What the firing of Zimbabwe’s vice president means for South Africa

The firing of Zimbabwe’s deputy president Emmerson Mnangagwa on Monday has sparked international concern over exactly what’s going on in Zimbabwe’s political arena.

The announcement was made on Monday by government spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo. Mnangagwa, who served as Mugabe’s deputy for three years, was relieved of his duties amidst charges of disloyalty. “The vice president consistently and persistently exhibited traits of disloyalty, disrespect, deceitfulness and unreliability. He has also demonstrated little probity in the execution of his duties,” said Moyo at the press conference.

The removal of Mnangagwa, some have speculated, has made way for Grace Mugabe to become second-in-command in Zimbabwe. Before Mnangagwa’s firing, Mugabe and her husband, President Robert Mugabe, made public their disdain and annoyance at the former vice president at a youth rally in Bulawayo.

Mugabe’s ousting of Mnangagwa tells us that there is an internal battle between the two Zanu-PF leaders. Mnangagwa, who has served in Mugabe’s regime for 37 years, made it clear in a press statement released yesterday that he’s not taking his removal lightly. “I am not afraid of anyone or worried about my political future under the current ‘Party Capture’ that is being tolerated and condoned by the First Family,” read his statement. He has accused the president and first lady of having “privatised and commercialised” Zanu-PF.

Mnangagwa has fled Zimbabwe, allegedly because his life and the lives of his family are under threat. The Guardian reported that Mnangagwa will be in South Africa this week.

Grace Mugabe has political and social support in Zimbabwe. She not only has the backing of the President, Zanu-PF youth, but also leads faction called Generation of 40.

Mnangagwa, who has been in government for the past 37 years, is supported by Zimbabwe’s military and the National Liberation War Veterans’ Association. Leader of the group, Chris Mutsvangwa, said at a press briefing in Sandton on Wednesday that Zimbabweans in the diaspora must work to restore democracy in its government. “We want to make it impossible for the current government to function – we have done it before, we did it in the 1970s,” said Mutsvangwa.

In support of Mnangagwa, the association will be staging an anti-Mugabe march on Saturday 18 November.

The effects of political instability that might emerge in Zimbabwe after the sudden removal of its vice president may have an effect on South Africa. The country is already dealing with economic hardship and an all-out political battle would send many more Zimbabweans into South Africa. Ryan Cummings, a political analyst, said at this stage political instability in Zimbabwe is still a hypothetical situation but it would affect South Africa given the close economic and geographic ties. “Any spill over of instability impacts South Africa’s domestic situation, specifically a significant migration of Zimbabwean nationals across our borders,” he said. “It could [also] impact South African businesses that have quite a lot of trade with Zimbabwe.”

Cummings noted that there are strong relations between the Zuma and Mugabe administrations. The recent assault of a South African citizen by Grace Mugabe, and the subsequent granting of diplomatic immunity to her, showed us the extent of their close ties. “It did appear that the political influence of the incumbent administration may have circumvented what may have been required by law to have taken place,” said Cummings.

From a foreign policy perspective, South Africa would probably have to be diplomatically involved if there is an armed conflict. Cummings said South Africa would play a mediatory role, similar to the one in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Lesotho. “They would get involved not only to secure the situation within that country but also protecting South African interests in any regional fall outs,” he said.

South Africa provides goods, such as maize, and services, like supermarket chains, to Zimbabwe. Trade between the two countries would also be impacted if there were to be a coup d’état or some wider form of political instability. “What you often see in this case is restriction of movement, border closures, and usually this has a massive impact on cross border trading,” said Cummings.

With Mnangagwa vowing to fight the takeover of Zimbabwe’s politics and leading party by the Mugabes, and the clear emergence of fracture in Zanu-PF, it remains to be seen whether Zimbabwe will devolve into a fully-fledged war.

Featured image by Tendai Marima