President Robert Mugabe is a man who says a lot on just about everything: land, indigenisation, whites and MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Though he has been outspoken on almost every issue, there is one subject that he seems to have showed permanent lack of interest in discussing — the subject of when he is going to retire. Often, questions directed at him on this matter have induced contempt and at the very worst, made him apopleptic.
Many have been at the receiving end of how the president feels about this subject, including CNN anchor Christian Amanpour. In 2013, the host of one of the American news network’s flagship programmes, Christian Amanpour Show, asked the nonagenarian why it was so difficult for him to let go of the presidency. Defiant Mugabe’s response was classic of issues that irritates him: “Have you ever asked Queen Elizabeth this question, or it’s just for African leaders?”
The brash temper was enough to convince Amanpour that this was not a subject to be discussed further.
Though he has been reluctant to talk about when he will vacate the presidium, the president has said a lot that tells us that he does not want Mnangagwa to succeed him. Wary of exposing his real intentions to the public, of course, the nonagenarian has not uttered Mnangagwa’s name in his message. But, to seasoned observers of the nonagenarian’s coded rhetoric on succession, it is clear that Mugabe, if he has any, his chosen successor is not the Midlands godfather.
Whereas Mugabe has chosen a much more guarded approach — for example, his public support of the vice-president has been conspicuosly absent throughout Mnangagwa’s vice-presidency — and coded language, to tell the vice-president that he is not the chosen one, he has left it to his franchise, Generation 40 (G40), which is fronted by his wife Grace to deliver the message directly to him that he is not wanted.
Let us look at what Mugabe has said which tells us that Mnangagwa is not his candidate of choice.
Mnangagwa has various groups pushing for his candidacy as the leader of the party and the nation. These include the war veterans, a powerful faction of older generation politicians within Zanu PF’s politburo and central committee, but most importantly sections of the security sector. Recently, the president deplored security sector involvement in party politics, a move that was widely seen as a direct attack on Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantine Chiwenga.
“The military, police and the intelligence are now involved … Let’s stop this,” lashed out Mugabe at a Zanu PF conference in 2014. On the surface, the attack is directed at Chiwenga, but indirectly at the general’s ally, Mnangagwa.
Indeed, this is not the only time that Mugabe accused the duo of making such manoeuvres. In February this year, in a wide-ranging interview with the state media to commemorate his 92th birthday, he also seemed to be attacking his Mnangagwa and his close ally, Chiwenga. The nonagenarian deplored the two successionists — to use Professor Jonathan Moyo’s terminology — for their ambitions.
“It was unheard of that the leaders will say you take over, and then I will take over,” Mugabe told ZBC’s Tarzan Mandizvidza. This was in reference to what is understood to be part of Mnangagwa’s strategy to ascend to the presidency. Reportedly, the vice-president intends to make Chiwenga his vice-president in return for his help in the succession matrix. The general is said to want to use the vice-presidency as a launch pad for his own presidential ambitions.
Most tellingly has been Mugabe’s insistence that his successor will have to be democratically chosen by party members, utterances that could be viewed as a jab at Mnangagwa. In an interview with film-maker Roy Agyemang for a 2014 BBC documentary, Mugabe was asked if he had anyone in mind to succeed him. He responded, “It must be leadership that derives from the people and is guided by the demands of the people.”
In the same birthday interview with ZBC’s Mandizvidza, he reiterated this thinking telling the interviewer that “… they (leaders) have to be appointed properly by the people, at a gathering of the people, congress”.
It would be naive to assume that while the whole nation knows that Mnangagwa is not popular with the voters, Mugabe is unaware of this fact. Certainly, for a calculating politician, who also has incredible foresight, the above utterances were not an accident, but a dig at Mnangagwa whom he knows very well that he is likely to lose if he stands in an election for Zanu PF leadership. The question is, will he engineer such a process to ensure the demise of Mnangagwa since the scorched-earth policy that he used against his former deputy Joice Mujuru seems to have stalled against the much more powerful Midlands godfather?
Pretending to be above the fray, strategically Mugabe has deployed his hounds in the form of G40 members to directly attack Mnangagwa. With passive connivance, encouragement and protection from him, G40 has orchestated a pattern of rhetorical attacks that complement that of the nonagenarian.
Indeed, as if from the same playbook, his surrogates: First Lady Grace Mugabe; Saviour Kasukuwere, the Zanu PF political commissar; and Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo, have spoken, often in strong terms against the idea of Mnangagwa taking over the presidency.
The First Lady, initially through her ally, the secretary for finance in the Womens’ League, Sarah Mahoka who accused Mnangagwa of plotting against Mugabe, opened the floodgates on the vice-president. In March this year, she ramped up the bloodletting at a political rally in Chiweshe , accusing Mnangagwa of not only attempting to snatch the presidency away from her husband, but also assassinating her family. She completed the attacks by singing Zezurus unconquerables. Her husband is Zezuru and Mangagwa is Karanga.
