HARARE – Following exiled former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s chilling threats that he would be back in the country in a few weeks’ time to grab power from President Robert Mugabe, the Zanu PF government says it has put its security systems on high alert to thwart any rebellion.
Mnangagwa, who was hounded out of Zanu PF and government this week on a string of charges, has vowed to return and remove Mugabe, whom he accuse of “privatising and commercialising” the ruling party along with his wife Grace.
Asked what government was doing in light of Mnangagwa’s threats, government spokesperson and Information minister Simon Khaya-Moyo said they were on the lookout.
“Yes, I saw the statement, but as Zanu PF we don’t respond to what is not addressed to us. However, we have certainly taken note of that, we are aware of it,” he said.
Specifically, asked if government was worried about the statement, Khaya-Moyo referred questions to Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi who was neither picking up his phone nor responding to text messages sent to his mobile phone.
Sources in the politburo, however, told the Daily News that Mnangagwa’s press statement was read during the indaba and “the top hierarchy is disturbed by it”.
According to the source, Mugabe did not comment on the statement.
On Tuesday, the South African government said it was not expecting a coup but it was nevertheless watching its troubled northern neighbour closely for any signs of instability.
Official sources in Pretoria told the Daily Maverick that they thought it more likely that Mnangagwa would leave the ruling Zanu PF to form a new political party, rather than taking the military route.
The paper said Pretoria believes that Mugabe’s strategy is to replace Mnangagwa as first vice president to serve defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, who is being groomed to succeed Mugabe as president.
South African officials were struck by the amount of praise which Mugabe heaped on Sekeramayi when the two governments met for the Bi-National Commission in Pretoria last month.
Mnangagwa, a former spy chief, melted out of Zimbabwe between Tuesday and Wednesday and went on to pen a hard-hitting statement in which he said he had left the country temporarily because of constant threats to his life, including his alleged poisoning in August.
He also appeared to have been on the brink of getting arrested for yet unclear charges after the authorities ordered that he should not be allowed to leave Zimbabwe.
The former vice president was unceremoniously chucked out of government on Monday and his fate in Zanu PF was sealed on Wednesday when the politburo, chaired by ally-turned foe Mugabe, expelled him from the ruling party.
Now being referred to as “president” by his legion of supporters scattered around the country, Mnangagwa, some sources said, linked up with top military officials in China on Wednesday night and is plotting his comeback.
“This is no longer a game, gloves are now off and I can tell you he will be back as he promised. He arrived in China where he will meet key contacts,” a source close to the former VP said.
In his statement, Mnangagwa said he was prepared to pay the ultimate price to free Zimbabwe, in what some viewed as an indication that the former Justice minister was about to launch an offensive from outside the country.
“I stand prepared, once again, to pay the ultimate price in defence of Zimbabwe. 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. I implore all genuine members of Zanu PF to reject this ‘party capture’ by a few individuals as I hereby do unequivocally,” said Mnangagwa.
However, history, and regional politics are against a violent power takeover in the southern African region and virtually all political analysts interviewed by the Daily News opined that a coup was highly unlikely in Zimbabwe.
Professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London in the United Kingdom, Stephen Chan, underplayed the threat posed by Mnangagwa saying he was only a bitter man.
“Mnangagwa is understandably bitter and aggrieved. But he cannot seize power from the outside. No neighbouring country will help him do that. He depends upon a coup from inside the country — but I doubt whether the generals will do that. No one would recognise a government formed by a coup. Mnangagwa has played a hard game, and has lost. That the country is now controlled by a small but powerful elite is without doubt,” said Chan.
Besides having deep pockets, Mnangagwa has close contacts within the army, which has so far stayed clear of the Zanu PF climaxing factional wars.
Chan said although Mnangagwa is not a serious threat, the victorious Generation 40 faction is also under threat, especially if it does not salvage the sinking economy.
“That elite will also be endangered if it does not move to improve the economic well-being of the citizens. In that sense, there is still much to play for and the countdown to the elections will be perilous for the government with an anticipated 300 percent inflation rate by Easter, and the meltdown of many public services — and with the use of electronic dollars being by then useless,” said Chan.
Academic and scholar Phillan Zamchiya said without State power for the first time in 37 years, Mnangagwa was most likely going to spend more time dealing with the debilitating effects of such a shock therapy on his well-being than organising a coup.
