FOLLOWING Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s recent remarks in an interview with the London-based New African magazine that the current army commanders are junior and do not pose a threat to his succession bid, it has emerged Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantine Chiwenga is now firmly backing the veteran politician to succeed President Robert Mugabe.
At separate briefings this week, senior Zanu PF leaders said initially Chiwenga was vacillating between two camps, one led by Mnangagwa and the other by First Lady Grace Mugabe, because as an appointee of the President as commander-in-chief he has to maintain loyalty to him, and by extension to his wife who is now vastly influential, for survival.
They also said he at the same time also needed to remain loyal to Mnangagwa, a long-time ally and boss dating back to the days of the liberation struggle.
At a rally in March, Mnangagwa described Chiwenga as “our commissar”, apparently referring to his role during the struggle, although it also sounded like a coded message to refer to his current manoeuvres behind the scenes.
“The person I want you to meet is our commissar. Do you know Chiwengwa? … Stand up Chiwengwa so that people can see you,” Mnangagwa said.
Zanu PF’s current political commissar is Saviour Kasukuwere.
However, by choosing to support Mnangagwa, Chiwenga has reportedly put his career on the line as Mugabe, now hugely influenced by his increasingly powerful wife, has powers to extend his tenure or terminate his contract.
“Since the December congress last year, there has been a new realignment of forces in Zanu PF and state actors: Chiwenga now firmly supports Mnangagwa, while (Vice-President Phelekezela) Mphoko and others like Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi are leaning towards Grace. Other senior army commanders however don’t agree with Chiwenga and thus support Grace to remain aligned with the commander-in-chief. Chiwenga is loyal to Mugabe, but by supporting Mnangagwa he risks being seen as anti-Grace, something which currently is politically suicidal,” a senior ruling party official said this week.
“Even if Sekeramayi is known to be an ally of Mai Mujuru (the ousted former vice-president Joice Mujuru replaced by Mnangagwa), he is now slowly but surely aligning himself with Grace to find a new lease of political life after surviving those ruthless purges before, during and after congress. There are also endless others shifts and changes behind the scenes; the two main rival factions are recruiting frantically, while party officials are also ever-changing, seeking safe accommodation. The internal dynamics are very fluid.”
This comes as the First Lady is intensifying her nationwide campaigns whose purpose remains unclear and subject to speculation, although it is widely understood within Zanu PF that she is campaigning to raise her national profile, thus positioning herself to succeed her increasingly frail husband, now 91.
“Grace and her allies’ strategy is to build an alliance spanning Mashonaland and Matabeleland provinces to isolate Mnangagwa to Masvingo and Midlands, and perhaps Manicaland which is up for grabs,” another official said. “That way he won’t have a national profile and electoral grip, leaving him vulnerable to defeat. But Mnangagwa knows that and he is fighting to stop that plan.”
Grace, who is also the Zanu PF secretary for Women’s Affairs, is expected to address a party rally tomorrow in Mnangagwa’s heartland of Masvingo where she will face a stern test to prove she has a strong political following to challenge the veteran politician, one of the three survivors, together with Mugabe and Sekeramayi, from the Zanu PF 1977 Chimoio congress.
Mnangagwa’s appearance at Mucheke Stadium in Masvingo in April did not attract a huge crowd as was expected, although the province and Midlands region are his strongholds. Grace will also be under media and public scrutiny to see whether she will persist to brazenly abuse state resources for political gain.
Initially it was believed that Chiwenga had presidential ambitions, but latest information shows he has dropped that agenda firmly throwing his weight behind Mnangagwa’s camp. “What is now clear is that two factions have crystalised in Zanu PF post-congress. There is now the Mnangagwa and Grace Mugabe factions, which replaced the traditional Mnangagwa versus Mujuru camps,” another senior ruling party official said. “No amount of denials and protests by anyone can change this: we have factions and they are action, sometimes publicly, daily.”
Chiwenga’s latest position comes after Mnangagwa, in an interview with the New African magazine in August, said: “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.”
Insiders say the Mnangagwa camp is associated with people who believe in a transitional arrangement in which Mugabe should not be a candidate in 2018.
They say Mnangagwa faction’s strategy is to approach the current situation in Zanu PF as a transitional phase. So it has positioned its leader to stay ready to take over from Mugabe if he leaves offices before the expiry of his term in 2018. The faction strongly believes he will leave before 2018.
However, while the Mnangagwa camp is preparing its leader to take over anytime, the clear message from Mugabe and those around him has always been that he is going nowhere.
Insiders say Grace’s G40 group, which includes senior party officials like Jonathan Moyo, Kasukuwere and Patrick Zhuwao, by contrast, believes it is premature to talk about transition from Mugabe’s rule when he is just two years into his new five-year tenure. Moyo has been fearlessly attacking the Mnangagwa group as the battle for political turf and control escalates.