VICE-PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s alleged poisoning saga, particularly the insinuation it was a state operation, has led to a dramatic fallout between President Robert Mugabe and him, a long-serving loyalist, the Zimbabwe Independent understands.
Mnangagwa yesterday sought to ease tensions with Mugabe ahead of today’s Zanu PF youth interface rally in Gweru, as he said in a statement he had not eaten poisoned Gushungo Dairy ice-cream as alleged by his supporters.
On Wednesday, he reportedly gave Mugabe a medical report, which apparently indicates poisoning.
Prior to that, Mnangagwa had on Tuesday attended cabinet and eaten food provided by State House — Mugabe’s chefs and catering team — amid questions whether he was going to eat or not if he suspected state actors and their agents were behind the alleged plot to kill him through poison.
This comes as Mnangagwa’s rivals in the Mugabe succession battle — grouped around First Lady Grace Mugabe’s G40 Zanu PF faction — are systematically pushing for his removal despite the president’s reluctance to let him go ahead of next year’s crucial general elections.
As exclusively reported by the Independent on August 11, Mugabe recently refused to allow Mnangagwa to resign in the aftermath of fierce attacks at Zanu PF meetings and rallies.
Senior government officials and security bosses say although the relationship between Mugabe and his long-time loyalist has been deteriorating over the past two years due to the vicious Zanu PF succession war — which has seen Grace and her allies publicly attacking Mnangagwa, while the vice-president’s followers ridiculed the First Family — they have hit a new low because of the ongoing poisoning saga.
“Mugabe and Mnangagwa’s relations have now hit a new low,” a senior security chief said. “They have worked together for 50 years, but recent events have strained them in an unprecedented way; it’s a major test for them. This has been worsened by a security report on the poisoning saga done for Mugabe which says Mnangagwa has not been poisoned, but was trying to use the incident as a political weapon to fight back on succession.”
A senior government official said: “This (poisoning) incident has led to a serious fallout between the president and vice-president because it has been overly politicised. After an investigation by the security services, government has determined Mnangagwa was not poisoned and the drama was a political script, but the vice-president’s family, friends and allies insist he was poisoned. This has fuelled tensions and created an explosive situation.”
As a result of this, sources said, Mugabe and his allies are now accelerating their push to help Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi — whom Mnangagwa’s allies claim was behind the poison plot, an allegation he has dismissed — to become the next president.
Although the plan is still up in the air, it involves either forcing Mnangagwa out before the planned December extraordinary congress or removing him at the event. In between, tremendous pressure would be exerted on him to go through the ongoing Zanu PF Youth League interface rallies or party structures like the politburo and central committee.
Informed insiders also said there was also a plan underway to reshuffle cabinet to weaken Mnangagwa’s grip on government by, for instance, removing him as the authority in charge of the Justice ministry and booting out some of his allies.
“Grace and those supporting Sekeramayi want Mnangagwa to go now, but Mugabe is resisting that; he is looking at elections and besides he wants him to be removed on his own terms. That’s why he has rejected his resignation,” one official said.
“In the meantime, the campaign against Mnangagwa, subtly led by Mugabe himself, will be rolled out systematically and ruthlessly, leading to a planned extraordinary congress to effect changes which will prepare the ground for Sekeramayi’s ascendancy if the president feels he can’t continue to seek re-election. It’s a state operation, not necessarily a G40 plan.”
As part of the overwhelming campaign to force Mnangagwa to buckle under pressure, issues raised by Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo, a G40 kingpin, in the politburo on July 21 are being fully investigated behind the scenes, the security chief said.
“You will see down the line those issues gaining momentum, whether or not Mnangagwa would have been given a chance to reply in the politburo,” the security boss said. “Even if Mnangagwa replies in the politburo, a counter-attack will subsequently be launched.”
Sources said Mugabe was angered by how the poisoning saga was handled and insinuations he was part of the plot. They said he was also riled that the issue was reduced to a family affair, with support from some military figures, particularly Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantino Chiwenga, instead of being a government or state issue.
