Emmerson Mnangagwa caught between a rock, a hard place
IN recent weeks, the ZANU-PF’s youth and women’s leagues, with the backing of a section of the liberation war veterans, have stepped up their campaign to push out Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and have him replaced by a female candidate.
By Jacob Rukweza
The unrelenting pressure that has been exerted on Mnangagwa is likely to reach a climax in December when the ruling party holds its annual national conference in Masvingo.
Yet in the face of this unremitting onslaught, Mnangagwa remains calm, cool and collected, dismissing his rivals as “barking dogs”.
There is evidence that Mnangagwa has travelled this path before and all the time he has been badly bruised but not defeated.
His body language projects a man who is prepared to fight and endure the long haul towards the ZANU-PF crown.
Apparently, his rivals have always succeeded in conscripting President Robert Mugabe into their corner, and turning the veteran politician into their weapon of choice to clip Mnangagwa’s wings.
Mnangagwa described variously as “shrewd”, “cunning” and “ruthless”, has seemingly used the same method to survive.
The veteran politician is a master at covering his tracks and keeping his cards close to his chest.
As a result, those who have accused him of leading a faction in ZANU-PF or harbouring ambitions to succeed President Mugabe have hardly succeeded in pinning him down by producing concrete evidence directly linking him to their allegations.
On many occasions, Mnangagwa has remained quiet and where he has spoken, he has flatly denied any association with those accused of rooting for him to succeed President Mugabe.
When pressured to act against him, President Mugabe has struggled to find real grounds on which to deal decisively with Mnangagwa, only managing to purge his alleged allies.
Barely three months after he was undressed by Sarah Mahoka, the ZANU-PF Women’s League secretary for finance, at a solidarity rally held for President Mugabe at the ruling party’s headquarters in Harare, Mnangagwa was on the receiving end again last month, this time at the hands of Manicaland Provincial Affairs Minister, Mandiitawepi Chimene.
Mahoka and Chimene are believed to be members of ZANU-PF’s Generation 40 (G40) faction that is rabidly opposed to Mnangagwa’s ambition to succeed President Mugabe.
Mahoka, a ZANU-PF Member of Parliament, was the first to publicly accost Mnangagwa in February, accusing him of plotting to oust President Mugabe.
Last month, Chimene, a war veteran, escalated the onslaught by publicly accused the Vice President of allegedly plotting to oust the ZANU-PF leader from power.
So far, President Mugabe has protected Mnangagwa saying he would not fire his deputy based on unsubstantiated allegations.
For his part, Mnangangwa has denied any link with the Team Lacoste faction in the ruling party which is alleged to be campaigning for him to replace President Mugabe.
Yet this is not the first time that Mnangagwa’s bid for the ZANU-PF leadership has faced resistance from rivals who have previously pushed for his ouster from the party.
However, previous attempts to throw Mnangagwa under the bus have failed as he has always survived to fight another day.
In 2004, Mnangagwa was accused by his rivals of leading a faction that was plotting to topple President Mugabe.
Mnangagwa’s ambition to become President Mugabe’s deputy crumbled like a deck of cards, following what became known as the Tsholotsho Declaration, when his backers in the party who had gathered to anoint him at Dinyane
Primary School in Tsholotsho under the guise of attending a prize giving ceremony, were exposed.
While his plan was to canvass support for the then vacant post of vice president after the death of Simon Muzenda in September 2003, he was, however, accused of being the leader of a faction that was plotting to dethrone President Mugabe.
At the time, Mnangagwa was on course to land the vice president post after having secured the backing of eight out of the party’s 10 provinces.
However, the plan was scuppered by his determined rivals who exposed the plot to President Mugabe, resulting in the expulsion of many of his allies, including six provincial chairpersons.
Mnangagwa’s fate would be sealed during the 2004 congress when a change in the ruling party’s constitution was effected to allow for his arch-rival, Joice Mujuru, to rise in his stead, effectively depriving him of his very first real chance to deputise President Mugabe.
While his allies were expelled from the party, Mnangagwa, who denied any links with the Tsholotsho plotters, was not fired but only demoted from being secretary for administration of the party to secretary for legal affairs.
He was also removed from the powerful post of Speaker of Parliament and appointed to a less influential post as minister of rural housing in 2005.
It appeared President Mugabe’s plan was only to clip Mnangagwa’s wings without offloading him from the party or government; a method President Mugabe has consistently relied on to deal with him.
On the other hand, the cunning Mnangagwa did not give up, patiently waiting for another chance to have a bite at the cherry.
Mnangagwa’s ambitions would hit another brick wall in 2012 when the ZANU-PF Central Committee, the party’s highest decision-making body between congresses, amended the party’s constitution to disband the influential District Coordinating Committees (DCCs).
The disbanding of the DCCs was allegedly instigated by Mnangagwa’s rivals, led by the then vice president Mujuru who had allegedly lost the battle to control the structures viewed as crucial in the succession contest.
