VICE-PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa is increasingly running government as he is working closely with President Robert Mugabe on a daily basis, suggesting a political transition is underway behind the scenes even if in public he is struggling to assert his authority amid growing internal opposition.
This comes as speculation gathers momentum within the corridors of power Mugabe might leave before his current five-year term expires to allow Mnangagwa to finish his tenure, while he prepares to be the Zanu (PF) candidate during the crucial 2018 elections.
However, in public Mnangagwa’s growing public clashes with a faction associated with Mugabe’s wife Grace, which includes Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo, Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere and the President’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao, paint a different picture. It appears Mnangagwa might not be the preferred successor as Mugabe and Grace have hinted, even though he is currently the most well-positioned to take over.
Top government officials this week told the Zimbabwe Independent that a transition could be well underway as there remains a distinct possibility Mugabe (91) could hand over power to Mnangagwa before his term expires in 2018.
Officials say Mnangagwa is already in charge of most day-to-day government business as Mugabe is unable to perform to capacity due to old-age and frailty.
“If you consider what is actually happening behind the scenes, you can say a transition is already underway. Mnangagwa meets Mugabe on a daily basis at State House where he briefs him on what would have transpired during the day,” a senior government official said this week.
“Mugabe rarely comes to (his) Munhumutapa Building offices, but operates from Zimbabwe House or State House where he meets his deputies every day. He also meets ministers and other officials there, but Mnangagwa briefs him daily.”
Sources also said Mnangagwa is now attending security briefing meetings with the Joint Operations Command (Joc) every Monday where issues of security, defence, immigration, border control, food and social security as well as economic issues, among others, are discussed.
“Every Monday from 9am and for several hours Joc meets to deliberate on various security issues and the state of the nation. Mugabe used to attend all such meetings, but these days he is assigning Mnangagwa,” a Joc official said.
“After the meeting, normally around 2pm, Mnangagwa then goes to meet Mugabe at State House or even at his Borrowdale ‘Blue Roof’ house to give him a report of the meeting and other things.”
This suggests Mnangagwa — who is also in charge of the Ministry of Justice as well as occasionally chairing Zanu PF on a rotational basis with his counterpart Phelekezela Mphoko — now has an increased role in government and is being taught the ropes of how to run government despite internal Zanu PF opposition to him.
Zanu (PF) insiders also say Mugabe has been concentrating on his regional positions as the Sadc and African Union chairperson to give Mnangagwa an opportunity to lead. He however handed the regional bloc’s chairmanship to Botswana leader Ian Khama in August. In January next year Mugabe will complete his tenure as AU chairman.
Government officials say at that point Mugabe would have to decide whether to continue in charge or hand over to Mnangagwa.
“Most people think it is unthinkable that the president (Mugabe) might decide to retire, but the truth is it is a possible scenario,” one Mnangagwa ally said. “We have been hearing that he might consider that, but I know most people won’t take it seriously, let alone believe this. For Mnangagwa, it’s better for him to stay ready for anything rather than be thrown into the deep end or be shocked by changes around him.”
The issue of a transition unfolding and Mnangagwa taking over behind closed doors comes amid growing concerns in Zanu PF that the Vice-President is now acting like his predecessor Joice Mujuru who was expelled with hordes of allies from the party in April following Zanu PF’s controversial and divisive congress in December last year.
Mujuru is now on the verge of forming a political party, whose name or slogan will be People First, setting the stage for a potentially explosive political fight between her and former Zanu (PF) colleagues. Already, Zanu (PF) officials this week fired warning shots across Mujuru’s bows after she released a her policy package or manifesto in the media.
Two contrasting game plans regarding Mugabe’s succession are emerging with Zanu (PF) insiders saying the camp led by Mnangagwa is pushing for an extraordinary congress in 2017 to pave way for him to take the reins ahead of the 2018 general elections, while another group, calling itself Generation40 (G40), insists on consolidation around the ageing leader.
The Mnangagwa camp believes Mugabe no longer has the capacity or stamina to lead the party and the country beyond his current tenure amid increasing signs of his infirmity.
The group loyal to Grace wants Mugabe to stand for re-election in 2018 to finish his term in 2023 when he would be 99 to get more time to mobilise and a leg up in the heated race.