HARLY a week after Emmerson Mnangagwa was appointed as one of the two Vice Presidents of Zimbabwe, his allies and admirers fell over each other as they raced to shower praise upon him. Of the praise-singers, Josiah Hungwe, a Government Minister took the gold medal for sycophancy. “This man who has been made VP has various names that we all know but some of the names you don’t know them,” said Hungwe to an adoring crowd. “He is known as the Son of Man …” he added, to much applause.
Hungwe went on to claim that a religious leader had long foretold that Mnangagwa would be the country’s Vice President. It was a moment of triumphalism. Many thought Hungwe had over-stepped the mark, joining an embarrassing list of political characters who have showered similarly lavish and fawning praise upon their leaders.
Even The Herald, the state paper, which has been known to dutifully report in favour of Government and Zanu PF leaders whatever their failings, was less than impressed on this occasion. “Hungwe under fire for blasphemous hero-worshipping”, screamed a Herald headline in a report that lambasted Hungwe for this act of bootlicking.
The Herald was right in admonishing Hungwe, as did other papers. Even in these pages, I warned against the problem of triumphalism and urged Mnangagwa to restrain his allies, who seemed to have very quickly become intoxicated by the circumstance of their ally’s success.
But they were not the only ones who had suffered the lure of premature conclusions. Many observers – both internal and external – had Mnangagwa as the new and overwhelming favourite to succeed President Mugabe, committing the same error of judgment that had been made in the case of his immediate predecessor, Joice Mujuru. There was a time when almost everyone believed Mujuru would surely be Mugabe’s successor. This myth suffered exposure at the end of 2014.
But no sooner had that myth fallen did people latch on to the myth of Mnangagwa as the new certainty to succeed Mugabe, one that is now also unravelling. What is now apparent is that the narrative of Mnangagwa’s rise to the Vice Presidency may have been riddled with a number of myths. 4 of these are discussed in this article.
Myth Number 1: That the ouster of Mujuru was carried out by a united factionAdvertisement
In the run-up to the December Congress, it seemed as if Mujuru was being driven out of office by a united faction, whose interest was not only to see her ouster but also to install Mnangagwa in her stead.
However, it is now clear that at best this was merely a coalition of convenience, united only by a common dislike of Mujuru’s potential elevation to the Presidency and her proximity to power. The unity was around a common enemy, not a common candidate for succession. What was called a “Mnangagwa Faction” was, in fact, quite simply an anti-Mujuru coalition because it’s only common point of interest was to get rid of Mujuru from the succession race. Beyond that, there was nothing else that united the groups in that coalition of convenience.
Unsurprisingly, once Mujuru was driven out, the remaining coalition quickly ruptured and suffered disintegration. If there was a Mnangagwa faction, it was only a fraction of the whole and that fraction is now being progressively marginalised and attacked.
Myth Number 2: That Mnangagwa was the architect of the strategy to oust Mujuru
The spectacular collapse of the Mujuru bid to succeed Mugabe in Zanu PF and as Zimbabwean President was widely credited to the hand of Mnangagwa. By most accounts, it was all part of a grand plan that Mnangagwa was directing. This narrative was progressively perpetuated by the media, which has always presented him as a great schemer.
While his absence from the frontline during the 2014 campaign against Mujuru raised a few questions, most saw it as part of the grand plan where he sent attack dogs to do his bidding, while he remained quietly in the background. The fact that in the end he was installed as Vice President completed this grand narrative which showered him with great credit and some even described him as a political genius.
But it now appears as if Mnangagwa was no more than an opportunistic beneficiary of the industry of others. The fact that he was appointed might at first appear like a masterstroke, but in reality it has been his greatest weakness. His opponents have not ceased reminding him that he is a mere appointee, who serves at the President’s pleasure.
Right from the very start, the likes of Prof Jonathan Moyo were quick to remind him that he was a mere appointee, and that this did not give him any greater claim than others in the succession race. This, Moyo repeated in international media when he appeared on the BBC HardTalk programme earlier this year.
The fact of his appointment also means, if Mugabe wants to, he can sack him at any time as Zanu PF Vice President and replace him, without the need to call Congress. As an unelected official, Mnangagwa is at the mercy of the President. Surely, he could not have schemed to install himself into a position of weakness. If that was his scheme, then it is a weak one, indeed as it places him at the mercy of his boss.
In any event, public indications from his opponents in Zanu PF suggest that they were less than impressed by the narrative that credited Mnangagwa with the strategy that led to the dismissal of Mujuru. It now appears that far from being the great schemer, Mnangagwa was merely a beneficiary of other people’s grand plan.
Unless he makes a remarkable recovery, he now seems more vulnerable than ever. The irony is that he is now occupying exactly the same position that Mujuru occupied this time last year: at the mercy of Grace Mugabe, and by implication of Mugabe, because Grace cannot be acting as she is doing without the consent and authority of her husband.
