Mu­gabe’s new po­lit­i­cal threat

Sup­port grows for sacked vice-pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa

The Guardian Weekly - - International news - Ja­son Burke

Robert Mu­gabe is fac­ing his big­gest po­lit­i­cal chal­lenge in al­most two decades as op­po­si­tion to his au­thor­i­tar­ian 37-year rule over Zim­babwe gath­ers strength around the vi­cepres­i­dent he fired last week.

Mu­gabe sacked his long-time ally Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa last Mon­day for show­ing “traits of dis­loy­alty”, abruptly re­mov­ing a favourite to suc­ceed the 93-year-old leader and boost­ing the like­li­hood of Grace Mu­gabe, the first lady, be­com­ing his next deputy and po­ten­tial suc­ces­sor.

A close ally said last Wed­nes­day that Mnan­gagwa had fled “as­sas­sins” for “a safe place” and was head­ing for neigh­bour­ing South Africa. Mnan­gagwa, who fought along­side Mu­gabe in a guer­rilla war and went on to be­come a feared se­cu­rity chief, said he had been “vil­i­fied be­yond mea­sure” and was be­ing “hounded by min­nows who have no lib­er­a­tion cre­den­tials”. “I will re­turn to Zim­babwe to lead you,” Mnan­gagwa said in a state­ment.

Chris Mutsvangwa, the chair of Zim­babwe’s as­so­ci­a­tion of war vet­er­ans, said Mnan­gagwa, 75, would lead a cam­paign to “re­store democ­racy”. An­a­lysts said the threat to the pres­i­dent and those close to him was un­prece­dented be­cause it came from within the rul­ing Zanu-PF party. “Mu­gabe has faced chal­lenges from out­side be­fore, but never an in­ter­nal chal­lenge. This time it is the ma­chin­ery that has kept him in power that is now shud­der­ing,” said Piers Pigou, an an­a­lyst with the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group in Jo­han­nes­burg.

The sack­ing of Mnan­gagwa ap­pears to have set­tled that con­test in favour of the first lady, who is 52. Un­til re­cently, Mnan­gagwa was tipped as Mu­gabe’s likely suc­ces­sor, partly be­cause of his sup­port within the coun­try’s se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment and among vet­er­ans of Zim­babwe’s 1970s guer­rilla war. De­spite his al­leged in­volve­ment in atroc­i­ties in the 1980s, Mnan­gagwa was also the pre­ferred can­di­date of much of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

Some ob­servers doubt the ex­tent of sup­port for the for­mer vice-pres­i­dent, who is hated in parts of the coun­try. But there is deep dis­con­tent, and a protest is planned later this month to demon­strate the strength of sup­port for Mnan­gagwa, his al­lies say.

Mutsvangwa ruled out try­ing to re­move Mu­gabe by force and said war vet­er­ans would form a broad front with the op­po­si­tion in elec­tions next year. “We don’t want to abuse the mil­i­tary to re­solve a po­lit­i­cal prob­lem. We don’t want them to be­come the ar­biter of po­lit­i­cal power,” he said.

On Mon­day Zim­babwe’s army chief de­manded a halt to the Zanu-PF purge and warned the mil­i­tary could in­ter­vene. “The cur­rent purg­ing, which is clearly tar­get­ing mem­bers of the party with a lib­er­a­tion back­ground, must stop forth­with,” Gen Con­stantino Chi­wenga said. “We must re­mind those be­hind the cur­rent treach­er­ous shenani­gans that when it comes to mat­ters of pro­tect­ing our rev­o­lu­tion, the mil­i­tary will not hes­i­tate to step in.”

The feud be­tween Mnan­gagwa and Grace Mu­gabe has been bit­ter and pub­lic. Last month the first lady, who leads the women’s league of Zanu-PF, pub­licly de­nied she was be­hind an al­leged at­tempted poi­son­ing of her ri­val.

Ac­tivists in Zim­babwe say they hope the fir­ing of Mnan­gagwa will unite a frac­tured op­po­si­tion, while split­ting Zanu-PF. The party is hold­ing a spe­cial congress set for mid-De­cem­ber, and elec­tions are due next year. The Move­ment for Demo­cratic Change has come close to win­ning power be­fore and ac­tivists said last Wed­nes­day they were con­fi­dent of win­ning any “free and fair” poll.


‘Un­prece­dented’ … Mu­gabe’s one-time ally now poses a chal­lenge

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