“In Zimbabwe, politics commands the gun,” opined Zamchiya.
“I feel pity for ED because this is confirmation our politics lacks civility and lacks love. However, this is high-sounding nonsense from Mnangagwa. If he could not stop his expulsion from within how can he organise a coup from without? This is not west Africa. His supporters should rather join resilient democratic forces than think ED is Jesus Christ who is coming back. Even Jesus has taken a bit longer beyond generations. Why not write his memoirs at 75 years old,” asked Zamchiya.
Another political observer, Dewa Mavhinga, called upon the former VP to join opposition politics.
“Mnangagwa should embrace democratic values and join forces with others including the opposition to press for urgent electoral reforms to create an environment conducive for the holding of credible, free, and fair elections where violence and security forces play no part,” said Mavhinga.
Mnangagwa has been on Mugabe’s side since the country’s war of liberation in the 1970s.
The two also spent time together locked up in prison but that history counted for nothing when First Lady Grace demanded the head of the former deputy on a silver platter on Sunday.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said Mnangagwa should not be underestimated considering the long period he has served in government.
“His statements border on what treason is to Zanu PF. So he can be arrested by the junta if he tries coming back. More so, the regime can seek to extradite him based on charges of economic crimes if they eventually charge him of the missing $15 billion from diamonds.
“The possibility of a coup is there if the military support him closely. So it’s a possibility. But some of his actions make him a harmless overstated political crocodile,” said Saungweme.
On Wednesday, Bloomberg reported that Mugabe’s decision to fire the former spy chief wrecked the very security apparatus that has kept him in power for almost four decades.
Mnangagwa, who received military training in Nanjing, China, had been a pillar of a military and security apparatus that helped Mugabe emerge as the nation’s leader after independence from Britain in 1980.
Mnangagwa, 75, was Zimbabwe’s first national security minister.
Now Mugabe, 93, has broken with most of his comrades who fought in the liberation war, leaving the so-called G40 faction of younger members of the ruling party championed by his wife, Grace, in the ascendancy.
The final outcome of the power struggle could be determined by the military and the stance of the 61-year-old commander of the army, Constantino Chiwenga, who traditionally supported Mnangagwa.
“I don’t think the army guys will take it lying down,” Annie Chikwanha, a Zimbabwean professor of political science at the University of Johannesburg, said Wednesday.
“Other than the presidential guard, I don’t think Mugabe really has control over the rest of the armed forces. There is also massive disillusionment with the state of the economy. I don’t think we can rule out a major show of force by the army.”
Mnangagwa’s firing and his expulsion from the ruling party come amid growing tensions before elections next year when it may face a seven-party opposition coalition that’s capitalising on public anger over cash shortages, crumbling infrastructure and a collapse in government services.
The economy has halved in size since 2000.
“Mnangagwa has been consumed by a monster he helped create — the so-called one centre of power — giving Mugabe powers to do whatever he pleases without consulting anyone,” said University of Zimbabwe political science professor Eldred Masunungure.
Supporters of Grace Mugabe, 52, gathered outside Zanu PF headquarters on Wednesday with banners calling for her to be named vice president.
Mnangagwa’s dismissal came after she accused him of plotting against her husband.
Similar allegations she made against then vice president Joice Mujuru, who also fought in the liberation war, led to her ouster three years ago.
“Grace has always had this agenda to get rid of this entire cohort of liberation struggle people,” said Chikwanha. “She is almost succeeding — the war veterans have been alienated.”
While Mugabe is the party’s candidate for the elections, Grace, the president’s former secretary whom he wed in 1996 after the death of his first wife, said on Sunday that she’s ready to succeed him.
Her announcement came as Zanu-PF is planning to amend its constitution at a special congress next month to ensure that a woman is appointed to its presidium.
It, until recently, comprised the president, Mnangagwa and the other vice president, Phelekezela Mphoko.
“We’re experiencing what’s clearly the unravelling of the State under Mugabe and, more significantly, the un-bundling of the securo-State in which Mnangagwa and defence force commander Chiwenga are a part,” said Ibbo Mandaza, head of the Southern African Political Economic Series Trust in the capital, Harare. — Additional reporting by Bloomberg