PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa is reeling from political insecurity and deep-seated weaknesses which expose him to electoral damage and potentially perilous political headwinds ahead of critical general elections set for July 30.
By Bernard Mpofu
Despite being widely considered the front-runner in the forthcoming polls because of the power of incumbency, experience, resources, military backing and international support, Mnangagwa is facing problems on several fronts.
Only last week, he had to invite Equatorial Guinea strongman Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo to try to douse political tensions between him and his predecessor former president Robert Mugabe. Mugabe was toppled last November following a military coup. Sources said Mnangagwa invited Nguema last week to talk to Mugabe about the continued hostilities between the two after the November putsch.
“Mnangagwa is worried about the tension from an electoral perspective. He also understands that Mugabe still has residual support in Zanu PF and that backing has been manifested through the National Patriotic Front (NPF). Even if NPF has no strong leadership and structures, there are internal masses who are disgruntled who do not support Mnangagwa,” a source said.
“The fear is that if Mugabe takes this support base to the opposition, that will hurt Zanu PF and Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa, however, remains loyal to Mugabe and is uncomfortable with these continued tension with his mentor.”
Following Mugabe’s ouster, there have been attempts led by Roman Catholic cleric Fidelis Mukonori and others to mend relations, but that bid has been stalled by distrust. Thus Nguema’s latest visit was another attempt to bridge the political gulf between Mugabe and Mnangagwa. Mugabe opened up for the first time since the coup that his family was facing attacks from the new government. “He (Nguema) met Mnangagwa on Thursday and then Mugabe later on for less than an hour. Nguema as a friend of Mugabe said he had come to mediate between the two. But Mugabe repeated his position that Mnangagwa’s government was unconstitutional as it came through a coup,” a source said. “Mnangagwa is also making an attempt to manage Nguema given Equatorial Guinea’s business interests in Zimbabwe. He also suspects that these business interests could extend support to NPF.”
Mugabe, the sources said, told Nguema that he was “willing to help correct the coup”, but that fell shell short of Mnangagwa’s expectations who wanted the former president to endorse him ahead of the polls. It is understood that Nguema then went back to Mnangagwa and told him what Mugabe had said. Sources said underlying tensions between Mnangagwa and his deputy retired General Constantino Chiwenga had also become a source of worry for the Zanu PF leader. Tensions between Mnangagwa and Chiwenga and top military commanders on one side last month publicly exploded in the aftermath of the chaotic and hotly-disputed Zanu PF primary elections which left senior party officials and members warning of a gathering storm of defeat on the horizon at the upcoming general elections.
Mnangagwa and Chiwenga, the former Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander, are fighting for the heart and soul of Zanu PF and control of the levers of state power.
Sources said the presence of residual elements from the defeated Zanu PF faction previously aligned to former first lady Grace Mugabe has also caused headaches for Mnangagwa. “Zanu PF is harbouring a very strong social base of G40 members, including candidates who won the primaries, who harbour hostilities against Mnangagwa,” a source said.
Mnangagwa on Wednesday displayed his insecurity when he expressed worry that the opposition MDC and disgruntled Zanu PF lawmakers could push for his impeachment if he is elected. “I have got intelligence that some of those who have won these primary elections have two minds. They have gone to join the Zanu PF wagon using various tricks, money included, to be elected with the possible view that once in Parliament, they will band together and move a motion of impeachment,” Mnangagwa told party members attending a healing and reconciliation workshop in Harare on Wednesday.
Before his address, Chiwenga on Tuesday told warring Zanu PF camps to bury their differences, stemming from the just-ended divisive party primary elections, to avoid a repeat of “bhora musango” protest votes in the upcoming general elections.
“Bhora musango” was an election strategy of discontent against then incumbent president Mugabe which rocked the ruling party in the 2008 elections when party members dumped their presidential candidate and voted for the late opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, resulting in shock defeat. However, the results of the elections were withheld for six long weeks by the stunned Zanu PF regime, amid widespread allegations of ballot manipulation and fraud. In the July 30 elections, Mnangagwa will square off with MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa.
Last month’s Zanu PF primaries revealed chaos within the party structures, infighting and indiscipline to a point where Mnangagwa had to be blackmailed by his adviser Chris Mutsvanga to become the party’s candidate in Norton despite losing the primaries.