Former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor, Gideon Gono, once flatteringly described President Robert Mugabe as the grandmaster of politics, whose political machinations can dramatically alter the course of events in one surprise stroke that leaves many speechless.
And Monday’s Cabinet reshuffle precisely summed up the 91-year-old veteran politician’s extraordinary mastery of political power play.
While contemporary analysis of Zimbabwean politics has, wittingly or unwittingly, decided to dismiss this week’s Cabinet reassignments and appointments as merely recycling of dead wood by a man at his wits’ end as far as controlling his party’s internal ructions is concerned, President Mugabe’s move simply highlighted that he is very much alive to the ambitions of everyone around him in Zanu(PF).
Only late last month he alluded to the fact that anyone routing for either Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa or Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko to succeed him, was exercising in futility. Those propositions, which only serve to divide the ruling Zanu(PF), would not be entertained, he subtly warned.
And sending Mnangagwa to China on the eve of selecting Mphoko as the focal point of government policy coordination and implementation could only mean that the two frontline contenders for his office have been asked to work together and prove their worth.
With Zimbabwe’s Chinese “all-weather” friends not playing ball as far as helping the country reverse its economic misfortunes, Mnangagwa has to bring back home that major investor; Mphoko has to make sure that the country’s chronic policy inconsistencies are corrected to instill investor confidence in, not only the Chinese, but also in the West whose investments have largely remained offshore.
That the Zanu(PF) government is desperate to prove its critics wrong and that Mnangagwa and Mphoko have no choice but to work together, if they were not doing so, is just one of the many messages that have strongly come out of this long awaited Cabinet reshuffle.
And in all his seemingly ineffective Cabinet reshuffles, President Mugabe has exhibited one major strength: The element of surprise reminiscent of the mysterious ways of a crocodile.
Leaving the critical Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services vacant after its former holder, Jonathan Moyo, was reassigned to the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, was another signature move as he maintains his grip on his lieutenants, like a grand chess player who expertly shifts pawns on the board.
Obviously Moyo had become increasingly powerful in his former position and being an academic, it is possible that President Mugabe could have also seen potential in him to change the fortunes of the country’s tertiary education sector, although many people are convinced that the “Prof”, as he is affectionately known, has been thrown into the Siberia of Zimbabwean politics.
The return of Moyo into Cabinet, even after many were also convinced that the professor’s flirtation with the ruling party were waning, was yet one of the characteristics of President Mugabe’s mastery of the game of smoke and mirrors in politics.
However, leaving the Information Ministry post vacant has bred speculation that there could be no suitable candidates at the moment as potential candidates like the presidential spokesperson, George Charamba, chose to remain civil servants, despite them calling the shots from the sidelines.
Nonetheless, President Mugabe’s decision to ruthlessly purge his party after the factional fights between Mnangagwa and former vice president Joice Mujuru got out of hand, has undoubtedly limited the veteran leader’s options.
Plucking Ambrose Mutinhiri and Nyasha Chikwinya from out of the blues to respectively fill the Mashonaland East Provincial Affairs and the Women, Gender and Community Development posts, probably highlights this dilemma.
That these two were actually linked to the Mujuru faction, as has been suggested elsewhere, and that, for instance, Mutinhiri’s ambitions to land the party and government’s vice presidency caused serious friction in Zanu(PF), only serves to prove that there was some measure of desperation in these appointments.
While Monday’s Cabinet reshuffle may have ended weeks, if not months, of speculation, the reassignments present an opportunity for conjecture.
If events of the past few months have had any lessons for the country, then those lessons may well have been redefined on Monday.
One would have expected that Saviour Kasukuwere and Ignatius Chombo, who crossed swords over their preference of different candidates for the June 10 by-elections, would have been punished for fomenting divisions in the already fractious party.
But, instead, they were both assigned the key ministries of Local Government, Public Works, National Housing and Urban Development and that of Home Affairs.
There might be a catch to it.
Obviously, Chombo, following his recent mastery of the art of courtesy when he was conversing with the First Lady Grace Mugabe in Kadoma, was handsomely rewarded with the Home Affairs Ministry. The reassignment may have surprised him as well since he had become part of the local government furniture, a compromising situation which was increasingly rendering him incapable of controlling land barons who have caused urban planning chaos across the country.
The reassignment was probably meant to save him from a difficult and embarassing situation.
While Chombo’s mission, if any, at Home Affairs is yet to come to light, Kasukuwere’s job is well cut out for him.
In fact, he may have unknowingly applied for the post when, during campaigns for the June 10 by-elections, he said: “ZANU-PF will now have to start addressing urban challenges head on. Service delivery and incompetence of local authorities concerned…Frank discussion on urban matters is going to be core in addressing the malaise. It can’t be business as usual, the time has come.”
And indeed, he has hit the ground running. His first target is the Harare City Council, and his first targets in Harare will be vendors and the land barons that Chombo left to flourish.
Although Kasukuwere may be eager to prove himself as well as swerve people’s attention from his past controversial performances and other ministries, dealing with the country’s urban chaos will not be a stroll in the park, as the economy continues to struggle.
Kasukuwere is indeed already talking tough, but in these desperate times of serious economic troubles one would have hoped that a Cabinet reshuffle of this nature would bring stability, first to the ruling party and secondly to the economy, for rhetoric by people like Kasukuwere to make sense.
Otherwise when Oppah Muchinguri and Kembo Mohadi, like ever obedient toddlers, are the two faces that complete President Mugabe’s mini reshuffle, then one can only conclude that, for now, everyone in Zanu(PF) has been checked, but its business as usual on the economic front.