RIVAL Zanu PF factions battling to choose a successor to President Robert Mugabe — increasingly struggling with old age and ill-health — are panicking after former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono recently held a three-hour one-on-one meeting with the long-serving leader at State House in Harare.
By Bernard Mpofu
As reported by the Zimbabwe Independent last month, Mugabe had hectic shuttles to Singapore for medical reasons while in China during his annual holidays as his health continues to deteriorate. He is currently in the Southeast Asian city-state and will be visiting doctors more regularly, according to inside medical sources.
Gono’s meeting with Mugabe, the first public one since 2014 and coming against a backdrop of speculation about a cabinet reshuffle, has created a storm of anxiety within Zanu PF factions, especially in the aftermath of the veteran leader’s recent interview in which he said those around him, even if they are long-serving and experienced, lack the capacity and popular support to succeed him.
As the battle to succeed Mugabe reaches fever pitch, Gono’s meeting with Mugabe has caused alarm within the two rival camps led by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and First Lady Grace Mugabe seeking to gain strategic advantage over each other to determine who takes over from him.
Sources within the two Zanu PF camps said this week their leaders have been frantically trying to look for Gono in a bid to rope him to their side to sway the raging power struggle. It is said some factional leaders have been scrambling to call him, while others flooded him with messages.
Gono, once widely known for being Mugabe’s business advisor and personal banker, has since retirement in November 2013 flying below the radar as he focussed on his ailing business empire.
After retiring in 2013 at the end of his 10-year tenure, Gono made two attempts to become Zanu PF senator and twice his aspirations were thwarted by both the Mnangagwa and the Grace factions, which did not want him in politics as he could emerge a succession dark horse.
Mugabe reportedly contemplated appointing him finance minister during that period, but Gono, who needed to be a legislator first, was blocked from joining Zanu PF structures and thus government by the two rival factions.
Initially, Gono’s bid to be a senator was given the green light by the Zanu PF politburo in 2014, only to have the move halted by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission on the basis that he was not a registered voter in his Buhera home area in Manicaland province at the instigation of the Mnangagwa faction.
After having moved on from the technicalities that impeded him, Gono sought provincial backing for a senatorial seat after the death of liberation struggle stalwart Kumbirai Kangai, but former Central Intelligence Organisation director-general Shadreck Chipanga was chosen ahead of him in 2015.
Sources who spoke to the Independent this week said Gono’s rivals, who for long had speculated that he had fallen out of favour with Mugabe and his wife, were caught flat-footed when the former central bank chief unexpectedly drove into State House last week on Monday.
A security source who was at State House on the day said Gono was welcomed by Mnangagwa and his counterpart Phelekezela Mphoko who chatted with him briefly before he went into a closed-door meeting with Mugabe which began at around 2pm, ending three hours later.
While Mugabe was last publicly seen with Gono in 2014 — when he visited the former central bank governor’s New Donnington Farm near Norton — his latest visit has set the cat among the pigeons and may very well upset the applecart as the frail Mugabe keeps his cards close to his chest on succession.
“When Gono was seen at State House last week on Monday, it soon became clear Mugabe had set the cat among pigeons. He just rocked up in his S600 silver Mercedes with security personnel in the full glare of officials on a day when bureaucrats and ministers, including, vice-presidents, are known to be at State House for briefings, and this raised eyebrows,” a source who was at State House said.
“There seems to be a love-hate relationship between Gono and the two rival factions. Each of the factions suspects he belongs to the other camp, while some also accuse him of hobnobbing with the opposition. During his widely publicised public tiff with (his former advisor Munyaradzi) Kereke, he was represented by lawyer Tendai Biti and this gave some credence to claims that he has links with the opposition.”
Gono maintained a low profile after Kereke made a dramatic U-turn recently, apologising to his former boss for the serious corruption accusations he had levelled against him. Last month, a state-run weekly carried a question-and-answer session with Kereke who is serving a 10-year jail sentence after being convicted of raping a minor.
In that interview and an accompanying statement, Kereke profusely apologised to Gono and two weeks later his former boss accepted the apology, while indicating that the allegations had badly damaged his reputation and businesses.
“Gono’s meeting with Mugabe sent tongues wagging, with no one in the picture as to what the purpose of the visit at State House was or the aganda of the meeting. With cabinet reshuffle and succession in the air these days, several theories emerged with some suggesting he might be made a minister and others claiming Mugabe might want to help him to be his successor,” another source said.
In political circles, Kereke’s apology was seen as a precursor to Gono’s bouncing back into public service and the spotlight.
Contacted for comment, the normally media-friendly Gono was not forthcoming as he was unco-operative although he tacitly confirmed meeting Mugabe.
“Look my friend, don’t you have anything else better to do in your life rather than waste my time talking about speculation? In any case, I don’t have to account to you on who I meet or don’t meet with, where, when and why.
“What’s important is that I am a businessman and a family man; my meetings at this stage in my life are confined to those areas, nothing more nothing less.
“So please leave me out of your factional or speculative stories. If you were talking about the state of the economy, jobs, how to resolve the crippling six different types of liquidity crises we are facing as a nation and farming, that would be most welcome and helpful in the public interest, not roping me into political stories about factionalism and regionalism. I don’t talk about such things.
“That will never take us anywhere as a country; so long as our economy is down and our people don’t have jobs we can’t afford idle talk about factional politics and such other unprogressive subject matters. There are better and more serious economic issues we must be focussing on and dealing with rather than asking me where, when and why the President met with the former (central bank) governor. Unless you want to discuss economic and business issues, I’m not interested in engaging you.”