“Over and above the insinuations his family and state actors were involved, Mugabe did not like the way the situation was handled,” another official said. “He told family members that he was not going to be involved in Mnangagwa’s issue because of the way his people were behaving, and hence he just stayed away. Reckless utterances by Mnangagwa’s supporters like Energy Mutodi and those now using the slogan ‘Pasi nepoison’ are making a bad situation worse. ”
For some time, Mnangagwa was widely seen as the favourite to succeed Mugabe, but recent events have triggered new dynamics and Sekeramayi is now seen surging ahead even though the succession race has been full of unexpected and dramatic twists and turns.
Mugabe and Mnangagwa have close and strong relations dating back to the liberation struggle where he served as the president’s personal assistant. Mugabe appointed Mnangagwa in his first cabinet in 1980 as state security minister and has over the years appointed him to important ministerial portfolios such as defence and justice. He has also acted as president and in various important ministries. Mnangagwa was also central to creating the current state architecture.
In critical assignments such as high-level behind-the-scenes liaisons, Gukurahundi, the Congo war and elections, Mnangagwa also played a key role.
The vice-president has also acted as Mugabe’s election agent, personally filing his nomination papers.
Hence, when former vice-president Joice Mujuru was ousted at the acrimonious Zanu PF December 2014 congress, he became her natural successor.
After Mnangagwa lost parliamentary elections to the MDC’s Blessing Chebundo in Kwekwe in 2000 and 2005, Mugabe came to his rescue, first appointing him speaker of parliament and then Rural Housing minister respectively.
Yet Mugabe has also previously shown his lack of goodwill and even antipathy towards Mnangagwa. During the Zanu PF 2004 congress Mugabe blocked Mnangagwa from succeeding the late vice-president Simon Muzenda despite his having the majority support in provincial structures. Mugabe also let Mnangagwa lose during the 1999 congress the contest to become party chairman against the late vice-president John Nkomo.
Officials, however, say nothing has ever publicly tested their relations like the poisoning saga which started at the Zanu PF Youth League interface rally in Gwanda on August 12.
“The president feels that he was not adequately briefed about what was going on. It became a family affair and somehow a military operation, not a state matter as it ought to have been because it involved a state vice-president,” said an official.
“He also feels Mnangagwa’s movement from Gwanda to Gweru and then Johannesburg was not properly handled and thus dodgy; becoming more or less a military operation.
“Mugabe was so furious that he did not visit the vice-president when he was hospitalised in South Africa despite that he was also there for the Sadc summit.
“To vent his anger, the President used the burial of national heroes Maud Muzenda and George Rutanhire to attack Mnangagwa and his allies over this issue.”
Speaking at Heroes’ Acre in Harare last Saturday, Mugabe lashed out at Masvingo Zanu PF leaders for claiming Mnangagwa was poisoned or bewitched. The allegation surfaced soon after the vice-president fell ill, but was a common theme during the funeral of national heroine Shuvai Mahofa, a strong Mnangagwa ally. Mahofa is reported to have succumbed to high blood pressure due to Mnangagwa’s alleged poisoning incident.
“Some are even saying the president is a witch, how many did I kill?” Mugabe asked. “We have travelled a long journey together and why kill today? This is coming from Midlands going to Masvingo. So if you have your witch doctors who are telling you about being bewitched, down with your witchcraft issues.”
Mugabe also stunned mourners when he said Mnangagwa had a frosty relationship Muzenda. “Muzenda came to me saying ‘the guys from Midlands’ are chasing us,’ and I asked who in particular? And he said ‘Emmerson and his team’,” he said.
Following the Gwanda incident, Information minister Chris Mushowe said the vice-president was not poisoned but had eaten “stale food”, reflecting Mugabe and government’s position. But Mnangagwa’s top allies, particularly Transport minister Joram Gumbo, rejected the explanation, opening a new battle front on succession.