Mugabe guns for generals as succession battle hots up

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Former Cabinet minister Christopher Mutsvangwa has dismissed charges by President Robert Mugabe that he is being sent by securocrats to campaign for his ouster as cracks between the ageing ruler and his once trusted generals continues to widen.

news in depth BY RICHARD CHIDZA

Mugabe last Thursday told a Zanu PF women’s league rally that some military commanders were now in a hurry to see him exit State House, in what was seen as a direct attack on Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander Constantino Chiwenga.

Chiwenga has of late been entangling himself in Zanu PF succession wars, fighting in the corner of a faction linked to Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa against another one known as G40.

Mugabe complained that the meddling by the military could be tantamount to a coup. He singled out Mutsvangwa, who is also the Zimbabwe National War Veterans Association chairman, as a proxy for those trying to push him out of power.

Last year war veterans fell out with Mugabe spectacularly after the former fighters told the 93-year-old ruler that it was time he handed over the baton to Mnangagwa.

Mutsvangwa was fired from his Cabinet post and was suspended from Zanu PF.

His group of former fighters continues to take pot shots at Mugabe, but the former war veterans minister insisted in an interview that he was his own man.

“That accusation [that he is being sent by Mnangagwa backers] has no basis in neither fiction nor fact,” he said.

“If I could be my own man just after second year at the University of Rhodesia’s law faculty lecture room in 1975 to go and join Chimurenga, I can still be my own man today.

“If I could withstand battlefield combat against Rhodesia’s standard army and all other hardships, it means I have my own resolve of mind and body.

“That accusation from a revered revolutionary icon should instead be directed at [Higher Education minister] Jonathan Moyo, a wartime deserter turned traitor, turned spy and lately thief of Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund [Zimdef] funds.

“In 1994 President Mugabe fired me as ZBC chief executive officer.

“In 2007 I flatly declined his ambassador post to Germany and in 2015 I asked him for the privilege to fire me as minister, all to show that I am my own man”.

Chiwenga recently launched a scathing attack on Moyo, saying the minister had become a security threat for criticising the command agriculture programme that is being spearheaded by Mnangagwa.

At a rally in Masvingo, Mugabe expressed surprise at the army commander’s remarks but the Thursday salvo at the generals was more direct and analysts said it showed the president’s frustration over the securocrats’ deep involvement in Zanu PF infighting.

Besides Moyo, other government ministers have also been publicly expressing fears of an army takeover.

Harare Metropolitan province minister Mirriam Chikukwa told Zanu PF supporters that Mugabe “was installed by God and nobody can remove him. Not even a gun.”

Zanu women’s league secretary for external affairs, Tabitha Kanengoni-Malinga chanted “down with the spirit of a coup” during the Thursday meeting addressed by Mugabe.

University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said Mugabe’s utterances showed that he feared he was losing control of his own succession, with securocrats now openly on Mnangagwa’s side.

“He is concerned that the faction he prefers, in this case the G40 group, is losing out because of lack of support from the military,” he said.

“Over the years Mugabe has allowed the securocrats to make pronouncements that were patently partisan as long as they supported his position.

“He has always been selfish and now realises that the army is supporting a rival faction and for selfish vested interests wants them off the succession debate.”

Masunungure said Mugabe’s charge that “the gun must not lead politics” was insincere since he has relied on the military to hang on to power.

“In Zanu PF, the gun and politics have always been equal partners and depending on the configuration of the time, one props up the other,” he said.

“It is a different ball-game now and Mugabe is being opportunistic as always.

“The military is no longer doing his bidding and Mugabe is crying foul.”

Maxwell Saungweme, a political analyst, concurred, saying Mugabe should admit that he has been beaten at his own game.

“He is just making noise. He is no longer in charge but the military is in control,” he said.

“He forgets that in 2008 he lost to [MDC-T leader Morgan] Tsvangirai and the military did what they did to keep him in power.

“His rantings are driven by people such as his wife [Grace] who are taking advantage of his advanced age for their political gains. Those rantings are a clear outcome of him being arm-twisted by his wife.

“Given the embeddedness of the military in our politics, his rantings can trigger adverse action against the country’s peace and stability and drive us close to a civil war as Zanu PF rips itself apart.”

Respected academic Ibbo Mandaza said Chiwenga must be worried about Mugabe’s outburst, which could mean his days in the army were numbered.

“He has had enough of the military and Chiwenga in particular should be scared,” he said. “He has been making a lot of political pronouncements; if I were him, I would watch it and take Mugabe’s rantings seriously.

“It cannot be business as usual. Mugabe is making his position clear.”

Meanwhile, former Finance minister Tendai Biti said the statements were an indication that Mugabe had decided on his preferred successor and now wanted to clear the path for a smooth transfer of power.

“He is trying to provoke a certain section of the security services that supports him,” the opposition People’s Democratic Party leader said.

“Mugabe and his wife have chosen a successor in the confines of their bedroom but now the military is opposing it.

“They are aware that the military has been kow-towing with Mnangagwa.”

Biti said Mugabe has created a monster by rejecting calls by the opposition to introduce security sector reforms that could have forced soldiers to confine themselves to the barracks.

“This is a militarised state and Mugabe is just the civilian lipstick of a securocratic regime,” he added.

“Mugabe has resisted calls for reform but we will continue (with the calls). The Constitution says the army should be apolitical and remain in the barracks only to work for the security of all citizens and defence of the country.

“This military, however, is captured, it is politicised and Mugabe must learn to live with his creature.”

MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu said Mugabe’s fears of a coup were real because the military had become embedded in Zanu PF politics.

“Mugabe is damn worried about the prospect of a military coup against his regime,” he said.

“He realises that the military is now deeply involved in the Zanu PF factional fights and he appreciates that this could be a recipe for a deadly civil war.

“But then, it is Mugabe himself who is responsible for politicising the military.

“The chickens are coming home to roost. It’s his skunk. He must skin it.”

Political analyst Shakesphere Humauswa said there was nothing new about what the generals were doing as everything in Zimbabwe had become militarised.

Ahead of the controversial 2008 presidential election run-off election, generals declared that they would not salute Tsvangirai if he beat Mugabe in the polls.

Securocrats have made a number of political pronouncements since then and the president has never, until now, censured them. – Standard