Zimbabwe on the brink as military bid to torpedo Mugabe’s plan

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HARARE – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s decision on Monday to fire former spy chief Emmerson Mnangagwa as his deputy is wrecking the very security apparatus that has kept him in power for almost four decades in the southern African nation.

Mnangagwa, who received military training in Nanjing, China, had been a pillar of a military and security apparatus that helped Mugabe emerge as the nation’s leader after independence from the U.K. in 1980. Mnangagwa, 75, was Zimbabwe’s first national security minister.

Now Mugabe, 93, has broken with most of his comrades who fought in the liberation war, leaving the so-called Generation 40 faction of younger members of the ruling party championed by his wife, Grace, in the ascendancy.

The final outcome of the power struggle could be determined by the military and the stance of the 61-year-old commander of the army, Constantine Chiwenga, who traditionally supported Mnangagwa.

“I don’t think the army guys will take it lying down,” Annie Chikwanha, a Zimbabwean professor of political science at the University of Johannesburg, said Wednesday. “Other than the presidential guard, I don’t think Mugabe really has control over the rest of the armed forces. There is also massive disillusionment with the state of the economy. I don’t think we can rule out a major show of force by the army.”

The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association condemned Mnangagwa’s dismissal and said it was breaking with the ruling party.

“The party and indeed the nation is being traumatized by one person, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, who is bent on maintaining his hold on power and ensuring that he passes on this power to his wife in a dynastic fashion,” the group said in a statement Wednesday. “We are stating in no uncertain terms that we have completely disowned Mugabe. He is no longer one of us.”

Party Expulsion

Mnangagwa’s firing and his expected expulsion from the ruling party come amid growing tensions before elections next year when it may face a seven-party opposition coalition that’s capitalizing on public anger over cash shortages, crumbling infrastructure and a collapse in government services. The economy has halved in size since 2000.

“Mnangagwa has been consumed by a monster he helped create — the so-called one center of power giving Mugabe powers to do what ever he pleases without consulting anyone,” said University of Zimbabwe political science professor Eldred Masunungure.

Supporters of Grace Mugabe, 52, gathered outside the headquarters of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front on Wednesday with banners calling for her to be named vice president. Mnangagwa’s dismissal came after she accused him of plotting against her husband. Similar allegations she made against then Vice President Joice Mujuru, who also fought in the liberation war, led to her ouster three years ago.

“Grace has always had this agenda to get rid of this entire cohort of liberation struggle people,” said Chikwanha. “She is almost succeeding — the war veterans have been alienated.”

Grace’s Bid

While Mugabe is the party’s candidate for the elections, Grace, the president’s former secretary whom he wed in 1996 after the death of his first wife, said on Sunday that she’s ready to succeed him.

Her announcement came as Zanu-PF is planning to amend its constitution at a congress next month to ensure that a woman is appointed to its top body, known as the presidium. It currently comprises the president, Mnangagwa and Zimbabwe’s other vice president, Phelekezela Mphoko.

“We’re experiencing what’s clearly the unraveling of the state under Mugabe and, more significantly, the un-bundling of the securo-state in which Mnangagwa and defense force commander Chiwenga are a part,” said Ibbo Mandaza, head of the Southern African Political Economic Series Trust in the capital, Harare. – Bloomberg