Mu­gabe suc­ces­sion saga gets murkier

Sunday Express - - Africa -

HE was viewed as a likely suc­ces­sor to Zim­bab­wean President Robert Mu­gabe, a long­time ally whose close as­so­ci­a­tion with the 93-year-old leader dates to the strug­gle against white mi­nor­ity rule, Now Vice President Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa ap­pears to be fall­ing out of fa­vor, deep­en­ing the mys­tery over who will take over from a man who has ruled since in­de­pen­dence in 1980.

Mu­gabe has led at­tacks on his old friend, re­flect­ing tur­moil within the rul­ing ZANU-PF party in a coun­try where po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty has fu­eled prob­lems in a de­te­ri­o­rat­ing econ­omy and in­creased hard­ship for many Zim­bab­weans.

The crit­i­cism of the vice president, one of two pres­i­den­tial deputies, comes ahead of Mu­gabe’s re-elec­tion bid next year and amid a rise in promi­nence of De­fense Min­is­ter Sydney Sek­era­mayi, whose name is pop­ping up more of­ten as a pos­si­ble suc­ces­sor.

On Thurs­day, Mnan­gagwa pledged his “un­flinch­ing loy­alty” to Mu­gabe fol­low­ing ac­cu­sa­tions from Mu­gabe’s wife, Grace Mu­gabe, and oth­ers that he had mis­led the coun­try by say­ing re­cently that he fell ill be­cause he was poi­soned.

The frac­tured op­po­si­tion, mean­while, has been un­able to chan­nel na­tional dis­con­tent into a strong play for power. The main op­po­si­tion leader, Mor­gan Ts­van­gi­rai, has health prob­lems and re­cently re­ceived treat­ment in neigh­bor­ing South Africa.

“Mu­gabe sur­vives on pit­ting one fac­tion against the other. He el­e­vates one fac­tion, dis­cards it when it be­gins to feel com­fort­able and props up an­other one,” said Gabriel Shumba, a Zim­bab­wean po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and hu­man rights lawyer based in South Africa.

The machi­na­tions are eerily sim­i­lar to those that au­gured the 2014 dis­missal of Vice President Joice Mu­juru, an­other for­mer ally of Mu­gabe who is now an op­po­si­tion fig­ure.

A dom­i­nant fig­ure in the ouster of Mu­juru who has now set her sights on Mnan­gagwa is Zim­bab­wean first lady Grace Mu­gabe, whose calls for the ap­point­ment of a fe­male vice president in­ten­si­fied talk that she even­tu­ally wants to take over the top spot from her hus­band.

So Mnan­gagwa has du­ti­fully sat through po­lit­i­cal ral­lies where the Mu­gabe cou­ple ac­cused him of lead­ing a fac­tion that seeks power and has en­dured hu­mil­i­at­ing barbs from his boss.

President Mu­gabe, for ex­am­ple, told a crowd about al­le­ga­tions that the vice president once left a ri­val for a woman’s af­fec­tions par­a­lyzed af­ter forc­ing him to jump from a multi-story build­ing.

“He was told to make a choice be­tween sit­ting on a hot stove or jump out of the win­dow.

He chose to jump and now he is dis­abled. He could have re­fused both op­tions but I guess he was afraid,” Mu­gabe said at a rally in Bin­dura town on Sept. 9.

Dur­ing the re­marks, Mnan­gagwa and his wife sat stone-faced on the dais. And that wasn’t all.

Grace Mu­gabe then piled on, warn­ing Mnan­gagwa that he might face a sim­i­lar fate to that of Mu­juru, who was also ac­cused of plot­ting to oust the president.

“I am beg­ging the VP to stop this. I once warned Mu­juru and she thought I was jok­ing. Where is she now?” the first lady thun­dered.

The other vice president, Phelekezela Mphoko, has joined in crit­i­cism of his col­league, even though he is not con­sid­ered a front-run­ner to suc­ceed Mu­gabe be­cause he lacks a strong po­lit­i­cal base.

Zim­babwe’s con­sti­tu­tion says that if the president dies, re­signs or is re­moved from of­fice, the vice president who last stood in as act­ing president takes over for 90 days, fol­low­ing which the rul­ing party must ap­point a per­son who takes over un­til the expiry of the for­mer president’s term.

Mnan­gagwa was act­ing president dur­ing Mu­gabe’s trip to the United Nations last month, while Mphoko has pre­vi­ously as­sumed the role.

Some an­a­lysts point to Sek­era­mayi, the low-key de­fense min­is­ter, as a pos­si­ble suc­ces­sor. A med­i­cal doc­tor, Sek­era­mayi ap­pears ac­cept­able to those wary of Mnan­gagwa, who was in charge of state se­cu­rity when Mu­gabe un­leashed a North Korean-trained brigade to crush dis­sent in west­ern Zim­babwe in the 1980s.

Sek­ere­mayi’s name was first brought to the fore by Jonathan Moyo, an ally of Grace Mu­gabe and a critic of a fac­tion as­so­ci­ated with Mnan­gagwa. — AP

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