HARARE – President Robert Mugabe has dropped the clearest hint that he might reshuffle his Cabinet anytime soon to weed out elements seen as fomenting discord in his government.
By Fungi Kwaramba and Andrew Kunambura
Mugabe last reshuffled his Cabinet in September 2015 as he sought to uproot functionaries that were associated with former vice president Joice Mujuru.
Mujuru had been fired about 10 months earlier, in 2014, for scheming to unseat Mugabe using unconstitutional means.
Ever since, the discord in his Cabinet has worsened because of the intense infighting between Zanu PF factions — Team Lacoste and Generation 40 (G40) — over Mugabe’s succession.
The infighting has spread to all facets of government, thus disrupting government business, and stalling projects meant to pull the country’s economy from the intensive care.
Addressing Zanu PF supporters at the Harare International Airport on his return from the 72nd Ordinary Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Monday, Mugabe dropped the strongest hint that he would soon be dealing with malcontents in his deeply-divided party.
He said he was aware of saboteurs who wanted to incite people against his government ahead of next year’s general elections, suggesting some of them could be within his inner circle.
“We heard that they are shortages of things like cooking oil whose prices are going up; we don’t understand this. There are some people who want to fuel discord in the country as we go towards elections next year. They want to make sure that they will be an uprising against the government but our people are well informed and will not do that,” said Mugabe.
The Zanu PF leader threw the cat among pigeons by implying that some of those whom he dines with could be among the saboteurs, saying he would deal with them in a matter of days.
“We are going to look at the problems, we are sure they can be solved in one or two days, let us be careful because they are some rotten apples in our midst, it might actually be people who we share things with but let us not be divided, let us go to elections united,” said Mugabe.
His latest pronouncement comes just over two weeks after the Zanu PF leader told party supporters at a rally in Bindura that while he was in the middle of reshuffling the Cabinet, he received news of the death of former minister of State for Masvingo province Shuvai Mahofa.
“Members of Parliament from Masvingo approached me and said these two (Psychomotor minister Josiah) Hungwe and Mahofa) were a big problem in the province. They asked me to remove VaHungwe and Mai Mahofa from office saying the province would run smoothly if they are gone. So I was in the process of reshuffling Cabinet when Mai Mahofa died,” Mugabe said.
Hungwe and Mahofa were accused of grabbing sugarcane plantations from agro-industrial firm, Tongaat Hullet on which they settled over 400 party supporters.
Last year, Mugabe held back-to-back meetings in Chiredzi and Harare to try and solve the emotive divisions in Masvingo to no avail.
He has also repeatedly told the settlers to vacate the plantations, but they have refused to go, only to find themselves stuck with their crop as the company refuses to take in their crop for processing.
Political analyst, Shakespear Hamauswa, said Mugabe was warning those on the wrong side of the fence of the impending demotions.
“He has the prerogative to appoint and dismiss Cabinet ministers and he can simply do that at will,” remarked Hamauswa.
“Previously, he used to consult Mujuru and Mnangagwa to balance the then existing factions, but now that he seems to be a faction of his own, the Cabinet reshuffle can be a possible reality. It will also be a way of entrenching his position showing that he is still in control.”
Relations in the ruling party have become seriously strained following the suspected poisoning of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa last month by alleged rivals who are desperate to destroy his prospects of succeeding Mugabe (93).
Since the alleged poisoning of Mnangagwa, Mugabe and his wife, Grace, have accused the Midlands and Masvingo provinces of fanning tribalism and spreading hate through false claims of witchcraft.
Political scientist, Ibbo Mandaza, predicted a Cabinet reshuffle saying this would be a step towards resolving the thorny succession issue.
“He hinted on a Cabinet reshuffle in Bindura and now he is talking about bad apples within the government hierarchy. I think we are in for some kind of reshuffle,” Mandaza said.
Asked if he thought Mugabe was bold enough to tweak with his Cabinet when elections are approaching, Mandaza said: “That should not be a problem, elections are still too far. I think he wants to move a step further to try and settle the succession question.”
Political commentator, Rashweat Mukundu, said Mugabe was likely to approach the reshuffle with caution.
“It certainly indicates an impending Cabinet reshuffle, but be sure that Mugabe will still balance the various factions and maintain them in a state of equilibrium.
“The reshuffle is not intended to reward anyone but to balance the deck for his benefit and enhanced control of the party and the succession debate,” said Mukundu.
Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, said there is likely to be many rotations of Cabinet and other senior positions all the way through to the elections in 2018.
“This will be part and parcel of alliance building for one or another faction, or of the president attempting to balance the factions,” he said.
Chan, however, said it is not saboteurs within government who are responsible for rising prices.
He said prices were spiralling out of control because government, as a whole, has had no underlying economic strategy for some years.
“The result now is simply that there is no underlying economy. The question is whether continuing and escalating price rises will make the president’s position untenable before the elections – in a way that the opposition cannot,” opined Chan. Daily News