Reflections on President Mugabe’s latest cabinet reshuffle

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WHEN President Robert Mugabe assumed office in August 2013, it was on the back of an election campaign promise to deliver 2 million jobs to Zimbabweans. Two years later, and thousands of jobs fewer than there were when that promise was made, the one area that has actually experienced growth is the size of his government.
Last, Zimbabweans woke up to the shock of an additional set of Ministers – 14 were sworn into office. Although there were some vacancies arising from deaths, dismissals and re-assignments, the rest were new posts that were previously unoccupied. Their necessity is a point of serious doubt, especially in this period when the government is struggling for cash.
One of the new ministries is for “Rural Development and Preservation of National Cultural Heritage” – which has left some speculating that it was prompted by the recent furore over the return of skulls taken during the colonial era. But there is the Home Affairs Ministry, which was already responsible for that area. There is also a Tourism Ministry, which has an interest in the same area of cultural heritage. Why a new full ministry was considered a necessity in these austere times defies sense.
The President has created a third economic-related portfolio, reassigning Simon Khaya Moyo to the Ministry of Policy Coordination and Promotion of Socio-economic Ventures in the President’s Office. Khaya Moyo’s old ministry of economic planning has now been taken over by Obert Mpofu, formerly at Transport. It’s not altogether clear what Khaya Moyo was doing at Economic Planning or what he will be doing at his new station. It seems the President is unsure of what do with Khaya Moyo, who at one point was almost a sure bet for the Vice Presidency until he was pipped at the last moment by Phelekezela Mphoko, whose political pedigree before his appointment was obscure.
Anyway, Khaya Moyo’s old ministry has now rather incredibly also gained a deputy in Monica Mutsvangwa, moved from Information where she was also deputising. These two Ministries – Khaya Moyo’s and Mpofu’s – are in addition to the main portfolio dealing with economic affairs, Patrick Chinamasa’s Ministry of Finance. There is also industry and commerce, which understandably is a separate ministry. But why you need all these economic ministries disjointed and scattered all over the place for such a small country and economy is hard to understand. They are departments which Chinamasa should be in charge of at Finance.Advertisement

There is a host of other deputies who have been appointed to various ministries. People ask, quite reasonably, why there are so many deputies when the Cabinet is already bloated. They don’t sit in Cabinet and cannot even act in the absence of their bosses. What’s the point?
It must be hard for Chinamasa, the treasury chief who has been beating the drum of austerity in recent months, pleading that the government is broke and cannot afford its huge wage bill. Last April, he announced the suspension of bonuses, which civil servants have traditionally received annually. But his announcement was promptly shot down by President Mugabe, defying economic wisdom in favour of populism.
Just last week, staff of the IMF were in Harare as part of the IMF Staff-Monitored Programme, to which Zimbabwe is currently subject, as it seeks to prove that its rehabilitation to creditors and lenders. They reiterated their call for government to cut public spending. President Mugabe’s response has been to expand his government. What came through one ear of government, escaped very swiftly at the other end.
These are expensive appointments. Consider this:
Each newly appointed Minister will be issued with at least two new vehicles – a Mercedes Benz and an off-road vehicle, probably a Land Rover Discovery Sport or a Range Rover, among other luxuries that come with their new station in life. They will have their own set of hangers-on to carry their briefcases, open doors to their luxury cars and answer their mobile phones – bills of which are also paid for by the taxpayer. They have just earned a ticket that gives access to the first class carriages of the proverbial gravy train, one that is highly coveted within the ruling party so much that those that have missed out will be hurting badly, as will do the Treasury and, ultimately, the ever-suffering taxpayer who must carry the burden.
But why?
Why, against both economic logic and common sense, is President Mugabe making these appointments and increasing the size of government at a time when he should be reducing expenditure? After all, thousands of civil servants found themselves without wages recently when after a random head-count, those found absent for whatever reason had their names chopped off from the wages’ list?
The answer lies in the succession puzzle that seems to be getting out of hand. As I said to a colleague this afternoon, “It’s succession, stupid!” echoing a remark made famous by former US President Bill Clinton, when he was referring to the economy.
It is now common cause that there are factions in Zanu PF, each vying for the most vantage position as they aim to succeed President Mugabe, who is in the twilight of his long career. Close observers say there are two major factions – one that backs Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who many consider to be the front-runner but by no means assured and another, oft-referred to as the G40, for Generation 40, which groups a younger generation of Zanu PF leaders – with Prof Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasukuwere, said to be at the fulcrum of this unit.
It’s not surprising that one of their more significant allies, Patrick Zhuwao, who also enjoys the advantage of being the President’s nephew, has emerged from outside Parliament to take the Ministry of Youth, Indigenisation and Empowerment. Zhuwao lost in the Zanu PF primary elections in 2013 and never got into Parliament. But he has been vocal in his support of his uncle and his allies.
