By Hopewell Rugoho-Chin’ono
What Grace Mugabe said on Sunday about how her husband, Robert Mugabe, mistrusted his then Deputy President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is not a new story.
Many years ago, one of Mugabe’s old friends told me a story about how Mugabe mentioned to him his mistrust for Mnangagwa and how he viewed Mnangagwa as a cruel man.
He called him dangerous and a killer.
I had mixed feelings about the statement because to me, Mnangagwa has been one of the few, from the original group of the 80s government ministers, that stood shoulder to shoulder with Robert Mugabe especially in 2008 when Mugabe lost the general election to Morgan Tsvangirai.
It was Mnangagwa and the generals who stood firm with Mugabe during his darkest hour when the late General Solomon Mujuru had successfully mobilized and led the Bhora Musango campaign against Mugabe’s reelection.
The other half of me believed the other side of the tale because we grew up being told that Mnangagwa was the brains behind Mugabe’s darkest secrets.
If he wasn’t the schemer, he was the enforcer, we were told these tales from when we were kids growing up in the townships.
Mnangagwa was a terrifyingly feared figure, feared more than Robert Mugabe. He was a mysterious man with a fierce aura and was nicknamed Ngwena, Shona for crocodile.
Mugabe’s old friend also spoke on how the President complained about his other ministers, saying that they didn’t implement difficult and often illegal orders on time and how he viewed Mnangagwa as an efficient operator in that regard.
So it is now a known fact that Mugabe hung on to Emmerson until he felt that he didn’t need him anymore or maybe after he realized that he had receded his powers and abilities to being cruel. Just maybe.
There is nothing new there, history keeps repeating itself.
That is how Mugabe has always operated. He got rid of all his liberation war political colleagues except Emmerson and the new favorite to succeed him, Sydney Sekeremayi.
Emerson seemed invincible to many Zimbabweans, including the Karanga intellectual class, who have been backing him in his battle with G40, the outfit that is fighting in Mugabe’s corner.
Where did it all go wrong?
Arrogance of power!
Those around the Vice President recklessly exercised arrogance of power and in many cases didn’t do scenario planning at all.
They assumed that they had it all in the bag, the very same mistake that former Vice President Joice Mujuru’s acolytes made.
The assumption that everything remains equal and that one is invincible is a big Zimbabwean problem that has seen many a big name tumble when they least expected it.
The common phrase used by the former Vice President’s supporters was, “ED is the only game in town.”
The Mujuru gang’s phrase was “Joice is through the door.”
On the surface, Mnangagwa was indeed the only game in town after Joice’s demise, this was the case as long as Mugabe wanted things to appear that way.
Nothing is constant in politics, interests are permanent not friendships.
Mugabe has never been known to having political friends, everyone is expendable with Comrade Bob when the right time comes.
So let it be known that nobody in ZANUPF is indispensible, as journalist Ranga Mberi aptly put it, everyone is Povo in ZANUPF except Robert Mugabe.
The second problem and mistake that Emmerson Mnangagwa’s people made was the ethnic argument that they accentuated unnecessarily.
It is true that the Presidency should be rotated regionally but to then ethnicize the issue was a massive political blunder.
Some points of principle are indeed true but you don’t make noise about it in politics, it turns off your supporters from other regions and ethnic groups.
The constant chatter about a “Karanga Time” trivialized Mnangagwa’s stature as a national leader, which he was since being appointed Vice President.
Mnangagwa should have been sold as a national leader and not a regional Godfather or Karanga leader, as many in his corner did with reckless abandon.
I met many people who supported Mnangagwa’s bid to succeed Mugabe from almost every corner of the country.
However, many of them in and out of my social circle became disenchanted by how those at the core of Emmerson’s team ethnicized his bid to become the next President after Mugabe.
The ethnic “war cry” had an eerie ring to it and political scientists working for Mugabe like Jonathan Moyo leapt onto the negative aspect of such an argument and used it against Mnangagwa with devastating effect.