Myth Number 3: That Mnangagwa and Moyo were firm allies
It has long been believed that Mnangagwa and Moyo are firm allies. This is drawn largely from events leading up to the controversial “Tsholotsho Declaration” in 2004, a euphemism for a grand plot by which Mnangagwa’s bid to become Vice President at the time would have been strongly advanced.
However, the Tsholotsho Declaration collapsed in spectacular fashion. It suffered a stillbirth and, as a consequence, many senior leaders who were involved suffered. Of the casualties, Prof Moyo was the most prominent. In February 2005, he was summarily dismissed from Government.
He took his resignation, famously remarking that he understood that “he who appoints can also disappoint, unless one has been directly chosen or elected by the people themselves” – a point that must now mean a great deal to Mnangagwa in this sticky moment in his career. Mnangagwa himself suffered a demotion, as he was shifted to the backwater Ministry in charge of rural affairs.
What has not been adequately analysed, however, is what the events of 2005 did to the relationship between these two men. There has always been an assumption that they had remained close and carried on from where they had left in 2005, after Moyo returned into the Zanu PF fold in 2008. But, had Mnangagwa done anything to protect his ally in that dark moment in 2005 when he lost his job? Did Moyo feel abandoned and betrayed by Mnangagwa, the man he had been trying to help? Was there, in fact, ill-will between the men, despite appearances, because of what had happened in 2005?
These are important questions, particularly in light of the animosity that now seems to characterise the relationship between the two men as the temperature in the battle to succeed Mugabe rises. Of all the internal critics of the Mnangagwa bid, Moyo has been the most visible and outspoken. Although Moyo has not named Mnangagwa, it can reasonably be concluded in the circumstances that what he calls “successionists” in Zanu PF are the group that is actively supporting Mnangagwa’s bid for succession. This apparent tension between Mnangagwa and Moyo has caught many unawares. If it is a decoy, then it is a good decoy, indeed.
It now seems clear that the notion that Mnangagwa and Moyo were firm allies was no more than a myth perpetuated by the media over the years. It appears that their relationship might never have recovered from the fall-out from the collapse of the Tsholotsho Declaration in 2004.
Myth Number 4: That Mnangagwa is the firm favourite to succeed Mugabe
After he was installed as Vice President in December 2014, it looked like he had bagged the Presidency. Mujuru had been considered his main rival. Few, if any, had foreseen anyone to rival his bid. While it was rumoured last year that Grace Mugabe was actually advancing her own cause to succeed her husband, this was largely dismissed as only a remote possibility. Grace Mugabe herself had praised Mnangagwa, setting in motion his rise to the Vice Presidency. Indeed, Mnangagwa had returned the favour, praising her in the aftermath of his elevation and adding salt to Mujuru’s wounds.
Many observers, including foreign governments with an interest in Zimbabwe saw Mnangagwa as the clear favourite. China even invited him on an official visit, probably preparing a relationship with Zimbabwe’s future leader.
However, events of recent weeks suggest that the placement of Mnangagwa as a clear favourite was premature. There are people in Zanu PF who hold other ideas. He might still get it in the end, but it will not be plain-sailing. Grace Mugabe herself has been unusually critical. That she is a contender is now no longer in question.
Asked in an interview with the New African magazine about the meaning of his nickname, Ngwena (the Crocodile), Mnangagwa said, the crocodile was known for its patience and calculating ways.
“You know the trait of a crocodile, don’t you? It never hunts outside water. It always goes into the water to catch its prey. It never goes in the villages or in the bush looking for food. It strikes at the appropriate time”, Mnangagwa said.
It remains to be seen whether he will have a chance to strike at all, because right now, the crocodile is under siege. What is not in doubt is that Mnangagwa is facing his sternest test yet. What seemed like a stroll toward State House now seems like uphill journey. What is interesting though, is the similarity in the language employed by both Grace Mugabe and Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Speaking in June 2015 at a public rally in Hurungwe, Mnangagwa had a dire warning for those who left Zanu PF:
“There is no life that can be obtained if you are not with those who are ruling the country. Once you get out of Zanu PF, your life starts deteriorating and gets shrivelled like a leaf plucked from a tree. Do not seek unhappiness in life. Go with the winning team.”
And speaking this week at a rally in Rushinga, Grace Mugabe had a chillingly similar warning for those who left Zanu PF:
“If you are outside Zanu PF, let me tell you that it’s cold out there. You will spend the day wearing jackets and people will ask if you are sick because you will be wearing those jackets endlessly. It’s really cold out there.”
And these two are supposed to be the potential successors to President Mugabe. The “difference” is not hard to work out. Meanwhile, Joice Mujuru, wherever she is, must be watching the drama with some interest, probably with a smirk on her face.
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