Zimbabwe: Key players as the country enters new chapter

Zimbabwe has been thrown into uncertainly after 37 years of rule by Robert Mugabe, who reportedly has been confined to his home compound in Harare since Tuesday in the wake of the military takeover. Here's what you need to know about some of the key players as the situation unfolds in the country in southern Africa.

While there appears to be dramatic change afoot, many of the names have long been prominent

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace wave to supporters in Harare on Feb. 23, 2014. Any plans for Grace Mugabe to one day succeed her husband as president have seemingly been dashed. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

Zimbabwe has been thrown into uncertainly after 37 years of rule by Robert Mugabe, who reportedly has been confined to his home compound in Harare since Tuesday in the wake of the military takeover.

Here's what you need to know about some of the key players as the situation unfolds in the country in southern Africa.

​Robert Mugabe

Mugabe is not the longest running of the several African leaders who have maintained an iron grip on power — that would be Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea. But Mugabe is the most prominent, having been a figure of international attention dating over a half-century as he helped lead a movement against oppressive colonial rule in southern Rhodesia.

​Mugabe on the surface and in the first half of life drew comparisons to Nelson Mandela. Both were educated at Fort Hare University in South Africa and jailed for years — 11 in Mugabe's case — while opposing white minority rule in their countries. 

Robert Mugabe's push for independence

4 years ago
Duration 5:22
The African leader dismisses the concept of "multi-racialism" as an approach to running a post-colonial Rhodesia.

They were also celebrated throughout Africa for empowering, black-led movements, but comparisons ended after Zimbabwe won independence from Britain in 1980 as power corrupted the former teacher Mugabe.

Mugabe took office as the country's first prime minister and preached the need for a "broadly based" coalition to Western media at the time after being democratically elected. But he oversaw the brutal crushing of would-be opponents and rival ethnic groups, predominantly in Matabeleland. Government forces were accused of killing thousands of civilians.

While the country's economy was stable enough through those years of political turmoil, it has swooned since the late 1990s.

Around 2000, violent seizures of thousands of farms owned by white people began, causing agricultural production to plunge. A land reform program was supposed to take much of the country's most fertile land and redistribute it to poor blacks, but Mugabe instead gave prime farms to ZANU-PF leaders and loyalists.

Food shortages have followed, along with a number of alarming economic indicators: hyperinflation, an abandoned currency and rampant unemployment.

On Thursday, Zimbabwe's state-run newspaper published photos of Mugabe, now 92, meeting with army Gen. 
Constantino Chiwenga and officials from southern neighbour South Africa, leading to speculation as to the way forward.

Grace Mugabe

Now 52, she has been a controversial figure in her own right for extravagant spending in a country with significant poverty and unemployment, and for assault allegations from incidents the past decade in Hong Kong and South Africa. She escaped charges both times due to diplomatic immunity.

Born in South Africa, she met her husband while working in the Zimbabwean government as a secretary. They have three children. She also has a son from a previous relationship.

President Robert Mugabe and wife Grace leave the Kutama Catholic Church on Aug. 17, 1996 after exchanging their wedding vows. The couple were traditionally married shortly after the death of Mugabe's first wife Sally. (Howard Burditt/Reuters)

On the political front, she leads the so-called Generation-40 faction of the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front party.

Over the years, she has moved to amass allies and marginalize rivals for the eventuality of her elderly husband's death. It was expected she would be appointed to the vacant vice-president's post at a special congress meeting in the coming weeks after the recent sacking of Emmerson Mnangagwa as vice-president.

"So I have said to the president: 'You can also leave me in charge,"' she said at a rally just days before the military stepped in. "'Give me the job and I will do it very well because I am good. I can do a great job.'" 

It's not an unfamiliar development. In the paranoid style that has reflected Zimbabwean politics — Mnangagwa earlier this year claimed he was poisoned at a Zanu-PF party gathering — Grace Mugabe in late 2014 accused then VP Joice Mujuru of plotting to kill her "Gaddafi-style," referring to the  public death of the longtime Libyan dictator.

One month later, Mujuru was tossed from the party and position for disloyalty.

