HARARE – Owing to inordinate delays in the appointment of vice presidents, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who leaves for an investors’ meeting in South Africa today, could be forced to appoint a Cabinet minister to act in his absence.
Unless the 75-year-old politician, who is also a qualified lawyer, appoints his deputies and swears them into office before he leaves, he may make a first in the country’s history by appointing a Cabinet minister to act as president in his absence.
The only other way to escape the knotty power vacuum that may be occasioned by this would be to return from his trip on the same day.
Mnangagwa has so far kept the nation on tenterhooks by deferring the announcement of his two deputies.
Recent events in the military, which played a crucial role in his rise to power, however, betray a re-configuration of forces that puts former army commander Constantino Chiwenga in good stead to become one of the two vice presidents (VPs).
In terms of the ruling party’s constitution, Mnangagwa must appoint one of the two VPs in line with the Unity Accord, signed between former president Robert Mugabe (Zanu) and Joshua Nkomo (Zapu) in 1987 to end the disturbances that rocked the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces in the 1980s.
Until recently, that position was occupied by Phelekezela Mphoko who was swept aside by the wave triggered by the military intervention in Zanu PF’s internal affairs last month.
Among those leading the race to deputise Mnangagwa on the Zapu side are former minister of State for Mashonaland East province Ambrose Mutinhiri, former War Veterans minister Tshinga Dube and Defence and State Security minister Kembo Mohadi.
Under the current Constitution, there are two provisions that deal with the appointment of an acting president.
The first provision provides that whenever the president is absent from Zimbabwe or is unable to exercise his functions due to illness or some other cause, those functions must be exercised by the first vice president or in his absence, the second vice president.
Under this provision, where there is no vice president, this role is assumed by a minister who is designated by the president for such a scenario or is nominated by Cabinet.
The second provision is s. 14(3) of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, which provides that where there are two vice presidents, the president may nominate one of them to be acting president in his absence or where he is unable to exercise his functions due to illness or for any other reason.
Constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku said Mnangagwa, who came to power last month after the fall of former president Robert Mugabe, is playing a dangerous game by delaying the appointment of his deputies as provided for in the Constitution.
“Under the Constitution, he can appoint a deputy from Cabinet with Cabinet approval. But it is a very dangerous game that he is playing. He cannot continue working without ministers or deputies. Perhaps he would have appointed the deputies before he leaves for South Africa. But if not that, that will be the first time that happens in the country,” said Madhuku.
Another constitutional law guru Craig Lennington said the Constitution allows for the president to appoint anyone from his Cabinet to be the acting president.
“He can appoint ministers to be the acting presidents if there is no vice president; the Cabinet of which the president is a member can appoint a minister to be acting president,” said Lennington.
Mnangagwa is making his first trip to South Africa since he became president late last month.
He is due to hold an interface meeting with potential investors while in South Africa.
Zimbabwe’s ambassador to South Africa Isaac Moyo has invited Zimbabweans doing business in the rainbow nation and all business persons with an interest in investing in Zimbabwe to the meeting to be addressed by Mnangagwa.