Zimbabwe’s former Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa (Pic by Angela Jimu)
President Robert Mugabe on 6 November fired one of his two Vice Presidents, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa. This comes after weeks of an increasingly untenable relationship and a weekend of high drama.
Mnangagwa stands accused of among other things, “disloyalty, disrespect, deceit and being unreliable”. This is according to a statement released by the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, Simon Khaya Moyo.
“It had become evident that his conduct in the discharge of his duties had become inconsistent with his official duties,” said the statement.
That he has been sacked is not a surprise as the writing was on the wall for a very long time. He should have seen it coming when he was relieved of the Justice Minister portfolio in a recent reshuffle. The grumbling by First Lady Grace Mugabe, the president and other members of the Mugabes’ inner circle was pointing to a bad end for the vice president. While many had seen it coming, Mnangagwa seemed to have been emboldened by the support from some members of the ruling party as well as the army.
It is ironic that Mnangagwa popularly referred to by his supporters as Ngwena (Crocodile), who benefitted from the firing in 2013 of his predecessor, Joice Mujuru, was also fired in exactly the same way. He had endured weeks and weeks of being ridiculed and insulted at youth rallies presided over by Mugabe and his wife. Mujuru was belittled and Mnangagwa celebrated and made fun of her. He attended the rallies where he was accused of wanting to overthrow the president.
His supporters cheered him on and the Mugabes attacked him but through it all, he held his silence. His supporters called him a shrewd political schemer and were certain Mugabe would never fire Mnangagwa. On reflection, these were all delusions of grandeur. He might have desperately wanted to succeed Mugabe but the unfolding scenario shows him as wanting in strategy.
As former State Security Minister, he was feared but that would hardly translate into vote garnering popularity. Unelectable in his own home constituency, under the ruling party it is hard to see how he can suddenly win over people now that he is not protected by the state machinery. He was a keeper of secrets but not a political tactician.
It might have been easy to fire him but in terms of the information, he holds from a security point of a view he will remain an unsettling problem for the regime.
Mugabe is the one centre of power in the party and the government. Ambition is not tolerated and the purging of those seen as threats will see Zanu-PF go into the 2018 elections fractured. It is a crumbling dictatorship hell-bent on alienating a majority of its cadres. Instead of finding some common ground so close to a crucial election this could be an own goal.
Mnangagwa showed his hand too soon and failed to get his supporters to curb their enthusiasm. In a party where it is taboo to discuss succession, let alone dream of one day taking over, he should have been more circumspect. His silence when Grace Mugabe was being attacked by his supporters only fuelled an already raging fire of discontent and suspicion in the Mugabes’ minds. It was always going to end in tears. The writing was on the wall he just chose not to see it.
With Mnangagwa gone, Harare is rife with rumours that the army chief, Constantine Chiwenga, had also almost been fired. In a country where information is not readily shared by the authorities, the lack of knowledge of what is going on creates uncertainty. The last thing Zimbabwe needs is instability or a further weakening of an already overburdened economy.
He has been kicked out of government but he still remains a senior party member, a situation that is most likely to change if those baying for his blood get their way and have him expelled from the party. The December ZanuPF extraordinary congress was largely expected to deal with removing Mnangagwa and creating space for a female vice president.
At her Super Sunday (5 November 2017) rally Grace Mugabe expressed her readiness to take on the reins of power. The question, however, remains if she would be acceptable to the wider Zanu-PF support base. Mnangagwa’s firing might pave the way for Grace Mugabe but it will leave her horribly exposed. She has made too many enemies in the party and alienated many within the party’s war veterans – the shock troopers who fought tooth and nail since 2000 to keep Mugabe in power.
Post Mugabe, if she were to take over, would the army top brass that vowed not to salute Tsvangirai or anyone who did not fight in the war of liberation, salute her? The air is terribly poisoned and those caught up in this battle for power will be cut off from the feeding trough – from the fruits of patronage – and might not walk off into the sunset quietly but might do more harm.
Whichever way this ends Zanu-PF will never be the same again. It is wounded. Mnangagwa might skip the country and finally go and find a conducive space to re-strategize. His supporters will hold onto that hope but it would be interesting to see how he could achieve that.
There is too much ill will among Zanu-PF supporters and for the first time in the party history members of the party are openly booing and calling Grace Mugabe names while others talk openly of their preferred candidate to replace Mugabe.
At the end of the day, the main player and decision maker when it comes to who rules and which route the party takes is Robert Mugabe. Stories of how powerful Mnangagwa is and how the army will prevail on the president are only stories by people who do not understand who wields the real power in Zanu-PF.