Mnangagwa’s government last week gave police officers and soldiers allowances ranging between $5 000 and $10 000 while paying the rest of the civil service an average of $1 200.
The disparities angered unions representing civil servants, with health workers vowing to press ahead with a strike that has stretched for over three weeks.
Civil society and opposition groups are also pushing for protests on July 31 and the government desperately wants the security forces to be on its side to quell any unrest.
Eldred Masunungure, a University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, said the discrepancies in the allowances paid to civil servants and uniformed forces could be a sign that authorities fear an uprising.
Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe last month was forced to address an unusual press conference where he announced that security forces were not contemplating a coup against Mnangagwa.
“The government might want to say the monies paid to the police and army, which were higher than those of other civil servants, are to compensate them for their work in the fight against Covid-19, but that will be just for public consumption,” Masunungure said.
“The truth is that, behind the scenes something is brewing even though it cannot be put in public and the leaders may be desperate for coup-proofing.
“The events can be traced to the press conference addressed by the Home Affairs minister where he was flanked by securocrats denouncing plans of a coup.”
He said the government feared disgruntled members of the security forces could be forced to side with the protesters, hence the payments.
“That was unprecedented and the latest payments might be to co-opt the security guys to support the government,” Masunungure said.
“They had not been co-opted yet and government is aware of the prospects of a coup or demonstrations and protests planned for the end of this month.
“However it’s a fragile situation and the payments may just be a temporary measure as they can only defer but not eliminate totally the prospects of a coup if it is being planned.”
He said the government was appeasing “the state security agents because they have the weapons of war to dethrone the state while discriminating those who do not have the capacity because the public sector is one and you must not discriminate”.
Rashweat Mukundu, a Harare based political analyst, said Mnangagwa was using divide-and-rule tactics in the face of growing anger over the failure of his economic policies.
“What the government is doing is to try to divide and rule the public sector by bringing closer the state security agents,” he said.
“However, that is a temporary measure because it does not get to the root of the problem, which is arresting galloping inflation and sorting the economy.
“This means that next month the monies given to the military will be useless and they will be back to square one.
“Again, the partisan payments made will inflame the emotions of those who received less like the health workers who are likely to give backing to the planned protests.”
Nick Mangwana, the government spokesperson, said allegations that the government paid security forces more money because it feared a coup were “nonsensical”.
Mangwana said there was no discrimination in the allowances paid to all government workers.
“People do not earn the same (amounts of money),” he said.
“A permanent secretary and a doctor, for example, earn different salaries.
“The same case can also be found between a teacher and a nurse.
“What I know is that some government workers got backdated cushioning allowances, but there was no discrimination at all.”
Patrick Chinamasa, the acting Zanu-PF spokesperson, said the ruling party would confront anyone protesting against the government.
Government officials have also threatened that security forces would ruthlessly crush any protests.
Mnangagwa rose to power following a 2017 coup that toppled his mentor Robert Mugabe.
Army commanders at the time cited Zimbabwe’s long-running economic problems, which they said had become a security threat, for toppling Mugabe.
Activists led by Jacob Ngarivhume of Transform Zimbabwe say they are organising mass protests on July 31 to register discontent over the government’s failure to deal with corruption.
Mnangagwa last week fired Health minister Obadiah Moyo after he was arrested for his alleged involvement in a US$60 million scandal in the procurement of Covid-19 supplies.
Moyo’s sacking did little to appease the president’s critics, who say he is not doing enough to fight corruption.
Since coming into power, Mnangagwa’s government has deployed the military twice to quell protests.
In 2018, soldiers shot dead six people in central Harare after opposition supporters took to the streets protesting against delays in the release of presidential election results.
Last year, human rights groups said soldiers killed at least 17 people and raped several women during violent protests over a sharp increase in the price of fuel.