Dumisani Muleya/ Constantine Chimakure
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe wants to replace State Security minister Didymus Mutasa, with whom he has fallen out over his succession p
olitics and war veterans’ issues, with his Rural Housing minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, it has been learnt.
The move, sources said, would have a major political bearing on Mugabe’s increasingly acrimonious succession fight and the ongoing power struggle in the ruling Zanu PF.
Mnangagwa, a former State Security minister from 1980 to 1988 with an intelligence and military background, and his Zanu PF faction, are battling retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru’s camp over Mugabe’s throne.
The two factions have intensified campaigns behind the scenes as the party’s extraordinary congress in December fast approaches. The Mnangagwa camp wants Mugabe to be endorsed as the party’s presidential candidate, while the Mujuru group is pushing for Mugabe to quit. War veterans led by Jabulani Sibanda are fighting in Mugabe’s corner. They are currently on a nationwide campaign to secure Mugabe’s endorsement, now a difficult lobby for the president’s loyalists.
Sources said Mugabe was mulling the unexpected changes — which might be accompanied by a mini-cabinet reshuffle in a bid to deal with the current economic meltdown — before next year’s joint presidential and parliamentary elections. They said Mugabe wants to shake up his inept cabinet to tackle the worsening economic crisis and fine-tune the party for the elections.
Sources said Mugabe thinks his current cabinet is one of the worst. Critics say the cabinet, which approved disastrous policies like the recent price reduction blitz and proposed company seizures, is plainly incompetent. For a while, the sources said, Mugabe has been wavering on reshuffling the cabinet because he fears it might destabilise the party and government ahead of elections.
Mugabe wants to remove Mutasa for allegedly consulting a witchdoctor on how to become president and bungling over war veterans’ issues on farms.
The sources said Mugabe summoned Mutasa to his Zanu PF HQ offices in Harare on September 19 and grilled him for withdrawing offer letters for farms from war veterans.
A livid Mugabe, the sources said, told Mutasa to stop forthwith from revoking the letters. “Mutasa emerged from the meeting with Mugabe looking exhausted,” one of the sources said. “The minister said his job was now on the line. He said he was now going to concentrate on party instead of government business.”
Mutasa is the Zanu PF secretary for administration.
The sources said Sibanda and his deputy Joseph Chinotimba complained to Mugabe that Mutasa was frustrating them over land issues by revoking offer letters for farms.
The ex-combatants were reportedly bitter that after leading farm invasions beginning in 2000, very few of them had benefited. Ministers, top party officials and senior civil servants got most prime farms, houses and equipment.
Mutasa has in the past been left in the political wilderness by Mugabe before being rehabilitated.
The sources said Mugabe has told close advisors he wants Mnangagwa to replace Mutasa because he no longer has confidence in the minister. Mnangagwa is back in favour with Mugabe after a bitter fall-out amid allegations by the president that his former personal assistant wanted to stage a palace coup in 2004. The looming appointment of Mnangagwa, who was Justice minister for 12 years, to the powerful State Security ministry, is now common cause within his camp.
“I can confirm we have it on good authority the president wants to appoint him (Mnangagwa) to be the Minister of State Security,” a source said. “We do know that this has been discussed and agreed on but what we do not know for sure is when the appointment will be made.”
While the Mnangagwa camp is delighted by the move as it will give them a major boost in their campaign for power, the Mujuru faction are against it on the grounds it is tantamount to rewarding impunity and returning the country to the dark days when the intelligence service used to operate like the “Gestapo”.
Mnangagwa’s critics and rivals accuse him of turning the state security agency, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), into an instrument of terror, whose operations were characterised by arbitrary arrests, abductions, disappearances, detention and torture. They say the climate of ubiquitous terror which prevailed during the 1980s and 1990s could return if Mnangagwa bounces back as Security minister.
Mnangagwa’s appointment is also being opposed by former PF-Zapu luminaries, particularly those who were in the military wing, Zipra and the National Security Organisation, the party’s intelligence officers agency, which was headed by Dumiso Dabengwa.
PF-Zapu leaders, commanders and intelligence were arrested when Mnangagwa was State Security minister. Although they were later acquitted by the courts on treason charges, they are known to be very bitter about it.
However, Mnangagwa’s camp says this is a self-serving political argument by Mujuru’s faction, driven by their fear of the resurgence of their main rival. They say Mnangagwa would not run the portfolio as he did in the past because the situation has changed.