Mugabe and his G40 team now labeled Mnangagwa a tribalist and it became a weapon that they successfully used when de-campaigning Mnangagwa in other ethnic regions.
Thirdly, Britain’s role in the Zimbabwean presidential succession politics became a sore thump for those fighting the former Vice President.
Public intellectuals like Ibbo Mandaza and Miles Tendi lambasted the British Ambassador, Catriona Laing, for openly supporting Emerson Mnangagwa.
Catriona Laing’s embassy in Harare wrote a letter to the University of Oxford where Miles Tendi is an Assistant Professor complaining about Tendi’s comments regarding this issue.
Former Finance Minister, Tendai Biti, was more rabid, calling Mnangagwa “The Butcher” a reference to Mnangagwa’s role in the 80s Matabeleland massacres, where almost 20000 people were killed by the army when Mnangagwa was Security Minister.
This terrible badge stuck on Emmerson and yet he was only Mugabe’s emissary, but because of the zeal with which he executed his mandate, he became equally culpable in the eyes of his enemies.
The very thing that Mugabe admired about Emmerson, the reliable emissary and efficient ambassador who attends to his boss’s dark orders.
Such a heinous curriculum vitae ran contrary to the British mantra of human rights and the rule of law, people like Biti kept reminding the Brits on social media.
So the tacit support and advocacy, which the British Ambassador gave on behalf of Mnangagwa was a political poisoned chalice in my view.
I have spoken to many western ambassadors who felt the same way as Catriona Laing but they chose to hold their card close to the chest cognizant of how a public show of affection for Emmerson would cripple his chances of getting the top job.
The very thought that Mnangagwa was working with the British, the very British government that had banned Mugabe from coming into London and worked hard to get him banned from visiting Europe, made Mugabe choke with anger according to those who see the President regularly.
The President’s men also kept pushing this point publicly and in private and this infuriated the President as it made Mnangagwa’s demise imminent.
There was also a lack of sophistication on some of the former Vice President’s lieutenants.
They were easily irritated by any argument that pointed towards what happened today taking place, and they also divulged to anyone who cared to listen, details about who they were working with and what they intended on doing.
These were low-level hangers on like Energy Mutodi who exposed the former Vice President badly with the infamous Mug that infuriated Mugabe. The Mug was simply inscribed I Am The Boss.
The former Vice President’s foot soldiers were not very political and were in it not for politics but money, deals and protection.
Mnangagwa needed supporters on the ground with sophistication, people who wouldn’t abuse his name needlessly to either intimidate or get favors.
The former Vice President was exposed the day he was appointed by Robert Mugabe as his VP.
All along we knew of him and feared him without having heard him say anything.
The day he spoke, the myth disappeared and he exposed himself to be NO Vladimir Putin, a man of steel who leaves you wanting to hear more.
Mnangagwa was not cut from that cloth. He made unmeasured jokes about Joice Mujuru being fired and he mocked those outside ZANUPF, not very Presidential.
He was drawn into needless petty wars with people like Jonathan Moyo, Savior Kasukuwere, Grace Mugabe, Kudzai Chipanga the list goes on.
A feared man who commands the deathly aura of a crocodile should not be seen having to defend himself against people he considers to be his political minions.
What Mnangagwa failed to realize was that he was not fighting these chaps, these juniors were sent by his boss.
He wasted too much time defending himself instead of resolving issues with his appointing authority, Robert Mugabe.
Once Jonathan Moyo started ridiculing Mnangagwa on twitter I knew that the game was up. Moyo might be many things but foolish is not one of them.
He was clearly executing Mugabe’s mandate, to ridicule Mnangagwa’s stature and embarrass him publicly.
The unrestrained public support that Mnangagwa got from Chris Mutsvangwa and the War Veterans was dangerous, it assumed that the war veterans were now his and not Mugabe’s.
Remember that in ZANU PF there is supposed to be one center of power.