This time, President Mugabe did not demote Mnangagwa after having effectively clipped his wings by destroying his support base in the party, the DCCs.
Again Mnangagwa, who did not protest the disbanding of the DCCs, had been outflanked by his rivals.
True to form, Mnangagwa denied having links with the DCCs and declared his loyalty to the ZANU-PF leader.
But in 2014, Mnangagwa was back in the ring again, this time successfully upstaging his long-time rival.
This time Mnangagwa pulled the rug from under Mujuru’s feet when he mobilised his allies in the party to malign her image, accusing her of unbridled corruption and plotting to unseat President Mugabe.
Subsequently, Mujuru was unceremoniously expelled from the ruling party and replaced by Mnangagwa after the party’s congress amended the constitution to abolish the clause that reserved the post for a female candidate.
But two years down the line, Mnangagwa might be forced to have a taste of his own medicine at the party’s annual national conference later this year, if the Women’s League’s plan to have him replaced by a female cadre succeeds.
The Women’s League, strongly backed by the Youth League, intends to make sure that a woman is part of the ZANU-PF presidium by the time the annual national conference ends.
To their advantage, the Women’s League at the party’s annual conference last year secured a resolution to tinker with the ZANU-PF constitution in order to accommodate a female candidate in the presidium.
The ruling party resolved at its 2015 annual conference held in the resort town of Victoria Falls to amend the constitution in order ensure that one of the two posts of second secretary is reserved for a woman.
Already, Mnangagwa has lost what looked like his last pillar of defence, the war veterans; most of whom have been expelled from the party at the instigation of his rivals.
After seven provincial youth chairpersons aligned to him were fired earlier this year, last month the ruling party expelled war veterans’ leaders, Chris Mutsvangwa, Victor Matemadanda and Douglas Mahiya, who are prominent allies of Mnangagwa.
Earlier, war veterans had held a meeting in Harare which culminated in the release of a scathing communiqué, rubbishing the leadership of President Mugabe.
During the same meeting, war veterans demanded that Mnangagwa should succeed President Mugabe.
As things turned out, the war veterans’ unprecedented move did not only unsettle President Mugabe, but also exposed Mnangagwa to renewed attacks from his rivals.
Mnangagwa’s opponents have taken advantage of the pronouncements by war veterans to suggest that he has rebelled against President Mugabe and wanted to usurp power.
Already, the Women’s League and a section of war veterans aligned to the G40 faction led by Chimene have implored the ruling party to call for a special congress whose objective would, to all intents and purposes, be to decisively decimate Mnangagwa’s Lacoste faction and his ambitions to succeed President Mugabe.
Chimene insists that a special congress is the ultimate solution to the ZANU-PF succession wars.
Yet Chimene’s proposition of an early congress is not a vacuous call.
Section 26 of the ZANU-PF constitution provides that a special congress may be convened “wherever it is deemed necessary and at the instance of; (a) the majority of the members of the Central Committee; or (b) the President and first secretary, at the instance of not less than one-third of members of the Central Committee; or (c) the President and first secretary, at the instance of at least five provincial executive councils by resolutions to that effect”.
So what are the options available for the embattled ZANU-PF stalwart?
As things stand, Mnangagwa is between a rock and a hard place.
Either he has to maintain his tried and tested modus operandi and fight for his survival in ZANU-PF against relentless foes or break ranks with his comrades by jumping ship to join the hard hat territory of opposition politics.
For now, his survival in ZANU-PF depends on President Mugabe, the same man he stands accused of plotting to unseat.
Yet life outside ZANU-PF will not only be risky business but also unpredictable for the beleaguered Mnangagwa.
In the past, President Mugabe, who is believed to have a soft spot for Mnangagwa, has gone out of his way to protect his deputy, but there is no guarantee that this protection will continue forever.
Analysts say President Mugabe may be reluctant to get rid of Mnangagwa, his right hand man and foot soldier for the past five decades, because he knows too much and has tentacles spread across all key State departments and party structures.
Mnangagwa has been in government for the past 36 years as President Mugabe’s trusted lieutenant who has handled a lot of sensitive assignments and presided over the key ministries of defence and security over the years.
In addition, Mnangagwa has been a prominent member of ZANU-PF for over 50 years since joining the party in 1963, most of the time working as President Mugabe’s personal assistant.
Analysts also say President Mugabe is quite aware that expelling Mnangagwa, who has loyal allies in the military, State security, war veterans and ruling party structures, is risky and has far-reaching implications for the cohesion and performance of the party and government ahead of the crunch 2018 elections.
However, it remains to be seen whether the all-powerful President Mugabe will protect his embattled deputy in December, when the unrelenting women and youth leagues, supported by vociferous liberation war veterans, bay for Mnangagwa’s blood. – FinGaz