IN the aftermath of a fierce internal Zanu PF succession power struggle played out in the public domain, which left a number of high-profile political casualties including former vice-president Joice Mujuru in its trail, Acting President Emmerson Mnangagwa — who is holding five key positions — is rapidly consolidating power to secure his ascendancy to the throne as President Robert Mugabe’s successor.
The plot to remove Mujuru would have succeeded beyond Mnangagwa’s wildest dreams; for he was down and practically out after last year’s Zanu PF provincial elections which left the ex-vice-president in charge of nine out of 10 provinces, ensuring she was Mugabe’s shoo-in successor.
However, after Grace Mugabe’s recent political tsunami and purges hardly ever seen in modern conventional politics, Mnangagwa emerged as the biggest winner and is now centralising power as Vice-President, Zanu PF rotating chairperson, Justice minister, ministerial-level intelligence chief and Leader of Government Business in the National Assembly.
As Justice minister, Mnangagwa is also Leader of the House and head of government business in the National Assembly, a platform he has of late been using to try to improve his mediocre oratory skills, his PR and build his profile.
No single individual leader has ever held so many portfolios at once in the post-independence era, making Mnangagwa a real political gladiator and almost certainly the heir apparent, barring unforeseen volatile events resembling those triggered by Grace in the run up to Zanu PF’s recent explosive congress.
Although it not officially announced, it is understood Mnangagwa has also taken over as State Security minister replacing the angry and bitter fired presidential affairs minister, Didymus Mutasa.
With Mugabe away for a month from December 14 to January 15, Mnangagwa has a perfect opportunity to ensure he is in a commanding position to be his successor, using all the powers derived from his current positions.
Top Mnangagwa allies said this week the acting president has become a de facto prime minister because of the many hats he currently wears.
“Mnangagwa holds several key positions — Vice-President, Justice minister, Intelligence chief at ministerial level, Leader of Government Business in Parliament and rotating Zanu PF chairperson — which make his a de facto premier,” a senior government official said this week.
“Being in charge of the intelligence portfolio, which he ran for eight years in the first decade of independence, makes him even more powerful.”
At the Zanu PF extraordinary central committee meeting last week, Mugabe abolished the post of party chairperson, saying he would delegate its duties to his deputies.
For these reasons, Mnangagwa has the advantage over his co-vice-president Phelekezela Mphoko in terms of running the party as the latter has not been a senior party official and has also not been in the country for a long time due to diplomatic service.
Mphoko’s diplomatic career began in 1988 — after his activities in the demobilisation process in the early 1980s and service in the CIO — when he was posted to Mozambique as consular. Between 1996 and 2001 he was in Austria, Botswana in 2002 and later Russia in 2005, as well as South Africa in 2010 until this year.
In a short space of time, the centre of power in Zanu PF has dramatically shifted from the Mujuru faction to the Mnangagwa camp, which is now backed by Mugabe, his wife and their close allies.
This was evident this week when Mugabe left for the Far East on his annual holidays as Mnangagwa became the first acting president even though he is in terms of the state constitution as co-vice-president with Mphoko, not First Vice-President as erroneously and widely reported. The constitutional section on running mates, which has a provision for First and Second Vice-Presidents, is suspended for 10 years.
Since becoming acting president on Monday, Mnangagwa has had a hectic week at his Justice ministry offices at the New Government Complex in Harare where he has been receiving delegates ranging from party officials, bureaucrats, to ministers and diplomats, coming for different reasons including paying courtesy calls, creating or cementing friendships, consolidating alliances and even paying homage.
Sensing his rise to the top is imminent, Mnangagwa’s allies like Josiah Hungwe and those of his ilk have been singing praises for him in hagiographical terms, including calling him “Son of Man” — a biblical reference to Jesus Christ.
Although things might change for Mnangagwa after the cabinet reshuffle expected when Mugabe returns from his annual holidays next month as he might be relieved of some of the positions he currently holds for efficiency and political reasons, he has already been given a head start to place himself in a strong position to succeed Mugabe, unlike Mphoko who has to start from scratch to secure himself in the party and government.
Mphoko would only be attending his first Zanu PF politburo and cabinet meetings after his appointment last week.
To show that he is having a false start, Mphoko was this week holed up in luxurious Harare hotels as he tried to figure out how to proceed after his surprise appointment. At the beginning of the week, Mphoko was booked at the five-star Meikles Hotel before moving to Rainbow Towers with a huge security contingent in tow.
It is understood that he does not as yet have offices and a bureaucracy, let alone a mandate of what he is supposed to do with Mugabe having only hinted he would be dealing with the relatively inconsequential National Healing portfolio.
In the meantime, Mnangagwa is ploughing ahead while Mphoko is groping in the dark. A visit to Mnangagwa’s offices this week saw a steady stream of people, including ministers and politburo members, walking in and out of his offices, while some from across the country waited patiently in a packed waiting room hoping to see him.
Mnangagwa is reportedly planning to meet diplomats and other key stakeholders such as captains of industry as government shifts focus to the nose-diving economy.
While Mnangagwa loyalists revel in his numerous positions, some feel he would be over-occupied and overworked much to the detriment of his succession ambitions.
“This is a deliberate move by Mugabe to overburden Mnangagwa so that he does not get time to focus on politics and consolidate power,” one official said. “Mugabe knows what he is doing – he has given Mnangagwa too many responsibilities to tie him down to his work and distract him from succession.”
The Justice ministry, for instance, is too demanding because of the realigning of laws with the new constitution. About 400 laws need realignment to the new constitution.
However, Mnangagwa’s experience could come in handy. He was appointed State Security minister from 1980 to 1988, Justice minister from 1988 to 2000, Speaker of Parliament from 2000 to 2005, Minister of Rural Housing from 2005 to 2009, Minister of Defence from 2009 to 2013 and has served as Minister of Justice since 2013 and continues to do so even after his recent elevation to VP.
In between from 1995-96 he also served as acting Finance minister.
However, he has major obstacles to overcome on his rise to the top, with the Gukurahundi atrocities as the main albatross around his neck.