Grace Mugabe's current whereabouts have been a subject of speculation, given the properties the Mugabes own outside the country. 

Emmerson Mnangagwa

​Mnangagwa, one of two vice-presidents, was dismissed on Nov. 6, leading to the chain of events that has seen the military take control. The longtime ally had "exhibited traits of disloyalty," Robert Mugabe said at the time.

Mnangagwa fled the country, reportedly to South Africa, and vowed to fight "tooth and nail" to return. 

"This party is not personal property for you and your wife to do as you please," he said in a statement after his ouster.

Emmerson Mnangagwa is shown on Aug. 25, 2015 while serving as one of the country's two vice-presidents. Mnangagwa promised to fight 'tooth and nail' after his ouster and may be part of a coalition going forward with Morgan Tsvangirai. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

Known as the Crocodile, with his supporters called the Lacoste group, he has reportedly been welcomed into the fold of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Mnangagwa has long been tapped to be a potential successor as president and was reportedly the choice as leader of the plotters of an unsuccessful coup in 2007. He was selected as a vice-president in 2013, but the faction within the party led by Grace Mugabe pushed for months behind the scenes to oust him.

Were he to assume power as president, it would not represent a break from the past.

Like Mugabe, he was jailed for many years related to violent activities undertaken by the Zimbabwe African National Union during the 1960s fighting white rule in what was known as Rhodesia. A lawyer, he has held a number of positions within the government and ZANU-PF party since Mugabe seized power in 1980.

Thousands of citizens died in repressive violence and crackdowns under his watch as national security minister in the 1980s. But to many in the country, a role for a limited time for Mnangagwa — who is in his early 70s — would be more palatable than continued Mugabe rule, which has been characterized by economic woes that include massive unemployment and a worthless currency.

Gen. Constantino Chiwenga

​Chiwenga's news conference on Nov. 13 was a sign for astute watchers of the region that a change of some sort was potentially afoot in Zimbabwe.

A veteran of the struggle to free the country from British rule dating back to the early 1970s, the army commander publicly criticized what he saw as one-sided internal ZANU-PF

Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) Cmdr. Constantine Chiwenga said the military was prepared to 'step in,' a threat that was carried through in short order. (Aaron Ufumeli/EPA-EFE)

"The current purging, which is clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background, must stop forthwith," he said.

Chiwenga said the army was prepared to "step in," without being specific as to what that entailed.

That question was partially answered hours later when armoured personnel carriers were seen nearing the capital of Harare. Soon, military leaders appeared on the state television network and it was announced that Robert Mugabe was confined to his home.

​Morgan Tsvangirai

Tsvangirai, 65, was prime minister of Zimbabwe from 2009 to 2013, and is now president of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). 

He has returned to Zimbabwe this week from South Africa, where had been receiving treatment for cancer.

He called on longtime foe Mugabe to resign in a news conference on Thursday.

Zimbabwe's Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change is seen after receiving medical attention for being beaten in March 2007. (REUTERS)

Tsvangirai is a former trade unionist who formed the MDC in 1999, a party that quickly made gains in parliament.

Cancer has been just the latest of his trials. He has arrested several times over the years and suffered a beating from police in 2007 over what was deemed an illegal prayer meeting. Mugabe said he "deserved" the beating because he had violated laws.

He was charged with treason, and ultimately acquitted in 2004, after the notorious Montreal-based international lobbyist Dickens and Madson, working on behalf of Mugabe, passed along a videotape from a December 2001 meeting in which Tsvangirai takes part in a discussion of the "elimination" of Mugabe.

Tsvangirai led after the first round of presidential elections in 2008 over Mugabe, but then scores of his supporters were killed or injured, compelling him to bow out of the running before the next round.

A compromise was reached where he served as PM, but when the arrangement ended, Mugabe, not for the first time, blasted Tsvangirai as an "ignoramus."

Tsvangarai couched his comments on Thursday as being motivated by what's best for the future of the country.

"It was never a personal issue," he said. "I disagreed in the manner he [Mugabe] managed elections, I disagreed in the manner he conducted government business."

About the prospects of a transitional government Tsvangarai said "if we are approached to negotiate such a process, we will participate." 

With files from The Associated Press and Reuters