Naked ambition and the act of retaining coercive instruments of violence, that are meant to be controlled by Uncle Bob alone, is a terrible tactical move.
If it were a tactic, it backfired badly.
You don’t threaten that which you can’t see through or implement, more so when you are dealing with a wily character like Robert Mugabe who is being advised by shrewd characters like Jonathan Moyo.
Instead of surprising the nation, Mutsvangwa and his team sabre rattled to a point where anything that they said was being dismissed and laughed at.
That receded the crocodile fear factor and in the process made Mnangagwa look like a clown.
There was the myth that the army would not allow Mugabe to fire Mnangagwa, it exaggerated the political reach of the army and the extend to which they could act.
All the army commanders are aware of the political implications of getting involved in a coup, more so one that might not succeed.
Army commanders can be fired any time and short of killing Mugabe, they have NO power beyond that which Mugabe allows them to exercise.
They can be fired the same way Mnangagwa was given his marching orders by his boss, and nothing legal will happen to stop that short of killing their boss.
This to me is something that the President has discussed with his wife and advisors, that is why his wife keeps bringing it up and daring the soldiers to kill her.
Mugabe is a terrible, ruthless and hopeless dictatorial President, but he is NO fool! He has mastered the art of using the patronage train and retaining his power. Anyone who challenges him will be financially ruined and the former Vice President and his supporters are aware of this.
The other huge political blunder was the indiscriminate use of colourful language by Emmerson’s supporters like Reason Wafawarova.
They called Grace Mugabe unprintable words on social media, that turned out to be a catastrophic mistake that got to Mugabe’s ears and also to his wife’s.
Mnangagwa’s supporters made the terrible mistake of publicly getting angry on their poster boy’s behalf and writing terrible things about Mugabe and his family and their hero paid badly for that.
Mugabe was shown these things and by any measure, the Vice President’s silence to all these things made him an accomplice in the eyes on Mugabe and his family.
Grace Mugabe and Phelekezela Mpokho the other Vice President, kept repeating their frustration about Mnangagwa’s silence.
What now for Emerson Mnangagwa? The former Vice President can go home and live a quiet life running his businesses, writing his memoirs and spending time with his grand children.
Alternatively he can fight back, however if he chooses to fight back, he needs to surround himself with more sensible people like his right hand man, July Moyo and less of hangers on like Energy Mutodi who lack tact and are only there for the spoils not cause.
Mnangagwa of all people will know that fighting Mugabe is no child’s play, Mugabe will collapse Mnangagwa’s business empire easily and throw that book at him reminding him of the crimes committed whilst he was in office.
The next move will have to be rationale not emotional, but that’s for Mnangagwa to decide on and work on.
Those around the former VP will be his real friends.
The hangers on have already started making contact with the other side to see if they can be accommodated. There is already a Webster Shamu template and precedent for such political accommodation.
More importantly, for Robert Mugabe to rapture his political party in this way, close to an election should be a big worry for the opposition.
Mugabe is showing that the next election’s results do not hinge on the real votes but on contrived results.
ZANU PF will not win the presidency without Masvingo and Midlands, but the deliberate firing of Mnangagwa shows that Mugabe has sorted that “small” problem as he did in 2013.
Zimbabwe has become a giant sitcom that unfortunately doesn’t address its real problems.
None of Mugabe’s giant rallys addressed bread and butter issues.
None of ZANU PF’s politburo meetings have attempted to address the shortages of money and increasing rate of inflation.
We have been kept glued to these irrational political side shows and one hopes that now Emerson is gone, the remaining ZANU PF cadres can now realize that they are the ruling party not the opposition and as such, they are the ones who are supposed to provide solutions to the myriad of problems that Zimbabwe is facing.
Hopewell Rugoho-Chin’ono is an award winning Documentary Filmmaker, Television Journalist and The New York Times writer.
He can be contacted @ [email protected]
He has an upcoming documentary film called State of Mind looking at Mental illness in Zimbabwe.
You can get more details here: https://m.facebook.com/stateofminddoc/