Mugabe (94) spoke slowly but clearly to South Africa’s SABC broadcaster from an office in Harare, dressed in a grey suit, sitting in front of a portrait of himself and his wife Grace.
“I say it was a coup d’etat — some people have refused to call it a coup d’etat,” said Mugabe referring to the brief army takeover which led to Emmerson Mnangagwa assuming power after Mugabe’s resignation.
“We must undo this disgrace which we have imposed on ourselves, we don’t deserve it… Zimbabwe doesn’t deserve it.”
Mugabe said that he did not hate his successor President Mnangagwa (75), but insisted he would not work with him and suggested that his presidency was “illegal” and “unconstitutional”.
“People must be chosen in government in a proper way. I’m willing to discuss, willing to assist in that process — but I must be invited,” he said.
Gideon Chitanga, an analyst at the Johannesburg-based Political Economy Southern Africa think-tank, said that Mugabe’s intervention was significant “coming at a time of elections”.
‘The man who turned against me’
Presidential polls are due by the end of August in which Mnangagwa will face his first major electoral test.
“In the back of his mind (Mugabe) still sees himself as part of the problem and part of the solution,” said Chitanga.
Mugabe’s media appearance was apparently organised by the new National Patriotic Front (NPF) party which hopes to unseat Mnangagwa’s government in polls expected by August.
Mugabe sent shockwaves through the ZANU-PF ruling party he dominated for decades when he recently posed with the NPF’s leader, retired general Ambrose Mutinhiri.
In response to the widely-shared image, ZANU-PF Youth League supporters chanted “down with Mugabe” at a rally, a rare outburst from the normally disciplined members of the party that Mugabe led for nearly four decades.
Mugabe was forced to quit the political scene he had dominated since independence from Britain in 1980 when the military stepped in and ZANU-PF lawmakers launched impeachment proceedings against their once beloved leader.
Since his dramatic reversal of fortune, he has largely stayed out of public life — until Thursday.
The military moved against Mugabe after he sacked his then-deputy and heir apparent Mnangagwa apparently fearing the nonagenarian was grooming Grace to succeed him as president.
The former first lady had cultivated her own factional support base within ZANU-PF known as “G-40” that was seen as hostile to the security establishment — Mnangagwa in particular.
“I never thought… he would be the man who turned against me,” said Mugabe.
“It was truly a military takeover, there was no movement visible unless that movement was checked and allowed by the army.”