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No way back for Robert Mugabe

Robert Mugabe's unchallenged rule over Zimbabwe has come to an end.

The military insist he is still in charge but his writ doesn't run beyond the walls of State House in Harare which is now surrounded by armoured vehicles under the command of former comrades.

Just a few weeks short of his 30 year anniversary as the second president of Zimbabwe, the veteran of guerrilla war and detention in Rhodesian prison is now a prisoner of the very men who helped liberate their country.

They might have put up with the 93-year-old head of state had he not looked weaker by the day while his wife, Grace, manoeuvred herself into power and disenfranchised other veterans of the guerrilla camps in favour of her own cronies.

  • Robert Mugabe at the World Economic Forum in Durban

    Robert Mugabe

    In power since 1980, Mr Mugabe is the only leader Zimbabwe has known in 37 years of independence.

    Despite concerns over his health, Mr Mugabe, 93, says he intends to run again in elections next year.

    The world's oldest head of state sparked a political crisis on 6 November by sacking vice president and likely successor Emmerson Mnangagwa.

  • President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace attend a rally in ChinhoyiPresident Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace attend a rally in Chinhoyi

    Grace Mugabe

    Zimbabwe's first lady married Robert Mugabe, 41 years her senior, in 1996.

    The 52-year-old has since become a very powerful figure and repeatedly asserted her credentials to succeed the president.

    Mrs Mugabe has repeatedly clashed with Emmerson Mnangagwa, who she is expected to succeed as vice president of the ruling ZANU-PF party.

  • Emmerson Mnangagwa Emmerson Mnangagwa

    Emmerson Mnangagwa

    The 75-year-old former intelligence chief was sacked amid claims he plotted against the government and showed traits of "disloyalty, disrespect and deceitfulness".

    After his dismissal, Mr Mnangagwa fled to South Africa and called on ZANU-PF members to desert the President.

    Mr Mnangagwa, whose nickname is the Crocodile, told Mr Mugabe the party was "not personal property for you and your wife to do as you please".

  • Constantine ChiwengaConstantine Chiwenga

    General Constantino Chiwenga

    The commander of Zimbabwe's defence forces is seen as an ally of Mr Mnangagwa and has demanded an end to a purge in the ZANU-PF party.

    Hours before sending troops into Harare, General Chiwenga warned the military "will not hesitate to step in" to prevent "treacherous shenanigans".

    He has been accused of treason by Mr Mugabe.

  • Major General Moyo insisted President Mugabe was safe Major General Moyo insisted President Mugabe was safe

    Major General Sibusiso Moyo

    After troops seized control of the state broadcaster, Major General Sibusiso Moyo appeared on air to deny claims of a coup and assert the safety of Mr Mugabe and his family "is guaranteed".

    He added: "We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country, in order to bring them to justice."

  • Morgan Tsvangirai Morgan Tsvangirai

    Morgan Tsvangirai

    Zimbabwe's opposition leader came close to unseating Mr Mugabe in March 2002 and March 2008, but lost both elections amid claims of vote-rigging and intimidation.

    In 2009, the long-time critic of Mr Mugabe survived a car crash which killed his wife – a collision his party suggested was "not a genuine accident".

    Commenting on news of Mr Mnangagwa's dismissal, Mr Tsvangirai claimed the president is "determined to keep power by whatever means".

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Major General SB Moyo insisted when announcing that there had not been a coup that Robert Mugabe was very much still the Zimbabwean president.

But he is not.

:: Mugabe: The war hero who became a dictator

And he will not be able to recover from being so summarily and bloodlessly shoved aside.

Even his notorious Sixth Brigade of North Korean trained presidential guards were unable, or unwilling, to protect him as the armoured vehicles rolled on to the streets of Harare the night before his home was surrounded.

The armed forces said that they had intervened to end economic collapse and a purge of their fellow veterans from the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union from the civil service and elsewhere.

An armoured personnel carrier stations by an intersection as Zimbabwean soldiers regulate traffic in Harare
Image:An armoured personnel carrier at an intersection in Harare

Mr Mugabe will principally be remembered for instituting ever greater autocracy and for turning a breadbasket nation into a beggar through land reforms which drove white farmers off their land, replacing them with political supporters who mostly failed to work the land effectively.

But among African leaders he has a different reputation. One that Westerners tend to ignore.

He is seen as a liberation leader who served as prime minister and then president of a country that was hamstrung by economic "reforms" forced on it by western donors during the 1990s that simultaneously demanded democratisation.

Once an Anglophile and an avid scholar of Shakespeare, Mr Mugabe turned against Britain, the former colonial power, and saw himself in the vanguard of the developing world's attempts to see off "western neo-imperialist" attempts to force unviable and unwelcome change.

His supporters meanwhile ignored the mass killing of Ndebele in the south of the country while he consolidated power during the 1980s when an estimated 10,000 people perished.

Major General Moyo insisted President Mugabe was safe
Video:'We are only targeting criminals around Mugabe'

His defiance of western pressure meant that Zimbabwe was starved of donor support and his authoritarianism opened the doors to widespread corruption, often driven by the most senior elements in the armed forces.

Illicit diamond mining, fuel smuggling and direct theft from the government's coffers became widespread in a country that had, and still often boasts, the highest literacy rate in Africa.

Tendai Biti, the leading opposition intellectual, has called for the intervention of the African Union following the coup.

The union has been intolerant of coups elsewhere in Africa and sent troops to put them down. It has been silent on events in Harare so far.

Perhaps in recognition that a bloodless intervention may be the only way Zimbabwe can end Mr Mugabe's rule.

But there is no clear route to what is coming next.

Let's

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