HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s deputies — Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko — are engaged in a cold war of sorts over the emotive succession debate notwithstanding the camaraderie they exhibit in public, the Daily News can report.
No matter how hard they try to conceal the antagonism towards each other, events suggests that the two ex-combatants have struggled to jell ever since they were appointed to the presidium in December 2014.
Analysts surmise that their differences were a result of the intense jockeying among bigwigs in Zanu PF who aspire to succeed Mugabe, 93, in the event that he vacates the high-pressure job at Number 1 Chancellor Road. Mnangagwa, who fought on the side of Zanu’s military wing, Zanla, during the armed struggle that ended with independence in 1980, has for long been touted as the incumbent’s heir apparent, and is linked to a faction known as Team Lacoste, rooting for his presidency.
A career diplomat, Mphoko is sympathetic to a rival faction that goes by the moniker, Generation 40 (G40), which is deliriously opposed to Mnangagwa’s perceived presidential ambitions.
He earned his liberation war stripes under Zipra – Zapu’s military wing. In government, Mnangagwa is in charge of economic ministries, and doubles up as Justice, Legal and Parliament Affairs minister, with Mphoko overseeing social ministries, on top of being responsible for the promotion of national healing, peace and reconciliation. In spite of having clear-cut job descriptions, there is a world of difference to their approach to issues and style, which does very little to hide their differences.
Otherwise known as the “crocodile” for his stealth approach to tackling his rivals, Mnangagwa rarely attacks his foes in public, unlike Mphoko who speaks his mind and does not want to be second guessed.
Last week, Mphoko clearly broke ranks with Mnangagwa, who is at the forefront of implementing the Command Agriculture programme, in an interview with a State-owned weekly.
Having trained in the Soviet Union during the liberation struggle, he hazard that the “planned” economy adopted by the then socialist country in the second half of the 20th century hardly works.
“I have trained in the Soviet Union and I know what a planned economy is, but I am saying and we must be very careful not to distort our programmes. Because if you give a headline on a particular subject or a title to a book stick to the title, don’t distort it,” Mphoko was quoted saying.
The Soviet Union took most of the blame for the economic collapse of the union and North Korea, with scholars concluding that capitalism and free markets were indisputably more productive than socialism and command economies.
As the face of Command Agriculture, Mnangagwa has found support in the form of Mugabe, who described the initiative as “beautiful”, Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander, Constantino Chiwenga, and the State-run media.
He has, however, encountered criticism from Higher and Tertiary Education minister, Jonathan Moyo, the private media and now Mphoko. In an apparent jibe directed at Mnangagwa, Mphoko also delved into the succession debate last week, using a biblical analogy to drive home the point that when Mugabe appointed his deputies he was not anointing anyone to succeed him.
“You see, what happens is that you cannot anoint yourself; you can’t do that. You have to be anointed not by some. Go to the Bible and look at how King Solomon was appointed. David was very sick, he was very frail and one of his sons, Adonijah, slaughtered over 50 beasts and anointed himself, assisted by Joab, who was a general in the army. Joab and Adonijah were working together. In the meanwhile, the reality happened and David installed Solomon and those who had anointed themselves failed completely. Those are lessons you must learn,” he said.
Moyo was quick to back Mphoko as he wrote on his micro-blogging site, twitter, that the Vice President had used the Bible to expose the “myth that Mnangagwa is a Joshua!”
Mphoko and Mnangagwa have previously contradicted each other on several occasions. When the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund (Zimdef) saga broke out last year, Mphoko claimed that Cabinet ministers could only be arrested with the approval of the president.
A few days later, Mnangagwa made remarks that contradicted Mphoko saying that was not the case as no individual was above the law. Zimdef has lately been in the news for all the wrong reasons after Moyo was accused of abusing the manpower development fund’s resources to advance his personal interests.
The case is currently before the courts. In 2015, Mphoko went to the extent of correcting Psychomotor minister, Josiah Hungwe – a Mnangagwa ally – after the former Masvingo governor had insinuated that the “crocodile” was the first vice president and therefore senior to him.
“We do not have a first and second vice president in our structures. We just have two vice presidents,” Mphoko thundered to a bewildered audience.
While Mnangagwa’s style has largely been to keep his views about his internal rivals to himself, his backers are known for taking no prisoners and give no quarter.
The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), which has thrown its full weight behind Mnangagwa as the only suitable cadre in Zanu PF to succeed Mugabe, has previously blasted Mphoko for wasting State resources by taking up residence in an up-market house worth $3,5 million and spending the whole year camped in a presidential suite at a five-star Harare hotel.
ZNLWVA was also vicious in its criticism of Mphoko and his perceive G40 allies, among them Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere and First Lady Grace Mugabe for being wasteful by embarking on whirlwind countrywide tours in 2015 which were seen as meant to prop up their faction.
So bad has been the rivalry between Mphoko and Mnangagwa that at one point Mugabe chastise his party supporters for congregating around either of his deputies saying as far as he was concerned the party leadership was united.
Academic and researcher Ibbo Mandaza said the war between Mugabe’s deputies was rooted in factionalism and the battle to succeed the Zanu PF leader.
“It is part of the succession battle and affects government business, there is obviously a tussle over policy,” said Mandaza.
Political scientist, Eldred Masunungure, said factionalism has now infected everyone in Zanu PF, making it almost impossible to ensure policy coherence. “It speaks to the deeply factionalised character of the ruling party.
Factionalism has now inflicted the highest organs, but in terms of policy it is frightening, when the VP utter such statements on policies that would have been enunciated by government it confirms policy discord; it simply means any hopes of policy coherence and the recovery of our agriculture will not be realised,” said Masunungure.
“Factionalism is at two levels and it is pervasive – affecting both Zanu PF and government,” he added.