Such personal attacks, indicated the deep animosity that exists between the First Family and the vice-president’s camp. Equally telling was when Grace told Zanu PF supporters that “Mugoti unopiwa anyerere”. This apparently followed growing claims by Mnangagwa’s political tribe that the presidency was there for him to take.
Grace has on a number of occassions made it clear that there is no vacancy at State House and the president is destined to be the ruler of the southern African nation for life.
“I will push him in a wheelbarrow,” she told supporters of the ruling party at a rally. Later on, she reiterated that statement, telling party enthusiasts that she would order a special wheelchair for he husband. It is naive to assume that the First Lady’s attacks or utterances are entirely of her own initiative, or without the president’s implict sanctioning.
Equally vocal against Mnangagwa’s ambitions has been Moyo who, until recently, maintained constant contact with Mugabe via his wife. His attacks seem to have been spawned by his permanently strained relationship with Mnangagwa. His first attack was when Mnangagwa gave an interview to the Chinese state TV, CCTV and later on the leftist and pan-Africanist New Africa Magazine.
In the two interviews, Mnangagwa seems to have given strong indications that he was likely to succeed Mugabe.
Undiplomatic, the vice-president even said of the president to the magazine that “We shall miss him greatly”, in what was regarded to as reference to his desire to see Mugabe depart from the political scene. The professor grabbed this opportunity, and sniped at Mnangagwa, “… there is no telling who is going to die before who”.
It would be presumptuous to claim that Moyo does get specific instructions from Mugabe on what to say or do.
However, he understands the direction of Zimbabwean politics. Mugabe does not want Mnangagwa and Moyo understands that and this seems, through Mugabe’s wife, to have the tacit approval of the president himself.
On the other hand, Mnangagwa’s rival within the presidium, and also a member of the G40, Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko, has made clear his disdain for the Croc’s, as Mnangagwa is also referred to, ambitions. At the same rally that was addressed by Grace in Chiweshe in February this year, Mphoko told Zanu PF supporters that being a Karanga did not mean that one is entitled to be the next president of Zimbabwe. This was in reference to the claims by some of Mnangagwa’s die-hard supporters that it is time that the presidency is “rotated” to a politician of ethnic Karanga background.
Some of Mphoko’s attacks on his counterpart have been indirect and confined mostly to Mnangagwa’s hangers-on. For example, delivering a lecture on national healing at Great Zimbabwe University in May last year, Mphoko reprimanded Josiah Hungwe, a Zanu PF stalwart in the Masvingo province who is allied to Mnangagwa’s political tribe. He told the audience that Hungwe was mistaken to regard him as second vice-president, as there was no such title in the presidium, but just two vice-presidents. In other words, he was equivalent to Mnangagwa.
Later on in November last year, while addressing supporters in Midlands, where Mnangagwa is considered godfather, the diplomat fumed at Kizito Chivamba, a Mnangagwa ally, who was then the acting provincial chairperson for Zanu PF in the Midlands, for having mispronounced his name.
Assaults against Mnangagwa has been a family affair not only through his wife. Mugabe, through his nephew, Patrick Zhuwao, who is the Indigenisation minister, has oppossed Mnangagwa’s attempts to modify the indigenisation laws.
The president, causing discord in government policy, also undermined Mnangagwa’s attempts to open up the nation and party to the West, and also re-engage with international financial insitutions such as the IMF and World Bank.
Mnangagwa’s diagnosis of the nation’s economic problems point to a disconnect with the international community. But at a time that he, through Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, was attempting to renegotiate with these institutions, Mugabe was busy lashing even at the West, including at important platforms such as the United Nations General Assembly in New York last year.
The other proxies that Mugabe has used to attack Mnangagwa have included the Youth League which, through its leader Kudzai Chipanga, orchestrated the suspension of the secretary for youth in the Zanu PF politburo, who is Mnangagwa’s staunch ally, Pupurai Togarepi.
Mugabe, on various foras, has not only refused to repudiate the remarks made by his wife when confronted by the securocrats and war veterans, but actually defended them, and even silenced those attacking his wife. He also attacked those whom he regard as making the job of the political commissar and the youth leader difficult, a warning read as directed at war veterans and Mnangagwa’s allies in the party.The “job” of the commissar and youth leader, it appears, has been to sling mud at Mnangagwa.
In other words, Mugabe is clearly attached to G40. Whenever a leader attaches himself to a group of surrogates, he should inevitably assume responsibility for all that the surrogate says or does. Thus, if G40 is attacking Mnangagwa, it should not be seen as the First Lady, Moyo or the youth wing, but the president himself.
Mugabe, either directly or through his franchises, in particular G40 and the Zanu PF Youth League, has made it clear that Mnangagwa is not his favourite. However, it does not mean that the Midlands godfather will not succeed him. Indeed, these attacks have been seen as a sign of weakness and fear of Mnangagwa’s rising political stock.
Mnangagwa has built a strong team, in and out of the ruling party, and his power seems to be growing at a time Mugabe’s authority is waning due to old age, deteriorating health, but mostly waning legitimacy. This means that reluctantly, Mugabe might be forced into a compromise that will allow Mnangagwa to take over in order to save his family, party and legacy.