Mugabe succession war: It’s not yet over until it’s over

Back in 1991 rock music legend Lenny Kravitz sang his way to the top of the American Billboard charts with the hit single It’s not over until it’s over, a phrase that aptly sums up the current predicament Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa currently finds himself in.

Herbert Moyo

Just over a year ago in December 2014, Mnangagwa and his allies were on cloud nine as he was elevated to the second most powerful position in the country after the sensational ouster of his predecessor Joice Mujuru and several other party and government bigwigs on unproven allegations of plotting to topple and even assassinate President Robert Mugabe.

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In the two months preceding her downfall, Mujuru had watched with silent horror as First Lady Grace Mugabe held rallies countrywide casting aspersions on her morality and denouncing her in the most virulent terms for seeking to usurp Mugabe’s powers.

And when she praised Mnangagwa for his patience and fortitude despite having the prize snatched from him at the last minute with the elevation of Mujuru in 2004, many including Mnangagwa, believed that he had indeed become a shoo-in to succeed Mugabe whenever he finally leaves office for whatever reason.

Long-time loyalist Josiah Hungwe raised the praise-singing bar; referring to Mnangagwa as the “son of God” at a celebratory party in December 2014 that was graced by dozens of Zanu PF politburo, and central committee members as well as senior military officers. Clergyman Andrew Wutawunashe graced and blessed the ocassion.

Even the normally reticent Mnangagwa seemed to believe that his hour had finally come as witnessed by his highly charged display of joyful emotion during a rally in his Midlands home province last November.

This was after Grace had sang his praises and extolled his virtues to the point where he could only stand up and chant “Pasi nemhandu, pasi nemhanduuu” (down with the enemy)”, with the kind of delirium and ecstasy that is so often witnessed among religious devotees, especially these days in Zimbabwe where new prophets and churches have taken the country by storm.

Fast-forward to 2016 and Mnangagwa is singing the blues once again. What began in January 2015 as seemingly innocuous comments in the state media by the then information minister Jonathan Moyo that Mnangagwa had merely been appointed to assist Mugabe and not to succeed him developed over the course of the year into fully-fledged opposition to his ambitions and ascendancy.

Moyo and others in the G40 group of Zanu PF Young Turks have since built up a head of steam which culminated in last week’s rally where Grace castigated Mnangagwa and his supporters in the vituperative language that became staple fare in the run up to the dismissal of Mujuru.

Indeed, it has been the same script by Grace and the same cast in the drama, but this time aimed at different characters who include Mnangagwa and his followers who have been warned of a bare-knuckle fight if they do not drop their ambitions. Even fellow Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko mocked Mnangagwa’s ambitions, boldly stating that it does not follow that after the Zezuru leadership of Mugabe, the presidency would pass on to Mnangagwa’s Karanga hands.

Mnangagwa survived the 2004 debacle in which six provincial party chairpersons aligned to him were purged for attempting to elevate him to the vice-presidency.

Once again Mnangagwa finds himself on the ropes, with his allies being either suspended or kicked out of the party, but the question is whether he has the capacity to fight back and re-assert himself in the face of such formidable opposition, which includes Mugabe’s wife and the president himself.

Questions are being asked whether he will remain silent and be the lame duck that Zanu PF Women’s League secretary for finance Sarah Mahoka publicly called him to his face at a rally at the party headquarters in Harare last week
Or will he refuse to go the Mujuru way, of a silent sheep being led to slaughter, by springing to action and rallying his supporters for one final fight of Armageddon proportions in a party already facing a dramatic and catastrophic succession conflict. Mugabe is likely to go down with Zanu PF.

“He is of different and stronger political stock,” said political analyst and academic Alex Magaisa, suggesting that it may not be as easy for his opponents as Mujuru was.

“He has been close to the Mugabe regime in a way that Mujuru never was. He has been with Mugabe for more than 40 years, with close roles in security-related matters. He has played an integral role in Zanu PF’s electoral successes, by means both fair and foul. For years he chaired the powerful Joint Operations Command (Joc). He is a man who knows a lot, perhaps too much. Can they get rid of him just like that?” Magaisa further questioned.

While it remains debatable whether he is actually made of sterner stuff or just the “ambitious lizard” as Moyo derisively called on him on Twitter, one advantage Mnangagwa certainly has over Mujuru is the benefit of hindsight which has taught him and his allies the perils that await those who remain silent and passive in the face of an onslaught by Grace and her allies.

Already, his allies particularly War Veterans minister Christopher Mutsvangwa and Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWA) secretary-general Victor Matemadanda, have sprung into action and declared war against Grace and her camp.

“We can see it, we are being pushed to war,” said Matemadanda during a press conference on Tuesday attended by the majority of the the war veterans leadership.

“We went to war and suffered not for the people in positions, but for the povo and therefore we are saying no to that,” warned Matemadanda.

In so saying, the duo and their war veteran allies have accepted the gauntlet throw down at them by Grace — whom they described as a “young girl” — and her allies, including political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere who only last Friday stated it was now open war and declared his readiness to “die for Mugabe”.

Their reaction has set the stage for a brutal confrontation and Grace will have to up her game in response as she is only too aware that she will suffer public humiliation in the post-Mugabe era should Mnangagwa and his allies prevail.

But then again, there is nothing new in the reaction of Mutsvangwa and his clique of war veterans. Back in 2014, the then ZNLWA leader Jabulani Sibanda and other allies also made statements suggesting they would not go down without a fight only to be let down by Mujuru who went down with mere whimpers. Mujuru certainly did not go down fighting.

And similarly, the bold declarations by the Mutsvangwa group may eventually be undone by the attitude of their leader Mnangagwa who has so far remained silent in public in the face of such relentless attacks, including jibes by Mahoka and Mphoko who added the tribal dimension to the succession war. Instead of publicly standing up to G40, Mnangagwa has, like Mujuru, chosen to engage Mugabe and plead with him to rein in his wife and her supporters.

And like Mujuru, the decision to engage the president is probably not so much an indication of lack of courage as it is borne out of an awareness that Mugabe is still the potentate — the undisputed overlord of Zanu PF.

Analysts say Zanu PF factions may threaten fire and brimstone but eventually it is Mugabe’s word that will carry the day. They say Mnangagwa and other presidential hopefuls are circumscribed by amendments to the national and Zanu PF constitutions which reduce vice-presidents to appointees who owe their positions to the generosity of the president. This makes it impossible to appeal to the electorate to resist removal as they are not voted into their positions.

“I don’t think Mnangagwa has any viable options. Everything rests on what Mugabe does or does not do,” said Professor Eldred Masunungure, adding, “he will need to rely on the generosity of Mugabe and hope that he does not necessarily share the sentiments that are being publicly expressed by his wife, his colleagues in the presidency and others in the G40. His options are extremely circumscribed because of the constitutional amendments which he was responsible for crafting. He’s a victim of the constitutional engineering which he was party to.”

In the final analysis, the succession war appears to have entered a do-or-die phase as the factions have laid their cards on the table. However, the survival of Mnangagwa appears to be out of his hands and remains firmly in those of Mugabe — the husband of her antagonist Grace. Yet, as Kravitz said, it’s not yet over until it’s over.

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