HARARE – The continued onslaught on Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa (pictured) could drive the 74 year-old politician to a point where he might have to make difficult choices if it is indeed true that he harbours ambitions to succeed the incumbent, analysts have said.
Since his elevation to the position of vice president in 2014, Mnangagwa has been on the ropes for allegedly failing to restrain his perceived presidential ambitions.
A rival faction that goes by the moniker, Generation40 (G40) has been turning the heat on him and his allies, many of whom have either been dismissed or suspended from Zanu PF.
Mnangagwa’s situation has become even more complicated after President Robert Mugabe and his wife, Grace, started to rebuke him in public.
On Saturday, the first lady took the gloves off at a youth interface rally held in Bindura, berating the vice president, and one of his key backers – Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander, Constantino Chiwenga.
Grace threw caution to the wind by confronting Mnangagwa over allegations he was fronting the Team Lacoste faction, accused of watering his presidential ambitions.
She also accused Chiwenga of imposing former Cabinet minister, Christopher Mutsvangwa, as leader of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association at the association’s congress in Masvingo in 2014 on the basis that he was Mugabe’s preferred candidate.
Analysts warned yesterday that Mnangagwa and his allies should realise that doing nothing about the onslaught would not make it stop or go away.
“Clearly, Mugabe and his wife are daring them to act or submit in humiliation,” said Dewa Mavhinga, a political analyst.
“Mnangagwa now finds himself between a rock and a hard place. He is perhaps by nature cautious, and, strategically, it will be difficult for him to lead the charge unless some group loyal to him acts independently and takes the fight to G40,” he added.
Mavhinga said it could be time to draft the political obituary of Mnangagwa’s within Zanu PF – the very thing that happened to former vice president Joice Mujuru, who was fired from the ruling party and government in 2014 for plotting to topple Mugabe.
Mujuru is now leading the National People’s Party.
“Now is the time for Mnangagwa, or never! The political optics are better if history records a showdown and a noble exit than a whimpering end,” remarked Mavhinga.
Political analyst, Shakespeare Hamauswa, said as the Zanu PF Women’s League secretary, Grace was justified to openly reprimand those in government, including Mnangagwa and Chiwenga.
He said Mugabe’s wife was no longer a mere first lady, but due to her position as a leader of women’s affairs she now commands some clout in Zanu PF which gives her power to reprimand government officials because the party is bigger than government.
“The only new thing is that Grace is breaking the well-established channels of communication. In terms of what will happen, nothing much will happen as long as Mugabe is alive. Possibly those who are being publicly vilified might resign and join hands with Mujuru,” Hamauswa said.
Another political analyst, Maxwell Saungweme, said what would happen in weeks if not months to come depends really on how Mnangagwa will respond to Mugabe and Grace and how the military generals will take it.
If they decide to be taciturn and dumb, Saungweme opines that those vilified will be thrown under the political bridge.
“If they decide to object to this and have gallantry to rise up to Mugabe and Grace this may lead to civil strife,” he said.
Saungweme also reasoned that Grace could be failing to see beyond her husband, saying all privileges she is currently enjoying were because her husband is still there.
“But once he is gone, these people she is sullying and molesting will not hesitate to pull the rag under her feet. She would have to deal with serious retribution and her options of where to go will be limited as she has potential international crimes hovering over her head,” said Saungweme.
“These will likely be pursued after the immunity she evidently has is buried with her hubby. Currently, she is destabilizing factor in Zanu PF and government, and it’s bad for a country, bad for democracy,” he added.
Saungweme said Grace’s actions were surprising and were a clear conflation of her private role and that of the State.
“Dr Cables (Grace) is obviously overstepping and encroaching the president’s purview, even publicly. Normally, you would have strong first ladies influence their husbands at home. But hearing an unelected and un-appointed first family member slating a vice president, ministers and military general is perplexing and unprecedented. It is brazen conflation of roles and a clear ‘bedroom coup’,” Saungweme said.
Grace has become increasingly influential since her entrance into formal politics in 2014 when she was appointed the Women’s League boss.
She has even said that by the mere fact that she is the first lady, she is more senior than her husband’s two deputies Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko.
Political analyst, Rashweat Mukundu, said Grace was the face of Mugabe and the attacks were not only rehearsed but part of the succession agenda in Zanu PF.
He also argued that the attacks by Grace were within her political rights as a senior party member and an interested party in the succession matrix.
“If she confines her attacks within Zanu PF political struggles then she is within her right and if Chiwenga dabbles in Zanu PF politics then he unfortunately courts attacks from the likes of Grace. So it’s important that the CDF stays out of politics and protect himself and the integrity of the defence forces,” said Mukundu.
McDonald Lewanika, another political analyst, said Mugabe’s sentiments from the Bindura youth interface rally sent mixed signals as he desisted from picking winners and losers between G40 and Lacoste factions.
He said both factions were berated, and their leading members praised by Mugabe for different reasons.
“If anything, despite the stinging attacks from the first lady, Mnangagwa just has to stay put, and curb the enthusiasm of his supporters because what is becoming clear from Mugabe’s utterances is that neither faction is likely to have a decisive upper hand ahead of the 2018 elections.
“Mugabe’s utterances indicate that its ‘as you were’ and limited drama especially around the major players ahead of elections. This is a smart play by Mugabe, who rather than risk losing a chunk of his support prefers to have both factions and Mnangangwa inside the party, outbidding each other for his blessings, which bodes well for his re-election, instead of having one faction (leader)out and joining hands with Mutsvangwa and the opposition to fight ZANU-PF,” said Lewanika.
Lewanika said the Zanu PF leader was also clear that the place for leadership contest is the congress and this is only due after the elections, which is when any firm jokers from Mugabe will be introduced into the game.
he said it is now a pattern that Grace berates someone at these rallies, and for some this is the high point of such rallies, but as contradictions between her and her husband show, the positions are not publicly shared, or are strategically made in a good cop bad cop fashion which allows Mugabe to be level headed and still be the centre and refuge for those attacked by the first lady.
But for the war veterans, those who have been expelled from the party have already been disposed of, and what remains is whether they can be legitimately replaced without a fight – which is unlikely given the fighting spirit that Mutsvangwa and others have already shown.