SPEAKER of Parliament Emmerson Mnangagwa’s chances of taking over President Robert Mugabe’s job continue to fade amid indications that the former strongman is being elbowed from the race for power.
Just two weeks ago, Mnangagwa, once a key political figure in ruling party circles, suffered an embarrassing setback when he was reportedly snubbed by Midlands State University where he was due to be conferred with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Mnangagwa’s name was deleted from the list of graduands ahead of the ceremony, reports said. President Mugabe presided at the graduation as chancellor of the university.
The case is the latest in a series of setbacks for Mnangagwa, regarded by many as Mugabe’s anointed political heir. Currently, a high-level investigation initiated by the politburo into the commercial operations of Zanu PF is underway. Mnangagwa, as the ruling party’s finance chief for many years, is reported to have been interviewed about the goings-on at a number of companies.
Under scrutiny are all Zanu PF-associated companies and investments including Zidco Holdings, M&S Syndicate, First Banking Corporation, Treger Holdings, Catercraft and Zidlee Enterprises. Although the allegations being investigated centre on graft, mismanagement and security breaches by those actually running the companies, the probe is seen as clipping Mnangagwa’s wings.
The Standard reported in March that Kwekwe-based gold dealer Mark Burden had claimed in a sworn affidavit that he had been tortured in police custody to implicate Mnangagwa in illicit gold deals. Burden said he denied any involvement by Mnangagwa. Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena was quoted at the time as saying if Burden had any complaints against the police he should inform the courts.
Mnangagwa, together with other senior Zimbabwean officials, has been mentioned in a UN report as linked to the plunder of resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a charge he has denied.
Sources in Zanu PF told the Zimbabwe Independent that there was a full-blooded attempt by an opposing faction in the party to stifle Mnangagwa’s presidential ambitions.
Political analyst and Southern Africa Publishing House head Ibbo Mandaza however insists that despite all the obstacles to Mnangagwa, he remains a front-runner in the succession race.
“Mnangagwa remains in strong contention for the presidency,” said Mandaza. “It is not correct to say that Mnangagwa is being targeted by anyone. The probe into Zanu PF companies is not aimed at Mnangagwa but at the companies. Why are you not saying it is aimed at Karimanzira?”
David Karimanzira is the current Zanu PF finance secretary heading the party’s internal inquiry.
Mandaza refused to draw any conclusions from the Midlands State University “snub” saying: “It was a non-event.”
Top party sources said the Speaker of Parliament fell out of favour with Mugabe following the exposé of the retirement plan that he was reportedly hatching with retired Army General Vitalis Gava Zvinavashe. Mnangagwa was named in reports as the architect of the “soft-landing plan” that could have seen Mugabe negotiate a retirement package. The plan also involved retired Colonel Lionel Dyck and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Ruling party sources said Mugabe was angered because he was not informed about the advanced state of the negotiations.
“Mugabe interpreted Mnangagwa’s reported scheme in a very serious light. This is why Mnangagwa is being punished now and openly humiliated,” said a politburo member who declined to be named.
In fact after the exposé, Mugabe’s information chief Jonathan Moyo told the Sunday Mail that the plan amounted to a coup d’état. Mnangagwa and Zvinavashe are both of the Karanga tribe, a strong power base in Zimbabwean politics.
“Mugabe regarded the soft-landing plan as a Karanga plot to oust him,” said the politburo member. “He does not trust anyone now, that is why he has remained mum about his successor.”
Political commentator Gordon Chavunduka said Mnangagwa was completely out of the succession race.
“I do not see any chance of him taking over,” said Chavunduka. “His policies are very much similar to those of Mugabe and besides he is not very popular in the party.”
Chavunduka said there should be a democratic way of dealing with the leadership and succession issue in Zanu PF and that was to allow people to choose their leaders at the annual congress.
The Independent was told that Mugabe is expected to name a vice-president to replace the late Simon Muzenda during the congress in December. Whoever takes the position will be critical to the post-Mugabe transition.
The main battle for the vice-presidency and for the Mugabe succession is between the big battalions, the Zezuru group and the Karanga group. At the helm of the Zezuru group is Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi who, it is believed, has the backing of retired General Solomon Mujuru and Air Force commander Air Marshal Perence Shiri.
The Karanga group, which is linked to ailing firebrand Eddison Zvobgo, has in its ranks the likes of former Air Marshal Josiah Tungamirai. Sources said the strongest contenders were Sekeramayi and Mnangagwa.
Sekeramayi owes his ascendancy to his friends and backers, particularly Mujuru, as much as his political skills. Mugabe at first appeared to favour Mnangagwa. But his endorsement would now appear to have been withdrawn.
Mnangagwa, despite intensive lobbying and sponsorship of rising provincial politicians, is feared rather than loved.
Party sources insist that Zanu PF chairman John Nkomo and former finance minister Simba Makoni remain in strong contention for the presidency. But Makoni is a relative lightweight.
Zanu PF secretary for information and publicity Nathan Shamuyarira is on record as saying that a power struggle in Zanu PF was likely to erupt, depending on how Mugabe departed.
“John Nkomo is on par with Emmerson Mnangagwa. It depends very much on how Mugabe quits,” Shamuyarira said in an interview earlier this year. “If Mugabe at the December congress says, ‘I am quitting now’, Joseph Msika (the vice-president) will (automatically) take over. It will be very difficult for anyone to oppose him.
“But if Mugabe says, ‘I will be retiring in a year’s time’, then there will be in-fighting between Mnangagwa and Nkomo.”
Mugabe recently told British television channel Sky News that he will be retiring after his current term of office. He told the news channel that he did not have a successor in mind.