By Gift Phiri
President Robert Mugabe is seen prising Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa out of the Justice ministry but let him retain the vice presidency in his mooted Cabinet reshuffle, analysts said yesterday.
Mugabe told a meeting of the ruling Zanu PF youth wing in Harare on Saturday that there might be some changes in government early this week, saying it was time to review the performance of his Cabinet ministers.
The best-laid plans involve promotions for loyalty and talent, demotions for unruliness or blundering, as well as new faces to freshen things up.
Inevitably, this also requires the retirement of political deadwood or those not politically correct.
This might result in key pillars that support Mnangagwa being decimated, leaving him hanging by a thread.
But the vice president’s unique personal relationship with the president, as well as a sense that change in the presidency would be a major destabilising factor, appear to protect Mnangagwa’s VP post.
On Saturday night, Mugabe hosted a dinner dance for the Zanu PF youth executive but Mnangagwa — a 74-year-old lawyer and long-standing ally of Mugabe — was conspicuously absent, with his opposite number Phelekezela Mphoko in attendance, and leading proceedings.
He has faced a campaign of vitriol from the rival Generation 40 (G40) faction, mainly from Mugabe’s wife, Grace and Mphoko over scandalous claims by the embattled VP that he was poisoned in Gwanda on August 12.
G40 — a group of young Zanu PF members who have coalesced around Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife, Grace — have openly said they would want to see Mnangagwa being given the elbow from the vice presidency.
Academic and politics expert, McDonald Lewanika, said Mnangagwa could be given the shove in the Justice ministry portfolio but retain the VP post.
“Most of the responsibilities that ED has are positions of trust and given current tensions and breakdown of trust between him and his principal, if the reshuffle occurs, it is likely that he will lose some of the responsibilities that he currently has,” Lewanika told the Daily News.
“The most probable is his loss over province of the ministry of Justice. It is unlikely that he will lose his vice presidency but if the trust deficits persist, he is likely to increasingly become a lame duck VP with a title but no meaningful responsibilities and completely surrounded by juniors who neither respect him or take marching orders from him. This will be tantamount to being relegated to the commissioners’ pool.”
Analyst, Dewa Mavhinga, said there will have to be serious movement within the Cabinet’s middle order if this reshuffle-cum-re-launch is not to prove a damp squib.
“Mugabe will move to crush Mnangagwa’s political ambitions to succession, but he may go for the pillars that support Mnangagwa and leave him hanging by a thread,” he told the Daily News.
“Whatever happens, it is clear that the bigger picture is a decimation of Mnangagwa’s political base.
“The final nail in Mnangagwa’s political coffin may come much later, in line with Mugabe’s general political strategy,” opined Mavhinga.
Joy Mabhenge, head of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, said he gets a sense that the Cabinet reshuffle will not affect ED’s VP position directly but weaken him given the political dynamics that have seen his allies seemingly preparing to challenge Mugabe.
“He will most likely retain his position as VP, but his support structures in Cabinet (loyalists) will likely be depleted,” he said.
“If ED loses his supervision of the Justice ministry, I do not think that will be a fatal blow to him. What seems apparent is that fundamental changes may be made in ministries such as the ministry of Information, because of the need for G40 to firmly control the State propaganda machinery.
“At best, ED will land some obscure ministry or no ministry at all but will most likely retain his VP post.”
Political scientist, Tamuka Chirimambowa, said: “I don’t really think there is anything much to expect from the Cabinet reshuffle. ED is most likely to stay until the elections.
“Mugabe will make a decisive move on ED after the elections and ED should pray that God will be gracious to him by resting Mugabe earlier. Otherwise as it stands, I see him remaining vice president though his ministerial roles may be re-allocated.”
Mnangagwa, 75, enthroned vice-president in 2014, has headed off fierce opposition from Grace and the G40 faction of the ruling party. In recent weeks, with political temperatures heating up over claims that he had been hospitalised in August because he had been poisoned.
His decision to stick to his poisoning story and go public with his desire to stay in his post could prove shrewd.
The first lady – even though she was not fingered by Mnangagwa in the poisoning allegations – denied having anything to do with his illness and accused him of lying about it to get public sympathy.
“Why should I kill Mnangagwa? Who is Mnangagwa on this earth?” Grace Mugabe fumed. “Killing someone who was given a job by my husband? That is nonsensical.”
Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, said it is impossible to accurately predict what will happen to Mnangagwa in a Cabinet reshuffle.
“Any reshuffle would reflect the strength of people behind the scenes and, for Mnangagwa that has to mean within the military – so I would expect there has been a lot of ‘reaching out’ to the military by all factions,” Chan told the Daily News.
“I think the G40 would be satisfied if he lost the vice presidency but kept a ministerial portfolio. That would mean he could not succeed … Mugabe if he suddenly retired or passed away. It would take him out of the immediate frame.”
Academic, analyst and civil rights activist, Gladys Hlatywayo, said Mugabe might go for the jugular.
“In my view, the reshuffle is meant to deal with the Lacoste camp in government and there is a huge possibility that Mnangangwa can actually lose his job as VP,” she said.
“The events of the past weeks suggest that G40 is keen on pushing Mnangagwa out. However, everything depends on what Mugabe chooses to do.
“In the past, Mugabe chose to cripple Lacoste by removing those that supported ED for example after the Tsholotsho debacle. This time it can be different given how relations have irretrievably broken down.”
Analysts also lamented that as Zanu PF bigwigs obsess over succession, they seem to have scant interest in coming up with a plan to reinvigorate the country’s economic base.
“At the risk of repeating myself, the real problem is the economy,” Chan said. “Frantic efforts at price control mean nothing if what is driving up prices is deep economic malfunction. From the outside, this all looks like a tragic soap opera by people who have lost touch with the reality faced by citizens every day,” he said.
Mabhenge said Zimbabweans must remember that no amount of cabinet re-organisation will resolve the economic abyss Zimbabwe find itself in.
“No amount of Cabinet reshuffle will restore public confidence in this moribund government. What is needed is public dialogue and probably a lean inclusive transitional mechanism minus Mugabe, to get the country back to its feet.
“If elections are anything to go by, then a lot still has to be done to level the playing field. Otherwise we will be back on ground zero, come August 2018,” the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition boss said.
“As many have said, it is going to take Zanu implosion for things to change in Zimbabwe. Minus that, we can keep trying but nothing tangible will come through.”
Amid suspense over the impending shuffle, most Cabinet minister have stopped working.
They may be pretending to do so, but their minds are on nothing but their futures, about which they will have no solid information at all. The time will be passed reading the newspapers next to the telephone, waiting for the Munhumutapa call.
Ministers fearing the worst were also said to be consulting traditional healers. Daily News