Bulawayo, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has honoured his old ties and appointed the Minister of Justice, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and retired general Phelekezela Mphoko as Zimbabwe’s two vice presidents after firing the erstwhile vice president Joice Mujuru, seven ministers and one provincial representative accused of planning to assassinate the head of state. The unlikely pair is comprised of one of the most feared figures in Zanu PF and a little known military man.
In an effort to eliminate his perceived enemies, Mugabe’s selection of Mnangagwa, a liberation movement cadre, seems be part of an effort to eliminate perceived enemies.
Mnangagwa was in line for the vice presidency in 2004, after winning the provincial committee elections at the People’s Congress that year, but was sidelined by Mugabe who at the time suspected Mnangagwa of plotting against him.
Instead, through the political manouvering of her late husband, the retired general Solomon Mujuru, Joice Mujuru was appointed as the first female vice president, in line with a congress resolution to appoint more women to senior positions.
But a vicious campaign fuelled by the sudden rise of the first lady, Grace Mugabe, as head of the Zanu PF Women’s League, led to Mujuru’s dismissal this week. Members of the women’s league, war veterans association and youth league had been calling the removal of Mujuru and all those aligned to her since October.
The cabinet dismissals and Mnangagwa’s appointment have been seen as an attempt to bring an end to the long race to succeed Mugabe between the Mujuru and Mnangagwa factions. But it is far from ending divisions within the ruling party.
With the new appointments, new splits and new factions could emerge. Mnangagwa and Mphoko have their enemies and not everyone in the party is happy with their appointment. Allegations of an attempt to poison Mnangagwa on the morning of his appointment suggest the new vice president is already a target of Zanu PF rivalry.
Mnangagwa is one of the most feared figures in Zanu PF. A crafty politician and a lawyer with a reputation for being ruthless, he is also the head of intelligence services and of the Joint Operations Command, a powerful group of government officials and security chiefs.
Mnangagwa has the backing of the security chiefs and after Mujuru’s fallout with the Mugabes, he could provide some guarantee that challengers to Mugabe’s throne will be kept at bay and, in a post-Mugabe era, he could also ensure the First Family’s political interests are protected.
But for many ordinary Zimbabweans, Mnangagwa creates a feeling unease because of his links to central intelligence and his lead role in the Gukurahundi, the army-led ethnic cleansing of more than 20,000 people in the southern Matebeleland region in the 1980s.
He was also Mugabe’s chief election agent in 2008’s presidential poll, when an estimated 180 opposition supporters were killed in election violence. This history may be difficult for Mnangagwa to gain full acceptance as vice president.
An anxious Tafadzwa Shava (29), a marketing officer from the capital, Harare, told the Daily Vox, “I am worried about Mnangagwa as vice president. What will happen to this country if he becomes the leader? We will suffer even more and have a much stronger dictatorship than Mugabe but there is nothing we can do,” he said.
Similarly, Mphoko, who is not a very well known figure in local politics, inspires little confidence in ordinary Zimbabweans.
The former ambassador to South Africa once reportedly said Matabeleland’s Gukurahundi atrocities were engineered by the West. As a military commander Mphoko spent most of his career in the background. It is only recently that he emerged as a potential candidate for the second vice presidency. Mphoko is the leader of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu), the nationalist movement which led the independence movement together with Zanu PF. A unity accord, signed by the two groups in 1987, ended the post-liberation ethnic conflict and ensured that Zapu has a permanent leadership role under Zanu PF rule.
While Mphoko has triumphed over other vice presidency hopefuls including Matebeleland’s popular choice, Simon Moyo, Zanu PF’s outgoing national party chair and retired ambassador to South Africa, the question of whether he is capable of delivering an election victory for Zanu PF in 2018 is remains open.
“I would never vote for Zanu PF, but I don’t really know who Mphoko is. Of course he is a Zipra [Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army] commander but he is not known. Why did Mugabe give us such a dark horse for this region? It would have been better if Mugabe chose someone we know. And why are there no women in the presidium [party executive]? What is he saying by doing this?” wondered unemployed Thandeka Moyo (31), from Bulawayo.
As Mugabe tries to establish a new leadership structure composed of a carefully chosen circle of loyalists, for many Zimbabweans the possibility of Mnangagwa succeeding 90-year-old Mugabe is slowly sinking in.
Tendai Marima is a freelance journalist and academic researcher. Follow her on Twitter.
– Featured images via Wikimedia Commons