By Faith Zaba and Owen Gagare
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s reshuffling of cabinet this week was premised on managing Zanu PF internal dynamics while also preparing for the 2018 general elections well ahead of time, government insiders told the Zimbabwe Independent this week.
In his cabinet reshuffle, Mugabe removed Information minister Jonathan Moyo and deployed him to Higher Education. Oppah Muchinguri, who was at Higher Education, was shifted to Water where she replaced Saviour Kasukuwere who was posted to Local Government to take over from Ignatius Chombo appointed new Home Affairs minister.
Chombo replaced Kembo Mohadi who was redeployed as State Security minister. The ministry has been without a substantive minister since the removal of Didymus Mutasa in December last year. Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa was reportedly running it in the meantime.
Labour minister Prisca Mupfumira was appointed Acting Information minister.
Minister of State for Mashonaland East Provincial Affairs, Joel Biggie Matiza was removed and told to focus on his new role as Zanu PF chairperson for the same province. Matiza was replaced by former youth development minister retired Brigadier-General Ambrose Mutinhiri.
Zanu PF MP Nyasha Chikwinya was appointed Women Affairs minister which many thought would be given to First Lady Grace Mugabe.
Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko, who is also in charge of National Healing responsibilities, was also assigned to take charge of policy co-ordination and implementation in the Office of the President and Cabinet.
Government insiders say Mugabe’s cabinet changes were politically motivated; calculated to achieve succession and electoral objectives not to ensure efficiency and delivery.
Internally, Mugabe caved in to pressure from Mnangagwa and his supporters to remove Moyo whom they wanted moved to Education last December, saying he was using his position to build his profile while attacking and undermining his real or perceived rivals. The Mnangagwa camp complained Moyo was using the state media to undermine rivals, while propping himself up.
Insiders say Mnangagwa gained in that regard as he had his ally Mupfumira deployed to replace Moyo albeit on a temporary basis.
Information is critical in Zanu PF succession wars. The shifting of Chombo to Home Affairs and Mohadi to Security also left Mnangagwa with key allies in critical ministries. Even though Chombo and Mohadi are not in his inner circle, they are reportedly in his camp. Security ministries are key in Mugabe’s succession battle as they could be used to protect allies or hound rivals.
However, Mnangagwa did not get all he wanted, government insiders say.
Mugabe, for example, did not re-assign a person like his close ally War Veterans minister Chris Mutsvangwa whom he would have preferred as new Information minister.
Besides, Mnangagwa’s ally Matiza was removed and replaced by Mutinhiri, a Mujuru associate. Mnangagwa reportedly wanted his wife Auxillia appointed Women Affairs minister if Grace was not going to be deployed there. However, Mugabe appointed Chikwinya, another Mujuru ally.
Insiders say in his reshuffle Mugabe not only wanted to reward Mnangagwa and his allies, but also to create a balance in his team to avoid making one faction too powerful to a point of being a threat to him. By appointing Kasukuwere Local Government minister, which is more powerful than the Water ministry where he was, Mugabe was trying to create a counterweight against Mnangagwa’s faction, while addressing electoral issues.
With an eye on the 2018 general elections, Mugabe appointed Mnangagwa’s rival Kasukuwere to a ministry which is important in the electoral scheme of things as it gives the minister control over municipalities, provincial and district, administrators chiefs and other traditional leaders such as headmen critical in mobilising voters during campaigns.
Officials said Kasukuwere was appointed to the ministry to aid his work as political commissar ahead of the 2018 elections. He is expected to use his influence as Local Government minister and commissar to strengthen the party ahead of elections.
Analysts say Zanu PF has long collapsed into state structures as a party and now relies on them to divert and abuse state resources for political agendas, especially during elections.
Alex Magaisa, a constitutional expert and academic based at the University of Kent, UK, said: “All this means the Local Government minister is in fact a mini-president, being in charge of the local government structures in the entire country.
“It seems clear that Kasukuwere has been given this important portfolio to dovetail neatly with his role as political commissar of Zanu PF, all of this with an eye towards the 2018 elections.
“Now with one man wearing both hats as political commissar and the Local Government minister, this will essentially blur the distinction between party and the state.”
Magaisa added that: “This is about Zanu PF consolidating its power and control across the country, merging the state structures and party structures for maximum effectiveness.
This means when the opposition talks of electoral reforms they must realise that in fact President Mugabe and Zanu PF are consolidating the structures that give them an advantage and no reforms of the Electoral Act will affect these structures.”
A senior politburo official told the Independent that Zanu PF was actually now preparing for the 2018 elections.
“We have to win in 2018. We are now looking ahead. Kasukuwere as national commissar, working with the traditional leadership, provincial ministers and councils can have a big influence on the political scene,” the official said.
By giving Mphoko more powers, Mugabe also ensured that he would act as a bulwark against Mnangagwa ascendancy and thwart threats to his position. Mphoko is increasingly becoming a rival to Mnangagwa as he quickly learns the ropes in the party and government.
Only recently, he publicly rejected claims he was a second vice-president junior to Mnangagwa, saying they were equal. Mugabe reportedly also backed Mphoko on this during a recent Youth League national assembly meeting. Zimbabwe Independent