HARARE – The ferocious fightback in last Wednesday’s explosive Zanu PF politburo meeting by under-fire Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his backers shows that the former liberation movement’s deadly succession wars are far from over, both analysts and party insiders say.
Speaking to the Daily News On Sunday yesterday, the analysts also warned that life for ordinary Zimbabweans was set to get even tougher, with the attention of Zanu PF bigwigs focused solely on their political survival in the twilight of President Robert Mugabe’s tenure in power.
Senior party officials who were canvassed for their opinion said despite taking huge blows from his enemies over the past few months, including seeing his influence being severely weakened in last week’s Cabinet reshuffle, it was “way premature” to write off Mnangagwa’s chances of succeeding Mugabe.
This comes after Mnangagwa and his allies came out guns blazing against Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo at last Wednesday’s tense politburo meeting in Harare — taking many people by surprise, including, by most accounts, powerful First Lady Grace Mugabe and other alleged G40 kingpins.
The analysts who spoke to the Daily News On Sunday said reports that Mnangagwa had reminded Mugabe in the meeting that it was only he and securocrats who had saved the nonagenarian from losing power — after the 93-year-old’s stunning defeat by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the hotly-disputed 2008 polls — could also prove significant going forward.
“Mnangagwa’s fierce fightback can have a mobilising effect, as his previous silence and rolling with the punches was beginning to make some doubt the fight in him.
“Until now, the perception was that he was on the receiving and losing end, and some fence-sitters were beginning to desert him, thinking that his was a sinking ship.
“This fightback should thus work to steady his ship a bit. But whether his political ship doesn’t sink or not will depend on what he does next,” political analyst McDonald Lewanika said.
“Of course, he has to his advantage history and knowledge of Mugabe’s pressure points. If one notices, when Mnangagwa has taken to fighting himself, his punches almost always hit the mark.
“If he reverts back to his previous posture (of sitting back), it will not inspire his followers and some of them will begin to make their political calculations based on projections of his loss — which will be to his detriment.
“He has now called out the G40, and with Jonathan Moyo never being known to run away from a political fight, it is game on again and one waits eagerly to see how the return fixture will play out,” Lewanika added.
Another political analyst Maxwell Saungweme, told the Daily News On Sunday that it also now appeared as if Mugabe still trusts Mnangagwa.
“He trusts him as they come a long way. Putting former Central Intelligence Organisation boss (Happyton) Bonyongwe at the Justice ministry strengthens rather than weakens Mnangagwa — contrary to some public perceptions.
“It effectively enables him (Mnangagwa) to concentrate on power grab without the extra responsibility of running a ministry.
“At the same time, it also puts the G40 in a fix as they can now be sued without fear of conflict of interest. Mugabe could also come down on Moyo and the G4O soon, as he can’t afford to ignore Mnangagwa’s politburo presentation,” Saungweme said.
He added that the indications were also that Mnangagwa was still popular in Zanu PF and that he could win the top prize at the party’s mooted elective congress.
“This is why the G40 wanted Mugabe to fire him and avoid congress and Mugabe refused. To me it’s game on,” Saungweme said.
United Kingdom-based academic Alex Magaisa said the fact that Mugabe did not fire Mnangagwa when he whittled his powers in the Cabinet reshuffle would work to embolden the VP’s supporters.
“Keeping Mnangagwa in government is Mugabe’s strategy of containment. Mnangagwa will continue serving Mugabe as long as he is inside.
“Mugabe timed his reshuffle in such a way as to pre-empt Mnangagwa’s fightback which was due to come in the politburo meeting. By the time Mnangagwa struck, the deed had already been done,” he said.
Earlier this year, when there was frenzied speculation within Zanu PF that Mnangagwa’s mooted presidential aspirations were dead in the water, after Mugabe’s birthday interview with State broadcaster, the ZBC, in which he said there was no one fit to succeed him, former ruling party spokesperson and Cabinet minister Rugare Gumbo also said the Midlands godfather could not be written off.
Gumbo — who worked with both Mugabe and Mnangagwa for many decades, before and after Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980 — said it was “folly” to assume that Mugabe had shut the door on his deputy succeeding him.
He also said it could not be ruled out that Mnangagwa himself was “playing a game of hide-and-seek” with the nonagenarian — adding that the two men had a strong bond and long-standing relationship which was “only fully understood by them”.
“Mugabe has always been a slippery character because, of all things, he always wanted power the most. While many other liberation movements had a succession plan, Mugabe long decided against coming up with one.
“Still, I wouldn’t say Mnangagwa has been blocked out. However, what I know is that Mugabe and Mnangagwa vakateyanirana mariva (the have set traps for each other). They are playing each other and only time will tell who will win,” he said.
Zanu PF is currently divided in the middle, with the G40 faction involved in a life-and-death tussle with Mnangagwa’s backers, Team Lacoste.
Mugabe has consistently refused to name a successor, arguing that it is Zanu PF that must decide this issue through a congress when the time comes.
Of late, the name of reclusive Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi has also been thrown into the succession ring, although the veteran politician — who has served in Mugabe’s Cabinet since independence in 1980 — has refused to be drawn into the debacle.
The party’s infighting took an ominous turn in August when Mnangagwa fell sick during an interface rally in Gwanda, which his backers said was a poison attack by his G40 enemies.
Mnangagwa was later airlifted to South Africa where he had emergency surgery. He subsequently issued a statement denying that his illness was caused by ice cream from the First Family’s Gushungo Dairies, although, he has consistently suggested that he was poisoned.
Recently, Mnangagwa again suggested to hordes of his supporters who had converged at Mupandawana Growth Point in Gutu, for the late Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Shuvai Mahofa’s memorial service, that he was poisoned in the same way Mahofa was in 2015.
Days after that Masvingo address, his colleague Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko, who was acting president at the time, issued a scathing statement in which he attacked him for allegedly trying to divide the country and to undermine Mugabe.
Last Monday, Mugabe then moved to fire and demote several ministers perceived to be sympathetic to him, in a reshuffle which analysts said appeared to be largely motivated by the desire to contain the Midlands godfather’s control and influence of key government ministries.