Revelation by President Robert Mugabe that Vice-Presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko are already at each other’s throats only six months into the job have brought into focus Zanu PF’s internecine power struggles that are threatening to spiral out of control.
The Standard sought to find out the genesis of the fight between the two men who at one time worked as master and pupil in the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) that Mnangagwa headed in the 1980s and also how their predecessors related to each other.
Mphoko’s shocking elevation into the country’s second most powerful office alongside his former boss to deputise Mugabe might have triggered a vicious row between the two.
The feud is threatening to destabilise an already shaky administration groaning under the weight of a debilitating economic, social and political crisis party fuelled by the succession wars in Zanu PF.
Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza blamed Mugabe for the friction between his deputies. He said Mugabe has been the source of trouble in the office of the VP since the days of the late Joshua Nkomo and Simon Muzenda.
He said Mugabe’s strategy of making sure none of the two current VPs is subordinate to the other has set the tone for the clash.
“Mugabe made it very clear that Muzenda was senior; my view is that Mugabe has never wanted a substantive and powerful deputy,” Mandaza said.
“Now it is even clearer because Mnangagwa and Mphoko are just appointees with a clear brief that they are not automatic successors. They have been reduced to clerks with First Lady Grace Mugabe in charge of everything.
“If people had any doubt that Mugabe wants his wife to take over, then that should have been settled now and unfortunately nobody is challenging it. It is also a known fact in political circles that Muzenda never harboured any ambitions beyond his position, hence Mugabe felt very safe.
He added: “In the late Vice-President Joseph Msika’s situation, the impression given by Mugabe was that Mujuru was an automatic choice to succeed him, but then we all now know that he was fooling people.”
Mandaza said Mugabe’s narrative over succession has never changed.
“That is why I have always argued that he is the most divisive character in our political landscape,” Mandaza said.
A former Zapu national executive member said Mphoko, with little attachment with political structures either in Zapu or Zanu PF, could be “stepping on a few toes” as he seeks to establish a base for himself before an onslaught for the top job.
“It could be that they are fighting over political turf, but Mphoko was never really attached to the political side of things even during the liberation war period up to last year when he was appointed Vice-President,” said the official on condition of anonymity.
“He did not play a big part in the party and that is probably why some people were against his appointment and thought Simon Khaya-Moyo was more senior.”
Khaya-Moyo is Zanu PF’s spokesperson who was national chairman before the party’s December congress. He had been tipped to take over as Mugabe’s deputy before he was edged by Mphoko due to factional fighting.
But Zapu’s last secretary general before the Unity Accord that created Zanu PF in 1987, Cephas Msipa revealed that while Nkomo and Muzenda had worked well together eventually, there had been initial resistance at the beginning.
“During the negotiations when Mugabe proposed that there be two Vice-Presidents who would be equal in stature, I was the one who went to Nkomo with the proposal. Initially Nkomo rejected the idea, arguing that he was bringing to the Unity Accord a party and could not accept the idea of him being equal to Muzenda,” Msipa said.
“He however at my insistence agreed because there was nothing wrong with the arrangement and Nkomo had no personal problem with Mzenda.”
Former Home Affairs minister Dumiso Dabengwa who worked with two sets of Vice-Presidents from Nkomo and Muzenda to Msika and Mujuru said he is “appalled” by the way Mnangagwa has plunged into what has become a bare-knuckle fist-fight.
Dabengwa said what baffled him even more was the fact that he was aware that Mnangagwa and Mphoko had worked together in the CIO at a time when the former Justice minister was head of the country’s spy agency.
“Honestly, I do not understand because the funny part is that the two worked together when Mnangagwa was head of the CIO and literally recruited Mphoko. The attitude and the manner in which these two are treating each other [now] is shocking to say the least,” Dabengwa said.
“I think they [Nkomo and Muzenda] were alright, I would not know if there were any problems. It was more or less the same with Msika and Mujuru. Msika considered Mujuru a daughter and would chide her if he thought she had gone astray somehow.”
“There was never a situation as the one revealed by Mugabe of his deputies seemingly fighting. Even when Muzenda and Nkomo differed on policy and I can remember one such case was over the Econet licensing issue in which Nkomo was spitting fire. He wanted Econet licensed and Muzenda had to contend with being quiet.
“Nkomo and Muzenda worked very well together, they were contemporaries and some of us learnt a lot from working with them. It would be unfair for me to make a comparative analysis of these stalwarts of our struggle and early years of majority rule.
Khaya-Moyo launched a subtle pot-shot at Mnangagwa and Mphoko.
“I must say it does not matter the position we hold in the party and government, we should all strive to emulate their statesmanship.
“We should spend more time studying as well as emulating their leadership style. We should not be jostling for power just for the sake of it. Power, power, power, no it is wrong,” Khaya-Moyo said.
It seems that Mnangagwa and Mphoko are looking beyond Mugabe.
However, with Mnangagwa having been an active agent in the government for 35 years and Mphoko a relative newcomer to the country’s political minefield, the man known as the Crocodile might prove too much for the career diplomat.
Mnangagwa is a political sche-mer with an uncanny ability to out-fox his adversaries even if it happens at the eleventh hour.