HARARE – Dust was still settling from Grace Mugabe and Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko’s grenade attack on Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, when a neat trio of grim economic indicators slipped out.
By Gift Phiri
Grace’s outlandish claim that Mnangagwa and his allies were plotting a power grab that was tantamount to a coup, overshadowed a substantial increase in the price of basics, a six-month low on cash shortages and annual inflation rate soaring to 242,72 percent, the second highest in the world after Venezuela.
That so little attention was paid during an election period — when the economy should be front and centre — speaks to the ruling elite’s success at framing 2018’s election as all about Zanu PF’s succession conundrum.
Mnangagwa, a front-runner in the race to succeed President Robert Mugabe, stirred a hornet’s nest when he told Shuvai Mahofa’s memorial service last week that he had been hospitalised in August because he had been poisoned, but did not name those responsible, with his contender for the top job, First Lady Grace, angrily rubbishing the claims.
“The medical doctors who attended to me ruled out food poisoning but confirmed that indeed poisoning had occurred and investigations were in progress,” Mnangagwa said.
Mphoko then accused Mnangagwa of lying in a damning statement he issued as acting president on Tuesday, accusing him of undermining Mugabe on the grounds that he allegedly contradicted the nonagenarian’s statement on the poisoning.
The first lady also came out swinging, accusing Mnangagwa of lying in a bid to elicit public sympathy.
“Why should I kill Mnangagwa? Who is Mnangagwa on this earth?” Grace fumed in remarks beamed on State television. “Killing someone who was given a job by my husband? That is nonsensical.”
In all the speeches uttered, not a single word about what these political gladiators hold for the economy.
This comes as shortages of basic goods and fuels have resurfaced, sparking panic buying by consumers. Prices of imported products have also skyrocketed, which businesses blame on shortages of foreign exchange.
Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, said the race for the succession is certainly becoming heated — overheated, in fact.
“No one is paying any attention to a rapidly deteriorating economy,” Chan told the Daily News on Sunday.
“Mnangagwa is to an extent isolated, but is not without his allies.”
Ex-liberation fighters of Zimbabwe’s 1970s independence war have thrown their weight behind Mnangagwa to take over from Mugabe, and last year described the nonagenarian ruler as a tin-pot dictator, a shocking indictment that exposed the widening cleavages within the ruling Zanu PF party.
Chan said Mnangagwa was probably trying to send a clumsy warning to his rivals over the poisoning story that they should not take things beyond character assassination into the realm of actual assassination.
“It has clearly backfired on him, but this is only one further episode in what is now the Zanu PF soap opera. A remake of the long-running soap, ‘Dynasty’, should clearly be set in Zimbabwe,” he said.
Piers Pigou, southern African director of the International Crisis Group, said the current dynamics unfolding publicly belie an array of machinations that are unfolding below the surface, out of public view.
“The nature and content of the current public spat between the two vice presidents and the aggravating posturing of the first lady do little to assuage concerns that the senior echelons of Zanu PF remain aloof from the core concerns of ordinary Zimbabweans and the needs of an economy in deep distress,” Pigou said.
“Echoes of the defenestration of VP Joice Mujuru are difficult to ignore, and many believe a purge of the Lacoste faction, long in the making, is now on the cards.
“The latest episode of Zimbabwe’s game of thrones is coming to a head. None of this dangerous and irresponsible sandpit politics inspires confidence that the lot of the Zimbabwean people is going to improve any time soon.”
Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said Zanu PF’s mistake and the tragedy of its politics was to personalise the institution in Mugabe in a way that made him a demigod and that is coming back to haunt the party.
“But this disintegration is false because Zanu PF is embedded in State institutions so it is likely to survive this crisis if Mugabe has total control of security forces and not Mnangagwa.
“Once Mnangagwa is vanquished, it is possible for Mugabe to rebuild Zanu PF with the real challenge of Zanu PF’s existence only coming only after Mugabe is gone,” Mavhinga said.
A peace and security analyst and doctoral researcher, Josphat Munetsi, told the Daily News on Sunday that he thought it was a no-brainer that Mugabe’s political project has turned full circle and was now devouring one of his trusted lieutenants Mnangagwa.
“The sad thing with Zanu PF since Grace entered active politics is that political rationality and pragmatism have been thrown out of the window,” Munetsi said.
Grace has developed a remarkable knack in recent days for headlining campaign rallies, with the influential first lady ominously accusing Mnangagwa — of among a litany of other deadly charges — deception, faking love for Mugabe, and in fact working feverishly to topple the long-ruling nonagenarian from power.
Mugabe has not said he would want to relinquish office, but analysts have cited reasons ranging from exhaustion to health problems to a long-term plan to hand the reins to his wife. Mugabe has spoken in glowing terms about Grace, the mother of his three children.
Grace, 52, who has become a power broker in Zanu PF since her elevation to head the women’s league in 2014, has now taken a prominent role, embracing public speaking but lacking the inspired zeal of her husband, the grandiloquent Mugabe.
Munetsi said: “I am convinced that the abrasive project by Grace has gone on for too long and very soon other people will realise that a gloves off approach will save their skin.
“We must understand that Zanu PF has survived for all these years because the State and governing structures were organised and cohesive and that enabled the regime to remain robust and totalitarian.
“Therefore Grace’s lack of political acumen threatens the very core of the authoritarian project and inevitably breeds lack of cohesion, instability and outright discord. Remember Zanu PF’s electoral victories in the last two decades were premised on this authoritarian pedestal.
“Therefore, I will be surprised if we are not going to witness another ‘Bhora musango’ project in the forthcoming plebiscite,” he warned.
MPs and Senators in provinces where Mnangagwa is said to enjoy popular support are said to be planning a revolt called Bhora Mudziva — in a revolt similar to that of 2008 “Bhora musango” .
War veterans, who have publicly put their weight behind Mnangagwa, are insisting they will launch a blitzkrieg around the country to ensure Mugabe loses the next elections if he does not call for a special congress this year that will settle the thorny succession issue once and for all.
In the meantime, the Zimbabwean economy is collapsing. The bond notes on the black market is little more than waste paper. Meanwhile, the lack of cash is enriching evermore enterprising dealers.
Endemic corruption is feeding everyone seeking to make money. Government does not have enough money to pay salaries for public service workers.
Frustrated citizens have been storming cash-strapped banks, returning home frustrated and empty-handed.
The street dealers are virtually the only people in Zimbabwe these days to have an uninterrupted cash flow. Much of the money comes from commercial banks.
Nothing is being said by Zanu PF rulers of the impoverishment of Zimbabweans that is worsening and the grim economic indicators. – Daily News