Shava, a diplomat with a tainted past from the late 1980s through his involvement in the Willowgate scandal and his robust defence of the Gukurahundi genocide, replaces the late Foreign minister Moyo who succumbed to Covid-19 a fortnight ago.
Moyo, an ally of Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, was a key figure in the 2017 military coup that toppled Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe. Besides being the face of the coup, he played a central role in mobilising resources and planning the coup.
Moyo’s replacement, Shava, is Mnangagwa’s long-standing ally and homeboy, and is seen strengthening the President’s hand while weakening Chiwenga who has been undone by a series of well-calculated purges of his allies.
Covid-19 has also conspired against Chiwenga and his military faction.
Chiwenga has lost major allies like former Agriculture minister Perrance Shiri, who was the Air Force of Zimbabwe commander during the coup and other security chiefs who include retired Lieutenant-General Douglas Nyikayaramba who died on Tuesday this week. While death is immutable, it has considerably weakened Chiwenga’s camp.
Chiwenga, who was the Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander during the coup, was tipped to take over from 2023 but has found himself on the backfoot after being outsmarted by Mnangagwa who has moved to consolidate his power, influencing Zanu-PF structures to push for his candidature in the next election. After assuming power, Mnangagwa unleashed a wave of purges in the military, police and Central Intelligence Organisation targeting Mugabe and former first lady Grace Mugabe’s allies, before going for Chiwenga’s loyalists.
Key commanders – who pivoted the coup, including commander of the Presidential Guard battalion retired Lieutenant-General Anselem Sanyatwe – were removed in February 2019 while Chiwenga was battling ill-health in India. Like his earlier South African health mission, the Indian health trip was unsuccessful, and saw him spending time in China seeking treatment, allowing Mnangagwa to consolidate.
Commanders retired ahead of diplomatic assignments included the late Zimbabwe National Army chief-of-staff retired Lieutenant-General Nyikayaramba, who was chief-of-staff responsible for service personnel and logistics, retired Lieutenant-General Martin Chedondo and retired Air Marshal Sheba Shumbayawonda.
In May 2019, Mnangagwa then appointed Sanyatwe Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Tanzania, while Nyikayaramba was posted to Maputo, Mozambique. Chedondo was sent to China. Sanyatwe had a personal relationship with Chiwenga to the extent that he flew from Tanzania to assist him finalise his divorce proceedings with his wife Marry Chiwenga nee Mubaiwa.
Another big blow for the Chiwenga camp was the removal of retired Lieutenant-General Engelbert Rugeje from heading Zanu-PF’s critical mass mobilisation political commissariat. Rugeje operated in the war room during the coup. Soon after the coup, Chiwenga arm-twisted Mnangagwa to appoint Rugeje as political commissar ahead of his preferred candidate Victor Matemadanda, albeit temporarily.
Mnangagwa later removed Rugeje from the position before appointing Matemadanda in June 2019. The appointment of Shava, Mnangagwa’s ally from the ‘80s, to such a key post has largely been viewed as a rewarding of loyalists and further consolidation.
Shava is somewhat indebted to Mnangagwa who was instrumental to his pardon after spending only 24 hours in prison for corruption during what is widely known as the Willowgate scandal.
After spending more than 30 years outside central government, mainly heading Zimbabwe’s diplomatic missions in China and in the United Nations (UN), Shava will be looking to reward Mnangagwa’s goodwill with loyalty in government. One of Mnangagwa’s key strategies has been to mainly appoint his ethnic Karanga homeboys, mostly from the Midlands and Masvingo provinces, into key positions as part of a power consolidation strategy.
This is widely seen as a continuation of Mugabe’s ethnic and regional politics – politicisation and weaponisation of ethnicity for political ends. Mugabe mainly appointed his ethnic Zezuru homeboys into key positions throughout his 37 years in power. This was the main reason for the Tsholotsho Declaration of 2004 which sought to rotate leadership among the Zezuru, Karanga, Manyika and Ndebele socio-ethnic groupings. It also influenced the coup.
Shava hails from Mberengwa, Mnangagwa’s domain in the Midlands and, according to political analyst Eldred Masunungure, his appointment is a continuation of Mugabe’s regional politics.
“He (Mnangagwa) would like someone who is loyal to himself, from the same province and that looms quite high from the appointment,” Masunungure said.
Masunungure said Mnangagwa had entrenched his influence in the country’s security apparatus since 2017.
“Mnangagwa is clearly in a predominant position, especially in the security sector minus the military. In the military, Chiwenga has lost hard hitters and people who could have helped him to get to the apex,” he said.
“Some were pruned, some were lost as a result of the act of God. He has lost strategic allies, which has weakened Chiwenga considerably.”
Masungure however said Mnangagwa is yet to consolidate power while his position was still fragile, despite the ostensible weakening of the Chiwenga faction.
“But Mnangagwa has not consolidated power as we saw with Mugabe over the past years. I think his position is still precarious and fragile. He is however in a stronger position than when he took over power and by the time he won the elections in July 2018,” he said.
Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said Mnangagwa has taken advantage of the demise of his adversaries.
“Whether by convenience or otherwise, the appointments are being made at a time when some of his adversaries have departed. This provides Mnangagwa with an opportunity to further entrench his position by appointing cronies, clansmen or complete outsiders whom he can control,” Mandaza said.
Mandaza said Mnangagwa had conveniently left out Chiwenga’s allies in the replacements of the fallen ministers.
“You have a situation where not only Chiwenga’s allies are departing but they are also not being replaced,” Mandaza added.
He however echoes Masunungure’s sentiments, saying Mnangagwa was yet to fully consolidate his power, as Chiwenga still wields considerable support in the military and other parts of the country.
“It is too early to say, it depends on the extent to which Chiwenga still enjoys support in Mashonaland East, Central, West and Manicaland and what some might call the Zezuru heartland and some might call the Manicaland heartland,” Mandaza said.
However, analysts say Mnangagwa still wields considerable power in the state apparatus, which would be critical for his 2023 presidential bid. After assuming power, Mnangagwa unleashed a wave of purges in the military, police and CIO targeting Mugabe and former first lady Grace Mugabe’s allies, before going for Chiwenga’s loyalists.
Mnangagwa’s cumulative manoeuvres have shifted the balance of power in Zanu-PF Mnangagwa’s favour – at least for now, although Chiwenga had an upper-hand after the coup.
The vice-president’s ill-health has been a major drawback for the military faction. On many occasions Mnangagwa has purged Chiwenga’s allies while he is out of the country, seeking treatment.
Chiwenga and his allies have been trying to regroup and recover lost ground with their eyes fixed on next year’s congress and the 2023 elections, but the mission would be much harder without the likes of Shiri, Moyo and critical players like Sanyatwe who are stationed outside the country.