HARARE – Despite the frenzied speculation within President Robert Mugabe’s warring Zanu PF that Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s mooted presidential aspirations are now dead in the water, former ruling party spokesperson and Cabinet minister, Rugare Gumbo, says the Midlands godfather “may be down but definitely not out”.
Speaking to the Daily News On Sunday in an interview yesterday, the forthright Gumbo who is now a senior official in the troubled Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) said he had no doubt that Zanu PF’s succession riddle still had many twists and turns to come.
Madyira, as Gumbo is fondly referred to — and who worked with both Mugabe and Mnangagwa for many decades, before and after Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980 — also said it was “folly” to assume that Mugabe had shut the door on his deputy succeeding him.
He also said it could not be ruled out that Mnangagwa himself was “playing a game of hide-and-seek” with the nonagenarian, adding that the two men had a strong bond and longstanding relationship which was “only fully understood by them”.
“What is increasingly becoming certain is that Mugabe wants to die in office. When we were still in government he never hinted on his preferred successor and we never pressured him because we assumed that he would soon choose his successor,” he said.
Pressed to say whether he thought Mugabe had nuked Mnangagwa’s chances of succeeding him, Gumbo — who was expelled from Zanu PF in 2014 with many other ruling party bigwigs on untested allegations of plotting to assassinate and topple the nonagenarian from power — said the two men were “sizing and testing each other up”.
“Mugabe has always been a slippery character because of all things he always wanted power the most. While many other liberation movements had a succession plan, Mugabe long decided against coming up with one.
“Still, I wouldn’t say Mnangagwa has been blocked out. However, what I know is that Mugabe and Mnangagwa vakateyanirana mariva (the have set traps for each other). They are playing each other and only time will tell who will win,” he said.
Gumbo, one of only two surviving members of the venerated Dare reChimurenga (liberation war council), also accused Mugabe of having used Mnangagwa “for a very long time”, warning further that continuing to sideline the VP could be “a dangerous game” given Zanu PF’s current high stakes politics.
Speaking in his annual interview with the ZBC last week, ahead of his 93rd birthday, Mugabe appeared to rule out the chances of Mnangagwa succeeding him when he said he would soldier on in power — notwithstanding his advanced age and declining health — and that he would only step down if Zanu PF asked him to do so.
“The call to step down must come from my party, my party at congress, my party at central committee … I will step down.
“But then what do you see? It’s the opposite. They want me to stand for elections. They want me to stand for elections everywhere in the party.
“Of course, if I feel that I can’t do it anymore, I will say so to my party so that they relieve me. But for now I think I can’t say so … The majority of the people feel that there is no replacement, a successor who to them is acceptable, as acceptable as I am,” Mugabe said.
His statement was seen as slamming the door shut in the face of his longtime aide Mnangagwa, who until recently had been touted as a front runner to succeed him.
Stung by this damning statement, Mnangagwa’s angry allies, including sacked Mashonaland Central youth leader, Godfrey Tsenengamu, came out guns blazing, warning the increasingly frail nonagenarian that he faced a big fight if he continued to thwart the Midlands godfather’s mooted presidential aspirations.
Tsenengamu also said that they would now openly campaign for Mnangagwa as Mugabe’s successor, raising the stakes high in the succession saga.
He was subsequently nabbed by detectives, a day after he held his press conference in the capital where he let rip at Mugabe and his powerful wife Grace.
Tsenengamu has since appeared at the Harare Magistrates’ Court where he was denied bail.
He is facing three charges: violating provisions of the draconian Public Order and Security Act (Posa) for holding his press conference without clearance, undermining the authority of the president and subverting a constitutionally-elected government.
Mnangagwa has been under the cosh in Zanu PF for the past few months for allegedly working fervently to stampede Mugabe out of power before the nonagenarian’s current presidential term ends in 2018.
Things became worse for him when he hosted sacked Zanu PF officials at his rural home during the festive season, with his party foes alleging that this was in fact a meeting organised to plot the immediate ouster of Mugabe from power.
Grace also recently took a veiled dig at Mnangagwa during her rally in Buhera, when she attacked Zanu PF bigwigs angling for her husband’s job, and mocked them on their alleged lack of “leadership qualities”.
She went on to tell the gathered crowd that if Mugabe were to die, Zimbabweans would vote for his corpse.
And on the same day that Grace was lynching party bigwigs, Mugabe was being recorded for his annual birthday interview in which he said there was no one worthy of succeeding him in Zanu PF.
While Mnangagwa’s allies have openly attacked Mugabe, he has repeatedly declared loyalty for the nonagenarian and on Tuesday heaped praises on the country’s long-ruling leader during a surprise birthday party held for Gushungo at his Munhumutapa offices.
However, insiders also say beneath the smiles between the two men lies deep mistrust despite their having been in the trenches together for so long.
Mnangagwa has served as one of Mugabe’s top aides from the days of the liberation struggle until now.
In a previous interview with the Daily News on Sunday, Gumbo has claimed that both Mugabe and Mnangagwa wanted to wipe out freedom fighters that they disagreed with, and in particular leaders of the Dare reChimurenga “so as to assume total control of Zanu PF.”
“VaMugabe has said it before and even Mnangagwa has also said that they arrested us and threw us in dungeons, but they have not said the whole story,” he said.
Gumbo and other members of Dare clashed with Mugabe over the direction of the liberation struggle, leading to their barbaric detention in Mozambique, together with the likes of the late Henry Hamadziripi, police commissioner general Augustine Chihuri, former ZBC chief executive Happison Muchechetere and Mukudzei Mudzi. – Daily News