“Whenever you see a toad jumping in broad daylight, then know that something is after its life,” says Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart, invoking the wisdom of his Igbo ancestors: that when you see something unusual happening, there must be a good reason for it. The quote derives from the observation that a toad would not normally jump around in broad daylight; but when it does, it is because there is some danger that is threatening its life.
It’s a useful backdrop to the odd events happening around of the office of one of Zimbabwe’s Vice Presidents. News from Harare is that there was a break-in at the office of Vice President Mnangagwa, also known by his moniker, Ngwena, the Crocodile. They say it is the sixth time this has happened at his offices.
Once might be regarded as the act of a daring but reckless outlaw. But six times on the premises of a Vice President, whose fearsome reputation precedes him? That is unusual. What is going on here? People are asking hard questions. Are these genuine break-ins or is this, as some are suggesting, a desperate cry for attention and sympathy? Is someone hunting the Crocodile or is this all part of a sophisticated counter-plot?
There are two theories about this series of events, both viewed within the context of the current succession wars in Zanu PF. The first is that there are probably indications of genuine attempts to get rid of Mnangagwa, who is regarded as a front-runner in the race to succeed President Mugabe. The suspicion is that his rivals are after him in order to pave the way for their preferred successor.
Currently, the group supporting Mnangagwa is facing resistance and competition from a group known as G40. This first theory would, therefore, point fingers at Mnangagwa’s rivals in the succession race. There is a lot at stake in this race and the idea that some will resort to dirty tactics cannot be discounted.
Back in October 2014, it was reported that Ngwena had survived a car accident, though it seemed innocuous enough because he was back in office the next day. Then in December 2014, upon his elevation to the Vice Presidency, his office desk was apparently laced with cyanide. It poisoned his secretary, who entered the room first, and she had to be hospitalised. It was believed the target was Mnangagwa himself. All this happened at the height of the bitter succession battles that saw the unceremonious ejection of Joice Mujuru from the Vice Presidency, along with all her allies. Later, Mnangagwa’s offices at the Ministry of Justice were also broken into.Advertisement
And now it has happened once more. State media tells us this has happened on other occasions although these have not previously been reported until now. There are specific details on those alleged break-ins, including one that is said to have happened when he was Defence Minister.
On all occasions, not a single suspect has been identified, let alone arrested or convicted. This, in itself, raises many questions. How does the office of a Vice President, the second most powerful position in the land, get broken into not once or twice, but six times − and not a single suspect is identified or arrested?
What does this say about the state security system – both intelligence and police – regarding the office of the Vice President? Are they so incapable, incompetent and porous as to leave the Vice President so exposed and vulnerable to such amateurish violations? Does this mean the Vice President’s office does not have adequate protection and surveillance? If so, why?
This would be shocking, particularly given that it is not the first time that an alleged break-in has occurred. One would have thought preventive measures would have been taken after the first break-in. But this is the sixth time. Does this mean nobody really cares for the office of the Vice President?
It is unlikely that the intelligence and security system is that porous. But if their competence and sophistication is not to be doubted, then how can we explain the high number of break-ins at the Vice President’s offices in such a short period? In other words: is there a message coming through here about the vulnerability of Mnangagwa? That perhaps, he does not, after all, enjoy the security and protection that he is otherwise deemed to have?
It has always been assumed, given his intelligence background, that Mnangagwa is a tough guy who enjoys the support and confidence of state security. That, in fact, he enjoys superior control and influence in this sensitive and important sector more than any other politician. But if that is the case, how does a man who enjoys these privileges suffer six break-ins at his offices without a single conviction? It all sounds strange and rather improbable.
This leads to a second school of thought: is there something Machiavellian about this series of incidents? Political philosopher and strategist, Machiavelli, is credited with the political strategy of faking one’s own passing to plot against unsuspecting enemies from behind death’s façade. According to this theory, while Mnangagwa is not quite faking his own death, the alleged incidents in which he is the principal target may be no more than a strategic plot designed to hoodwink enemies in the succession battles. According to this theory, these break-ins are not real. They are stage managed.
If this is correct, what does the Crocodile stand to benefit from faking his own suffering? Some would argue that it might gain him the sympathy vote. The idea is that he constructs an image of victimhood, which stands out in dramatic contrast to the image of the tough and insensitive character, the hard man, that has been planted in the public consciousness over so many years. In this way, he shows his vulnerable side. He becomes more human, more ordinary. More like everyone else. The calculation would be that people have a soft spot for victims. This would seem like a cheap way of seeking votes. Then again, it cannot be discounted.
