Mugabe succession: It’s a two-horse race

Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Defence Minister Sidney Sekeramayi

HARARE – The race to succeed President Robert Mugabe as leader of Zanu PF has narrowed to two major contenders namely Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi and Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa who, despite the increasing hostility towards him, still stands a good chance to succeed the incumbent on account of his proximity to the throne, the Daily News can report.

Mnangagwa — a 74-year-old lawyer and long-standing ally of Mugabe — was until now believed to be a shoo-in to succeed the Zanu PF leader who is expected to run for president for the last time in the forthcoming 2018 election, but his path has been littered with impediments that might snuff out his political flame.

Long considered as a rank outsider in the succession race, Sekeramayi has burst into the contest to give it an intriguing twist that is characteristic of Mugabe’s delicate power-plays meant to maintain the balance of power in his fractious party by playing one faction against the other.

A soft-spoken physician who left Swedish medical school in the mid 1970s and headed straight to join the Zimbabwe National Liberation Army forces in Mozambique, Sekeramayi is also seen as a fierce loyalist of Mugabe who has managed to keep himself clear of the factional fights in Zanu PF so far.

With Mnangagwa coming under a barrage of criticism, the Defence minister is increasingly coming out of his shell, taking barbs at rivals — much more confidently.

Several authoritative Zanu PF sources told the Daily News this week in exclusive briefings that the main direct backer of Sekeramayi was Mugabe’s wife, Grace, with the incumbent pulling the strings from behind.

He also seems to have been given impetus following the Mnangagwa “demolition job” by both Mugabe and his wife at the presidential youth interface rally in Bindura last weekend.

At a meeting of Zanu PF’s Women’s League in the capital Harare in July, Grace — considered by some to be a possible future leader – implored Mugabe to name a successor.

The 52-year-old mother of four, who has become a power broker in Zanu PF since her elevation to the top echelons of the party in 2014, has repeated this call and has said Mugabe’s word would be “final”.

Political analyst, Maxwell Saungweme, said he thinks Mugabe was being arm-twisted by his wife to anoint Sekeramayi.

“Indeed, Sekeramayi will be the chosen successor for Mugabe. In spite of his advanced age, Mugabe is fending off pressure from his wife who wants him to anoint a successor. But Mugabe has been resisting this, hence a change in Grace and Generation 40 (G40)’s strategy to want to finish off Mnangagwa before the congress so that come congress the only person to choose from is Sekeramayi,” said Saungweme.

“Ngwena cannot be a pushover. He has backing from (army) generals and others in Zanu PF. His botched up suspected poisoning actually created more sympathisers for him from Zanu PF. You know in Zimbabwean politics, people tend to side with a perceived victim. That the whole poisoning or illness did not take his life actually complicates the succession debate and makes it harder for Grace and G40 to have their way.

“So I foresee a tussle between Sekeramayi and ‘Ngwena’. For now, Grace will be likely put in as vice president for Sekeramayi, with a view of making her president in 2023. Not now. Even under a Sekeramayi Zanu PF presidency, Grace will be the de facto leader, as she appears to be now,” added Saungweme.

A secretive political figure who has worked with Mugabe since the 1960s, Mnangagwa is also known as “the crocodile” or “ngwena” in Shona.

On Saturday, Mugabe ruled out choosing a successor, and also ruled out anointing his wife to take over, saying it would be against the party’s constitution.

Mugabe is, however, likely to be influential behind the scenes in picking a new Zanu PF leader at a congress in 2019, and is said to be under pressure from his wife to support Sekeramayi, who is 73-years old.

Some claim there was a push for an extraordinary congress in December that will be elective.

While in Bindura, Mugabe and his wife took turns to attack Mnangagwa.

The Zanu PF leader revealed to his supporters untested allegations — contained in a 72-minute video first presented in the Zanu PF politburo by Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo on July 19 — that the vice president crippled a former ZBC newscaster over an extramarital affair and is carrying out a silent power grab by capturing the military, public media and judicial institutions.

These allegations, he said, have been rubbished by Mnangagwa, whose allies assert they are part of a covert operation to halt his drive to the top.

According to Mugabe, Mnangagwa has some 65 pages of reply to Moyo’s scurrilous allegations, exposing a somewhat toxic political environment in Zanu PF, which is just getting uglier.

