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Ex-military chefs weigh poll options

A number of Cabinet ministers who owe their positions in Cabinet to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s benevolence face the spectre of hunting for new jobs unless they secure legislative seats at the forthcoming elections.

Constantino Chiwenga, Phillip Valerio Sibanda and Perrance Shiri
Constantino Chiwenga, Phillip Valerio Sibanda and Perrance Shiri

Mnangagwa, who ascended to power through a soft military coup late last year, created political ripples on November 30 when he retired some of the top serving army generals and gave them their first high-profile jobs as Cabinet ministers.

But as crucial polls beckon, these former military chefs who are serving as non-constituency Members of Parliament are at risk of sliding into political oblivion and becoming jobless if their benefactor does not win the impending elections.

Even if Mnangagwa is to win the polls, there is still no guarantee that he will re-appoint them into his Cabinet, although analysts believe the 75-year-old Zanu PF leader may not want to mess up with the former military chiefs who helped him ascend to the top office.

Analysts averred, however, that the safest bet for them would be to fight it out with other aspiring legislators — first in Zanu PF’s impending primary polls and later in the main plebiscite to be held before July 31 if they succeed to go past the first hurdle — in order to secure passage into the bicameral Parliament.

It is only when they are ensconced in Parliament — either as MPs or Senators — can they stand a good chance of being handpicked into Cabinet by whosoever will have been voted president at the polls.

Those who are apparently in most desperate situations include former military bosses, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, Agriculture and Lands minister Perrance Shiri and Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister Sibusiso Moyo.

Also likely to be affected are Higher and Tertiary Education minister Amon Murwira and Mines and Mining Development minister Winston Chitando, who got into government on the basis of their technical know-how.

The list also includes war veterans leader Chris Mutsvangwa, who had to be dropped as Information minister by Mnangagwa last year upon realising that he had appointed more non-constituent MPs than was permissible at law.

Mutsvangwa is seeking to bounce back in Norton where he recently clashed with the independent sitting MP, Temba Mliswa.

The forthcoming polls have already attracted huge interest from aspiring legislators who are determined to muscle out some sitting MPs, some of whom are Cabinet ministers.

The non-constituent MPs are already facing fierce resistance as the perceived minnows are refusing to cede their territories.

According to the Constitution, the president can only appoint a maximum of five ministers outside the legislative assembly, and that is provided they possess some expertise absent from parliamentarians.

Chiwenga could be in a safer position than his colleagues given that Mnangagwa could still appoint him as vice president since one actually does not have to be an MP when he or she is a vice president.

The same goes for Vice President Kembo Mohadi.

But for Shiri, Moyo and Angelbert Rugeje, it is war.

Mnangagwa last year redeployed Shiri from Mashonaland East to Mashonaland Central where he owns a farm and made him the most senior politburo member there.

This means he would be contesting for Shamva North which is currently occupied by former Zanu PF politburo member, Nicholas Goche.

Mnangagwa also had to cede to the demands of party members in the province who found it hard to accept Shiri and had to appoint businessman and legislator, Kenneth Musanhi, to the politburo to diffuse tensions.

There are also indications that Moyo’s best bet could be Mberengwa South constituency, currently occupied by out-of-favour Chiratidzo Mabuwa.

July Moyo has been earmarked to replace Makhosini Hlongwane as Mberengwa East legislator.

Nothing is cast in stone though as both Mabuwa and Hlongwane could bounce back representing newly-formed National Patriotic Front (NPF) party which is believed to have former president Robert Mugabe as its principal founder.

Rugeje, the party’s national political commissar, is said to be eyeing Bikita East constituency, formerly represented by the caged Munyaradzi Kereke.

Another interesting case is that of deputy minister of War Veterans, Victor Matemadanda, who recently organised a well-attended event at Mapfungautsi Primary School in Gokwe, largely seen as launching his legislative bid.

Matemadanda apparently wants to represent Gokwe Gumunyu constituency whose sitting MP is Melania Mahiya; although he told the Daily News that he would prefer to avoid commenting on it until the party opens up the electoral process.

Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said the looming fights could expose Zanu PF to further fractures.

“This is actually one of the factional fault lines in the new Zanu PF Lacoste set-up. The military versus sitting MPs tussle for party endorsement for parliamentary seats.

“With Rugeje as commissar, expect more soldiers as MPs, much to the chagrin of sitting MPs. This will lead to displacement of sitting MPs who will joint G40 or other opposition parties. So this is indeed another factional fault line for Zanu PF,” he said.

Another political analyst, Vivid Gwede said since Mnangagwa’s takeover, Zanu PF has operated on a hierarchical commandant structure where orders drizzle from above and permeate down to the lower party ranks.

“So retired ltd, general Engelbert Rugeje as the national commissar will make sure his retired army comrades who are now ministers are given parliamentary seats to contest. Whether they will beat the opposition in the elections is another different story.

“Since they are unelectable, they might use dirty tricks. But I see others just wanting to remain within the framework of non-constituency ministers while they work on their grassroots inroads.

“For that they bank on Mnangagwa winning the 2018 presidential election, which is quite a big leap of faith, unless they secure him that victory through unorthodox means,” said Gwede.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition spokesperson Tabani Moyo said the army and proxies in the Zanu PF administration were appointed on the basis of loyalty and the role they played in Operation Restore Legacy last November and therefore the party cannot afford to frustrate them.

“Their appointment does not have any co-relation with what the people of Zimbabwe want, but are a function of functionality and anchoring the regime that is established on a military foundation.

“If Mnangagwa wins the election, their appointment is neither here nor there; it’s by default given their role as a superstructure. They are the centre that has been at every blocked transition that we saw in all the successive years when Tsvangirai won elections,” he said.

Political commentator Rashweat Mukundu is of the opinion that the military command element now in politics is there to stay.

“Their approach is not to compete but to take over. I don’t see anyone in Zanu PF wanting to challenge Rugeje or SB Moyo in a primary election.

“The former military commanders are royalty in Zanu PF and will pick and choose what they want leaving the civilian Lacoste to battle it out in other constituencies.

“The real test is whether the command element will allow the opposition to challenge them in their preferred constituencies or we may see the rise of demons of the past, violence and threats.”

Mukundu said when all is said and done “let’s accept that Zanu PF is far less democratic because of capture by the command element. The command element believes in orders not democratic processes and Zanu PF may increasingly become regimented and more militarised.”

Another political analyst, Rejoice Ngwenya believes electoral performance depends on local constituency politics and value proposition of opposing candidates.

“Remember electoral institutions are highly militarised, so if the constituency has many candidates, some of them may manipulate their way to victory.

“Patronage plays a big role; collaboration with chiefs and also abuse of local authority resources. Some may win but certainly, Mnangagwa will find a way to slip them back into government if he himself elbows through,” he said. Daily News