The other strand of the Machiavellian strategy is that it’s more sophisticated than seeking the sympathy vote. What is at play here is an effort to outfox enemies who might actually be planning to get rid of Mnangagwa physically. The way to go about outfoxing them is to pre-empt their efforts by creating situations suggesting that someone is after his life. You think they might want to try dirty means; instead you act first − but innocuously. In this way, you communicate to them that you know what they are up to and that you are watching them. You might also prompt the security apparatus to pay more attention and, in this way, get more protection.
It’s not unusual for politicians to fake threats against them. To send themselves bullets, threatening letters and text messages and raise the alarm by any means possible simply to make the world know that they are vulnerable. It’s one way to attract attention to yourself and to outwit your enemies. You create your own danger to ward off real danger. It’s like a vaccination. You need a bit of the virus in the system in order to fight the greater danger. Creating a fake picture of danger is designed to avert danger in future.
A further, and perhaps a more sinister, strand of the Machiavellian strategy is that this peculiar series of events is actually a weapon against enemies in the sense that it is designed to make the unusual look usual. Or − to borrow Professor Jonathan Moyo‘s dictum, often referred to and popularised by fellow political scientist Professor Masipula Sithole – ‘to normalise the abnormal’. The idea is to prepare ground for similar incidents in future, to condition people into accepting the abnormal as normal.
The theory is that it is unusual for the Vice President to suffer such criminal intrusion, certainly not on the scale that we have seen in this case. However, when it happens six times to a Vice President, it should not be abnormal if it happens to people of lower status. After all, if it does happen to those further down the pecking order, people will say: but it has happened to the Vice President; therefore, there is nothing unusual about it. This sinister view suggests that it is the Crocodile’s rivals who ought to worry more, especially if they have nothing to do with the incidents.
There is a final theory, which is encapsulated in the principle of equalisation. This theory suggests that whatever your opponent does, you must find a way to equalise. In other words, you must be on equal terms at all times. It is a strategy that ZANU PF used against the MDC parties during the GNU. The MDCs were no better than ZANU PF. If ZANU PF was corrupt, so were they. The corrupt activities of MDC councillors, for example, did not help their party. Being in Government did a lot to ‘equalise’ the two parties. After all, they shared the burden of failure.
We also saw it in 2014, when the then Vice President, Joice Mujuru, earned her PhD. From nowhere, it was announced that the First Lady, Grace Mugabe, would be receiving hers too. On the same day. This is all consistent with the theory of equalisation. In this case, it’s probably no coincidence that news of the latest break-in at Mnangangwa’s office came at the same time as allegations that a so-called member of G40 received a threatening letter and a bullet in his hotel room.
Apart from this drama of break-ins, there are real and present dangers which Mnangagwa’s own allies are facing in the context of the succession race. We have previously questioned whether Mnangagwa was prepared to defend his allies, or will leave them to look after themselves. 2015 ended on a distinctly sour note for the supportive couple of Chris and Monica Mutsvangwa
In addition, one of his younger lieutenants, Gokwe-Nembudziya MP, Justice Mayor Wadyajena is currently being sent from pillar to post in the courts of law, accused of insulting the First Lady Grace Mugabe and causing a breach of peace during the Zanu PF conference in Victoria Falls. Although one charge was dismissed by the court this week on grounds of unconstitutionality, another one remains. For this, he must also travel to Victoria Falls to attend court.
Wadyajena might eventually escape the charges but he would have suffered the harassment, inconvenience and cost of the convoluted legal process. It is not impossible to imagine that lying in wait may be numerous other dockets for alleged offences, however minor. This is a form of harassment by law which is normally reserved for opposition leaders and activists. You cannot argue against it without being accused of failing to respect the rule of law, even if it is plain that the legal process is being used as a political weapon.
The fact that this strategy is being deployed against ruling party cadres is a demonstration of the intensity of the succession race. Last year, we questioned whether Mnangagwa would defend his allies. Now, though, if the break-ins are genuine, it seems the target is himself. At some point, he will have to flex his muscle or his rivals will begin to think he doesn’t have any. And when they do, the Crocodile’s days might be numbered.
In conclusion, there is certainly something odd about the recent incidents involving Mnangagwa. A pattern has been constructed. It can’t just be a coincidence that these incidents are happening around a person who is supposed to be the leading contender to succeed President Mugabe at a time when there is a bitter succession war going on.
These incidents have exercised the minds of numerous people. Some are concerned, but others are sceptical. Is there a genuine threat or is this a Machiavellian strategy? Truth is, this succession race is set to go to the wire − and there could be trouble ahead. These are the challenges of transition. But with a visionary leadership, much of this fractious and potentially explosive turbulence could be so easily avoided.
This article was originally published on Magaisa’s blog alexmagaisa.com. Alex can be contacted at email@example.com