President Mugabe’s recent appointment of two male deputies in his party in the aftermath of its 6th Congress had long played out in the media in relation to succession politics.
Now that the media speculation, support, denigration of the various contenders to these two (and other posts) in the ruling party has generally reached its peak, it would be necessary to assess the key realities that these two new deputies face.
Particularly where it also concerns their roles as the President’s deputies in government even though their dual roles in their party is the basis of their impact on the former.
Their appointments to their coveted posts are essentially the sum total of Zanu Pf factional politics. And their functions will be informed by the same. Whereas previous second and third secretaries have been acclaimed, after provincial nomination, at élective’ congresses, Messrs Mnangagwa and Phoko are appointees who were then presented to the party’s central committee meeting. It is only their principal who was presented before congress, making it fairly apparent where power in the party resides.
So for all the national constitutional provisions given to Zimbabwe’s two vice presidents, the new occupants of the same office will not be able to give any unique leadership character to these roles. They essentially function at the pleasure and borderline mercy of the President.
In interviews after the announcements to the ruling party’s ‘presidium’ both men have expectedly indicated that they are not in doubt of the latter point.
Apart from their constitutionally mandated roles as vice presidents of the country (not the party), they will also carry out further functions. Vice President Mnangagwa will remain Minister of Justice while second vice president will be in charge of national reconciliation.
For Mnangagwa this means he remains leader of government business in Parliament. With the combined powers of his new position and the old one, he is essentially a de facto prime minister. Albeit under the watchful eye of his principal. He however does not have a difficult task in leading government business in the legislature given his party’s two thirds majority in the same and the ability of his principal to fire any MPs that refuse to tow the party line.
He will however not be in a position to define this leadership role in any way that deviates from the collective responsibility of cabinet or the political intentions and authority of his principal. This means if anything, he will have to follow through with the stalling economic blueprint ZimAsset as of old and cannot introduce any new measures to build new or better expectations of the current government by the Zimbabwean public.
Second vice president Mphoko has what is evidently an easier role to play. Like his immediate predecessor he has been tasked with dealing with national reconciliation. While he may not have a co-minister from the opposition to contend with, it is least likely he will proceed in any spectacularly different fashion. Especially given his principal’s wariness about the long standing allegations of genocide in Matebeleland during the 1980s.
In representing the Pf Zapu side of the presidium, he will try to spearhead projects in the southern parts of the country but only with the express permission of the President. So his vice presidency will largely be muted and function more on the basis of towing the president’s line to the letter while watching out for any new signs of those that may differ with the latter.
The two Vice Presidents however face greater challenges in relation to managing their public and political profiles to progressive effect. Being second in command by way of appointment is normally not in any way preferable for a political career. At some point one needs national electoral legitimacy to hold such a post as important as a vice president. Be it at party or government level. So while the two new deputies may have been the beneficiaries of not only factionalism but also the benevolence of the President, they have their work cut out for them to be leaders in their own political/electoral right.
In the event that President Mugabe leaves office between now and 2018, VP Mnangagwa as first vice president (and second secretary in Zanu Pf) is most likely to be his successor both in government and in the ruling party. He will however have to go through the motion of leading his party in the elections scheduled for the same year, 2018.
And that does not work by way of appointment but by way of the electoral will of the people. A development that will occur within the context of his party continuing to be divided at grassroots levels while at the same time facing a stubborn, though weak for now, opposition.
As it is, I do not envy the two new vice presidents. Whatever they do, they can only do under the aegis of their principal who appears keen on control and continuity in his direct leadership of party and government. And who will also not evidently hint at succession. Simultaneously, they have to become leaders in their own right within their new positions. They are between a rock and a hard place.
Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)