Earlier, Mnangagwa had courted the ire of the first family over his silence amid swirling rumours that he fell ill at a Zanu PF campaign rally in Gwanda last month after he had been poisoned through ice-cream from Alpha and Omega Dairy, on by the Mugabes.

The first family was said to be apoplectic with fury and accused Mnangagwa of failing to restrain his supporters they alleged were attempting to dent her dairy brand.

Mnangagwa was forced to issue a statement, describing as “false” and “mischievous”, insinuations that he fell sick after eating ice-cream supplied by the first family, adding the claims were meant to set him up against Mugabe.

Mnangagwa’s voluble supporter Energy Mutodi was subsequently fired from Zanu PF for claiming Sekeramayi poisoned the vice president and has appeared in court over the allegations.

Seething with anger, Grace took her crusade to Bindura where she warned Mnangagwa that if he did not rein in his supporters, he faced the fate of former vice president Joice Mujuru who lost her positions in the party and government in December 2014, completing the purging from national politics of a woman who was seen as frontrunner to succeed the 93-year-old Zanu PF leader.

Analysts, however, said getting rid of Mnangagwa would not be easy.

In public, Mnangagwa denies he has any ambition for the presidency, but many say Mugabe has tended to gravitate towards his long time personal assistant for his toughness, his temperament and his fierce loyalty.

Josphat Munetsi, a peace and security analyst and doctoral researcher, said the tongue-lashing and brutal attacks on Mnangagwa by Grace simply conforms to the Mugabe grand plan of hazy and unclear process in order to retain the mantle of power.

“The kitchen sink approach by his wife, however, demonstrates a desperate woman who will stop at nothing to succeed her husband and safeguard (her interests),” Munetsi said.

“To therefore adopt that approach to oust Mnangagwa presents serious boomerang effect and Mugabe knows it, hence his ambivalence on this matter: We must not forget that Mnangagwa has been one of the most trusted and loyal lieutenants of Mugabe and therefore to suggest that he can just be dumped like what they did to (Joice) Mujuru may be too far-fetched.

“Yes the campaign against Mnangagwa appears strangely familiar as it fits largely into the pattern that preceded the former vice-president’s ouster, however, its lack of innovation and all-round support from the key sectors of the party is also quite evident.”

Munetsi said the contradiction between Grace’s push for Mugabe to appoint a successor and the president’s reference to an internal democratic process that conforms to the party’s constitution could be symptomatic of a lack of a clear strategy on how to handle the emotive succession politics.

“Although many pundits are convinced that the end for Mnangagwa is nigh, I struggle to come to that conclusion given his relationship with the army and the centrality of that institution in the succession politics of any democratic State, Zimbabwe included,” he said.

“We must also remember that the involvement of the military in politics is not a new phenomenon as it is a continuation of a tendency which started in the 1970s in the liberation struggle. Hence the army may not sit idle when the succession matrix is in motion.”

Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, said what happens next after Mugabe has exited the grand political stage remains an open question, but it must be said that at this stage of a very volatile process it looks like some traction for Sekeramayi.

“But nothing is simple or straightforward in Zimbabwe. His (Sekeramayi) enemies wouldn’t have to work so hard against him if Mnangagwa had no bedrock of strong support,” Chan told the Daily News.

Academic, analyst and civil rights activist, Gladys Hlatywayo, said Mugabe has been consistent in pursuing his dream to rule until death.

“The continuous public execution of potential successors and emergence of new ones is meant to demonstrate that there is only one centre of power: Mugabe and you only serve at his pleasure,” she said.

“Who would have known that the ‘blue eyed boy ED ‘ who was so vital in the public crucifixion of Mujuru would face the same fate?

“Mugabe is buying time and delaying the most important question of the day in his party. Given these circumstances, even the Sekeramayi candidature is not cast in stone.

“It also depends on what the other power pillars will do, for instance, the military, given how decisive it has been in the past.”

Hlatywayo added: “In Mugabe’s absence, Grace and G40 will face serious difficulties, a scenario that is obviously pushing them to force Mugabe to anoint a successor before he dies.

“Their challenge is Mugabe does not trust anyone and will rather die in office. The future as it stands, is unknown, the jury is still out. We are in a foggy zone.” –