PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s succession race has taken a drmatic twist following Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s recent insinuation Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantine Chiwenga and other senior military commanders are “juniors” to pose any serious threat to his presidential ambitions.
Zanu PF officials and military officers have been saying Chiwenga harbours presidential ambitions and could be a dark horse in the cutthroat race to succeed Mugabe, but Mnangagwa seemed to dismiss this in his recent revealing interview with the London-based New African magazine.
“The current army commanders were very young at the time (during the liberation struggle), and I can guarantee you that there is nobody in the army who is of our generation. Those who are heading the military now were junior officers during the struggle because all their commanders have either died or retired,” Mnangagwa said.
Senior military commanders who spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent this week also said Chiwenga was a junior to Mnangagwa in the liberation struggle and the present establishment hierarchy.
However, some army insiders warned Mnangagwa was making a mistake because Chiwenga, who might not command full respect among his military peers as shown by the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables a few years ago, would
be a major factor in the succession matrix and outcome even if he is junior to the Vice-President.
After all, the insiders said, junior military officers often determine or change the course of politics in some African states through interventions and coups.
Chiwenga has been studying and was recently awarded a doctorate by the University of KwaZulu Natal’s College of Humanities, fuelling speculation he is preparing for a career in politics and possibly a future role in leadership.
Sources close to Mnangagwa, however, say the Vice-President views Chiwenga as low-ranking to challenge him because of his long association with Mugabe and the liberation struggle, as well as due to age. Mnangagwa was born in 1942, whereas Chiwenga was born in 1956.
In the interview, Mnangagwa made it clear his long relationship with Mugabe, role in the liberation struggle and service in Zanu PF, leaves him as the frontrunner to succeed the ageing leader.
“You can do the arithmetic. I have been with the President since 1963. We have been working together since then, first in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and thereafter we were in prison together; he did 11 years and I did 10 years. The difference was that he was detained and I was in prison, so we couldn’t communicate under the circumstances,” Mnangagwa said.
“After that we were together in Mozambique for the entire period of the armed struggle, and at the Lancaster House Conference in London in 1979, and through 35 years of Independence. So all together, we have been together for 52 years.”
Mnangagwa also said only him and Mugabe were in the original Zanu PF national executive committee (Nec), which was later called the politburo. Former vice-president Joice Mujuru was also in the Nec and the first politburo, but was expelled from the ruling party over the succession battle, leaving only Mugabe and Mnangagwa as the only surviving Zanu PF leaders to have been in the body since its inception.
“Looking back since 1977, I have been there throughout, first as Nec member, and from 1984 when the politburo was introduced, as a politburo member. Again, looking at the politburo members from that time who are still alive, there is Mugabe, there is myself, there is Teurai (Ropa) Mujuru,” he said.
Zanu PF officials, however, said Mnangagwa recognises that First Lady Grace Mugabe is a threat to his presidential ambitions because of her association with Mugabe, which gives her influence, although on her own she is seen as a nonentity. Grace seems positioning herself to succeed Mugabe and has been locked in a battle of attrition with Mnangagwa since they ganged up in a marriage of convenience during the acrimonious Zanu PF December 2014 congress to oust Mujuru.
Grace’s veiled attacks on Mnangagwa — in a series of similar rounds of assault — in Chimanimani yesterday further signalled her kingmaker role or succession ambitions.