was chief-of-staff responsible for service personnel and logistics, retired Lieutenant-General Martin Chedondo and retired Air Marshal Sheba Shumbayawonda.
–10 June 2019 — The Zanu PF politburo appoints Mnangagwa’s ally Victor Matemadanda as Zanu PF political commissar, following the removal of Rugeje, as part of Mnangagwa’s consolidation plan.
–July 2019 — A very ill Chiwenga is airlifted from South Africa to China.
–August 2019 — Chiwenga undergoes life-saving yet risky surgery in China to clear his oesophagus amid poisoning fears.
–May 2019 — Mnangagwa posts Chiwenga’s key military backers outside the country. Sanyatwe is appointed Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Tanzania, Nyikayaramba is posted to Maputo, Mozambique, while Chedondo is sent to China.
–23 November 2019 — Chiwenga returns home after four months’ hospitalisation in China, but finds himself weaker after the removal of his military allies.
–July 2020 — Shiri dies of Covid-19, but Chiwenga’s backers believe his death was due to foul play. Shiri’s death weakened Chiwenga. As Agriculture minister Shiri was among those going around the country spearheading the Command Agriculture programme while doing groundwork for Chiwenga.
– 5-6 December 2020 — Zanu PF holds district coordinating committee elections amid serious allegations of rigging. The elections show that the party is divided as candidates invoke Mnangagwa and Chiwenga’s names in campaigns.
– January 2021 — Moyo dies, dealing a hammer blow to Chiwenga who lost a vital cog in his camp. Chiwenga’s camp believe his death is due to foul play.
–May 2021 — Mnangagwa signs into law a controversial Bill amending the constitution, strengthening his grip on power, while weakening Chiwenga in a big way.
The Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Act gave Mnangagwa new powers to extend the terms of judges who reach retirement age, and appoint senior judges without subjecting them to public interviews.
Crucially also, the Act scrapped a running mate clause which Mnangagwa’s feared would leave him vulnerable to an empowered vice-president. It was known as the Chiwenga clause in the corridors of power. Removing the running mate clause allowed Mnangagwa to have a pliant deputy — serving at his pleasure — while giving him greater control over cabinet, the Prosecutor-General and Public Protector.
–28 December 2021 — Zanu PF holds provincial elections which again showed that the party was divided. Mnangagwa however used his muscle to reverse the results in provinces like Manicaland where his backers had lost.
–8 September 2022 — Zanu PF holds central committee elections ahead of congress. The elections show that Mnangagwa is now on the ascendancy.
–26-29 October 2022 — Mnangagwa brings Chiwenga to his knees — literally and metaphorically — at the crucial Zanu PF congress, which confirmed the president was now fully in charge.
Mnangagwa was elected president unopposed, showing he had outwitted Chiwenga’s military faction after a brutal political battle following the 2017 military coup characterised by plotting, internal strife, purges, poisoning and a grenade attack amid dead bodies.
Chiwenga’s surrender was symbolised by his kneeling before Mnangagwa in public.
–2022-23 August 2023 — Mnangagwa sidelines the army in pre-election and election period as he unshackles himself from their influence.
While in previous elections, including during the Mugabe era, the army played a critical role in ensuring a Zanu PF victory through Heritage, Mnangagwa deploys the CIO-run Forever Associates Zimbabwe (Faz) to ensure he wins the election.
Faz, which was led by deputy CIO director-general Walter Tapfumaneyi, established a presence in every ward ahead of the elections, collecting vital voter information and intimidating voters, especially in rural areas.
Faz also played a critical role during the voter registration, voters’ roll inspection and voting day, helping Mnangagwa and Zanu PF to a controversial victory. Mnangagwa ensured the army was confined to the barracks and even shut the Cleveland Shooting Range in Harare ahead of the elections.
– 27 August 2023 — Zimbabwe Electoral Commission chairperson Priscilla Chigumba declares Mnangagwa the winner of Zimbabwe’s presidential elections with 2 357 711 votes, 52.6% of the vote, while his main challenger Nelson Chamisa garnered 1 967 343, representining 44% of the vote. The win enabled Mnangagwa to finally shake off the army. The military’s influence in the elections was minimal.
–4 September 2023 — Mnangagwa is sworn in as president despite a cloud of illegitimacy after controversial elections which the Southern African Development Community and election observer mission said violated the Zimbabwean constitution, Electoral Act and the Sadc Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.
The AU also slammed the polls. Three Heads of State attended Mnangagwa’s inauguration, but by being sworn-in, he had achieved his number one goal, retaining power — by hook or by crook — without help from the military.
– 11 September 2023 — Mnangagwa announces his cabinet, showing all and sundry that he is now fully in charge unlike in 2018 when Chiwenga had a major influence on appointments. Mnangagwa used a classic dictators’ handbook to appoint his sons into cabinet in a brazen act of patronage, nepotism and cronyism.
Mnangagwa appointed his son Kudakwashe Mnangagwa as deputy Finance minister and his brother’s son Tongai Mnangagwa as Tourism deputy minister without any track records. There are also many of his clan members and homeboys in government and key state institutions.