Although he is not an MP, Zhuwao has been appointed as the last of the 5 MPs that the President is permitted under the constitution to appoint from outside Parliament. While some people point to his appointment and allege nepotism, it really is less nepotism than succession politics. If it were simply nepotism he would have been in Cabinet long back. This is more about succession politics.
But on Mnangagwa’s side he will be pleased that one of his most loyal allies, Joram Gumbo has finally been rewarded, too, as the new Minister of Transport and Infrastructure, taking over from Obert Mpofu. For a long time he had been stuck in the role of Chief Whip in Parliament, failing to break into Cabinet.
It must hurt though, that another senior ally of Mnangagwa, July Moyo, has once again been left out, while many juniors and unknowns have been elevated. His exclusion is probably an indication that Mnangagwa does not always get his way. Instead, he has been given one Clifford Sibanda, whose political stock is unknown, to become the runner in his office as Vice President. Mnangwagwa would have preferred a closer confidant.
Nevertheless, another of his close allies, Makhosini Hlongwane sneaked into Cabinet, albeit by the most bizarre and less decorated of avenues, as Minister without Portfolio. Zimbabweans like to poke fun at this portfolio without a portfolio, which sounds even more pointless when conveyed in the local tongue – Gurukota risina zvarakamiririra! It is odd that in such a large Cabinet and given the expense that comes with it, President Mugabe would see reason to appoint a Minister without Portfolio. What is he going to do?, people ask. The most probable reason was to pacify the Mnangagwa faction and to balance the succession equation.
A study of the coterie of deputy ministers and their respective allegiances between the factions will also reveal that this was an exercise in balancing the succession equation. President Mugabe’s current solution seems to be to pacify the factions by appointing more and more of them into government hoping to keep everyone happy. After all, as they say, you don’t talk while you are eating. Why else would he appoint a deputy to a portfolio whose remit is limited to the welfare of war veterans, a ministry where the current Minister, Chris Mutsvangwa, also doubles up as the Chair of the veterans’ association?
The competition between the factions is intensifying and will probably get more vicious. Last week, when Mnangagwa made comments in an interview in respect of late Vice President and respected veteran politician Joshua Nkomo, Prof Jonathan Moyo got into attack mode, throwing barbs at Mnangagwa via the agency of social media. Again, a group reportedly allied to Mnangagwa issued a petition in which it is making demands for Kasukuwere’s ouster from his strategic position as Political Commissar of the party, citing several grounds for their proposed protest.
The First Lady, Grace Mugabe, has been in the thick of it too, first making comments that suggested an attack on Mnangagwa before quickly retreating, probably upon advice, and appearing to back him in a public show of support. But it’s unlikely that Mnangagwa would have been fooled by that back-tracking. He would have seen the bigger picture and knows only too well that the same set of tools that was used to sweep away former Vice President Joice Mujuru, to his benefit, are likely to be deployed against him, too. The only problem is that the First Lady, such a potent force against Mujuru, had probably moved with misguided haste on this occasion. But he knows they will come again.
The fact that Zhuwao is now heading the Indigenisation Ministry, which includes youths under its portfolio will be seen as yet another key cog in the wheel of the G40. Moyo is already at Higher Education and he will use that platform to engage and woo students at colleagues and universities, in the battle for hearts and minds.
Kasukuwere has the powerful Local Government portfolio and, with the Political Commissar role in his hands, he is like a super-Minister – that critical player, the so-called play-maker, in a football team who is given the privilege of a free role by the coach, and in that role dictate the pace and direction of the game. It is a coveted role, but one that also makes you a marked man, no wonder he has been at the receiving end of the petition from the disgruntled group. More crunching will be exercised upon him, no doubt.
What is certain is that after the persecution and expulsion of Mujuru last year, the factions that were only united by the convenience of the hour, are now in a vicious competition of their own. Instead of dealing with the succession issue more decisively, President Mugabe is taking the route of appeasement – keep them happy. But the internecine fight is, of course, to his advantage. As they squabble between themselves, he is spared the excesses of their ambitions. All he has to do is to manage the fight. This latest batch of appointments is part of that management process. It’s a tactic he has used all his career and one that, likely, he will keep using until the very end. Whatever happens after he’s departed is not his primary concern.
Back in the village, elders have a saying for this scenario. Kuita kunge bhasikiti raTizirai, rinoti uku riri kurukwa, uku riri kurudunuka. It’s a saying that describes a hopeless situation in which a chap, Tizirai is knitting a basket at one end, but at the same time, the other end is getting undone. This, they would say, is exactly what President Mugabe has done with the new appointments.
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