WAR veterans have proved to be a double-edged sword for Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa by fighting in his corner in the tangled web of Zanu PF succession politics, while simultaneously leaving him vulnerable to attacks from his opponents due to lack of refined strategy and tact, analysts say.
By Hazel Ndebele
Zanu PF is divided along two major factions pitting First Lady Grace Mugabe’s G40 group and the Mnangagwa faction, which are locked in a bitter succession war to replace President Robert Mugabe, in power since 1980.
A fortnight ago, war veterans held a meeting in Harare which culminated in the release of a stinging communique describing Mugabe as a manipulative, self-centred and failed dictator who has betrayed the ideals of the liberation struggle.
During the meeting, war veterans specifically demanded that Mnangagwa succeed Mugabe as president, although it was not included in the communique. They also said the succession debate should be held openly given that Mugabe was 92.
Although the war veterans’ daring and unprecedented move rattled Mugabe resulting in him holding emergency security meetings, it also exposed Mnangagwa to attacks, piling renewed pressure on the vice-president.
On Wednesday last week Manicaland Provincial Affairs minister Mandi Chimene, who leads a splinter group of war veterans, publicly attacked Mnangagwa accusing him of being behind the former liberation fighters who had “rebelled” against Mugabe Tsholotsho-style. She also told Mugabe that Mnangagwa had set up parallel government structures in his quest to get power.
Chimene pleaded with Mugabe to drop Mnangagwa — dubbed ngwena (crocodile) — from government saying he should be thrown into a river where crocodiles belong.
Although Mugabe said he would not axe his deputy, he put pressure on Mnangagwa by challenging him to outrightly distance himself from the war veterans, which he later did.
Mugabe said: “If accused, it is also up to us to tell the people that the accusations are false”.
Under pressure, Mnangagwa held a press conference last Saturday where he distanced himself from the war veterans and denied plans to succeed Mugabe.
He also denied he was leading a faction and pledged his loyalty to Mugabe.
“I have served the party for over 54 years, often with my life, all the time showing unflinching dedication, undivided loyalty and absolute commitment. As I stated in the Sunday Mail of July 24, in respect of the alleged rebellious clique which I strongly condemn, all true war veterans know that the President is their Commander-in-Chief and must be loyal and committed to the President and party.”
This is not the first time that Mnangagwa has come under unbearable pressure from his rival because of the war veterans’ miscaculations.
In February, he was publicly humiliated by Zanu PF Women’s League secretary for finance Sarah Mahoka who challenged him to come clean on his presidential ambitions and factionalism, after war veterans took the fight to First lady and her G40 faction.
Mnangagwa also came under severe pressure in June after war veterans leader Christopher Mutsvangwa declared the vice-president “was the only candidate for succession” and any attempt to block his ascension “would cause bloodshed in the country”.
Although Mutsvangwa later disowned the statements, Mugabe was infuriated resulting in him labelling war veterans “dissidents”.
In all these cases, the vice-president’s opponents took advantage of the pronouncements to suggest that Mnangagwa had rebelled against Mugabe and wanted to usurp power.
The war veterans have in the past demanded the expulsion of G40 members, among them Zanu PF politburo members Saviour Kasukuwere and Jonathan Moyo, who they accused of fanning divisions and attempting to subvert the party from within as the Fifth Column.
At their meeting with Mugabe they also campaigned for his removal from the position, as they stood solidly with Mnangagwa.
It is that kind of support which has propped up Mnangagwa who could by now have been kicked out like his predecessor Joice Mujuru. Had the war veterans, supported by the army, not rallied around him, Mnangagwa could eb history by now.
While the war veterans have been fighting on his behalf, Mnangagwa has remained quiet but after being challenged to speak out following the release of the communique, abandoned them. He even called for action to be taken against them, showing that whenever cornered he can throw his allies under the bus.
In 2004, Mnangagwa failed to defend his allies who were planning for his ascendancy to the vice-presidency through what is known as the “Tsholotsho Declaration”. Six Zanu PF provincial chairmen and several party members met in Tsholotsho to plot Mnangagwa’s rise, resulting in them being kicked out of the party.
Political analyst Eldred Masunungure said the war veterans were reckless by openly supporting Mnangagwa.
“It’s politically unwise that the war veterans came out supporting someone who has been accused of leading a faction,” Masunungure said.
Political commentator Alex Magaisa said Mnangagwa was in a corner because of the war veterans’ communique.
“It is plain that Mnangagwa is now facing the biggest crisis of his political career. While he dissociated himself from the war veterans’ statement which hit out at Mugabe’s leadership it is known that they are his allies and detractors have already found him guilty by association,” he said.
“He knows the dilemma that he faces, if he defends his allies who are accused of plotting against Mugabe he will have shown his hand, something his opponents are keen on, but if he does not stand up for his allies his support base will continue to be depleted. When former key ally in the days of the Tsholotsho Declaration, Moyo was sacked Mnangagwa did not come to his defence. Moyo can’t have been happy with his treatment, which probably helps explain why he has become one of Mnangagwa’s foremost critics and opponents within the party.”