PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa used last week’s Zanu PF annual conference week in Esigodini to further push his main internal rival Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga against the wall in a major move that for the first time after the November 2017 coup leaves him in a relatively firmer position.
BY ANDREW KUNAMBURA
The conference’s most significant resolution was to endorse Mnangagwa as the party’s sole candidate for the 2023 general election.
Since the hotly contested presidential poll on July 30, Mnangagwa has been using his disputed mandate to reinforce his grip while also moving to contain and sideline Chiwenga, who is widely believed to harbour presidential ambitions.
Before the elections, Chiwenga had an upper hand as he controlled levers of power following the coup which he masterminded and thereafter bestowed the presidency on Mnangagwa.
Chiwenga also used his powers to influence appointments, grabbing the vice-presidency and controlling the Defence ministry while at the same time dictating the pace of events and national trajectory.
Following the coup, Mnangagwa was practically a lame duck, having been hauled from a hideout in exile. He had no control of events on the ground that led to the removal of former president Robert Mugabe.
In addition to that, Chiwenga was also in control of the Zanu PF primary elections, leading to the general elections and also ran a seemingly parallel campaign in the run-up to the polls. The military machinery, with Chiwenga’s residual influence, also rescued Mnangagwa from what looked like certain defeat by MDC Alliance candidate Nelson Chamisa. But soon after the election, Mnangagwa has taken charge, decimating Chiwenga’s power base through cabinet appointments that excluded his allies, real or perceived.
More critically, he also took the Defence ministry from Chiwenga, apportioning it to one of his most trusted allies, Oppah Muchinguri Kashiri, who before and during the Esigodini conference was one of the strongest voices saying Mnangagwa should not be challenged in 2023.
In a bid to slow down the push, Chiwenga—who was hamstrung by an illness which took him to South Africa for treatment—made some spine-chilling outbursts at a meeting held at his rural home in Hwedza, attended by senior Zanu PF officials mostly from his Mashonaland East home province.
At the meeting, Chiwenga warned that he would not stand and watch as some people played games with the country, a statement read by his opponents as a direct salvo at Mnangagwa.
“We are all Zimbabweans from all the corners of the country and no one is superior to the other. That’s why we stood up in November 2017; we wanted to fight to leave inheritance for posterity and not promote an individual. Therefore, you must not say now because I am there, nothing else matters. Who are you?” Chiwenga was quoted as saying.
However, Mnangagwa’s allies were undeterred and directly took the fight to Chiwenga. Hardly a week later, they gathered at the party’s national headquarters in Harare and launched the campaign to ensure Mnangagwa would not be internally challenged in 2023. The campaign was code-named #ED2023 Pfee and it reverberated through the conference tent from day one to the end.
It has been viewed as a political masterstroke in some quarters. The conference duly obliged and adopted the pro-Mnangagwa mantra as its key resolution.
After senior party official Jacob Mudenda completed reading out the resolutions, which were immediately afterwards adopted by the conference, a visibly captivated Mnangagwa said: “All the resolutions were unequivocal and will certainly strengthen and consolidate the correct line as well as our desire to grow and modernise our revolutionary mass party.”
Refusing to rest on his laurels on the back of the conference resolution, Mnangagwa immediately took decisive action, when, earlier this week, he moved, through Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa, to get rid of editors at state-controlled newspaper group Zimpapers and replaced them with new ones in a factional battle which also includes control of the state media platforms, critical for the control of the narrative and information dissemination.
A tug of war had been simmering between Mutsvangwa as well as permanent secretary Nick Mangwana, on one hand, and deputy minister Energy Mutodi on the other, over the removal of the editors.
For Mnangagwa’s allies, the debate is effectively closed and he is now going to serve two terms, barring unforeseen events like accidents and deaths which are known to alter the course of history.
For Chiwenga, this should certainly be a great betrayal, having put his head on the block to rescue Mnangagwa from exile after he had been fired from government.
To many in Zanu PF, it is hardly inconceivable that Mnangagwa would have been president without Chiwenga’s intervention.
Mnangagwa for now has an upper hand and the big question being asked in the corridors of power now is: could this be the end of Chiwenga or is he just having a strategic retreat? But with the economy in spectacular decline, Chiwenga and other Mnangagwa rivals could gain more ammunition to fight back.