Fugitive Mugabe rival faces threat of treason charge
Peta Thornycroft and Roland Oliphant
POLICE in Zimbabwe may bring treason, fraud, and murder charges against a sacked vice-president who has vowed to challenge the grip of President Robert Mugabe’s family’s on power.
Emmerson Mnangagwa, who for nearly 40 years served as Mr Mugabe’s right-hand man until he lost a bitter power struggle with First Lady Grace Mugabe, fled Zimbabwe last Tuesday after the 93-year-old dictator fired him for “unreliability” and allegedly plotting a coup more than 30 years ago.
The Sunday Telegraph understands that Mr Mnangagwa is now in South Africa, where he is attempting to muster support to challenge Mr Mugabe at presidential elections next year.
It is unclear whether he will be able to mount a serious challenge to Mrs Mugabe from abroad, however.
His shock removal follows a bitter public feud with Mrs Mugabe over the succession when the increasingly frail president dies or retires, and has sparked fears of a potentially violent purge as she moves to consolidate her control over the ruling Zanu-PF party and, with it, the country.
Mr Mnangagwa cleared his desk early on Monday morning after refusing a summons to meet Mr Mugabe at his palatial residence.
Friends and colleagues told The Telegraph that he tendered his resignation hours before the government announced that he had been fired.
Mr Mnangagwa then fled to Mozambique by car after the police and army protection teams had been withdrawn from his Harare home.
The potential treason charges are linked to an angry, condemnatory statement which the 75-year-old released as he fled into exile.
“It is being carefully examined and appropriate response and action will be made afterwards,” Simon Khaya Moyo, the information minister, told journalists in Harare when asked about the statement.
Several lawyers in Harare told The Telegraph that there are lines in Mr Mnangagwa’s five-page statement that could constitute treason. They in- clude: “I leave this post, for now. I encourage all loyal members of the party to remain in the party to register to vote as we will very soon control the levers of power in our beautiful party and country.”
“You (Mugabe) and your cohorts will instead leave Zanu-PF by the will of the people and this we will do in the coming weeks,” the statement goes on.
“Zimbabweans in general now require new progressive leadership that is not resident in the past and refuses to accept change.”
Almost every major political leader in Zimbabwe has been charged with treason by Mr Mugabe since the country’s independence in 1980.
Separately, police said they are investigating Mr Manangagwa in connection with four murders, as well as political violence in connection with illegal gold panning in and around Mr Mnangagwa’s home district, Kwekwe, in central Zimbabwe.
One of the cases involves the attempted murder of Godfrey Majonga, a former state broadcaster, who was left paralysed and never walked again after a brutal assault 30 years ago.
Detectives are also believed to be looking into at least two murders, which are already in the courts, in connection with violence and intimidation in the highly competitive and dangerous informal gold mining sector in central Zimbabwe.
Mr Mnangagwa has been implicated in a series of human-rights abuses in his decades by Mugabe’s side including massacres of thousands of people in Matabeleland in the Eighties and during Zimbabwe’s intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
However, he has been widely seen as a relatively competent and levelheaded figure inside Zanu-PF and was tipped as the preferred succession candidate of both Zimbabwean businessmen and potential foreign investors.
“We are very shocked at what has happened to Mnangagwa. He was the one person within Zanu-PF [who] we believed had the sense to know how to fix the economy,” said a Harare businessman, who asked not to be named.
“Don’t get me wrong, Zanu is bad news,” said Sally Mutseyami, an exiled opposition activist in London. “But some are worse than others. Frankly, I think he would have been the better choice. It is a pity.”
Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (who was also once charged with treason), described the “dramatic” move as a threat to Zimbabwe’s national security. “It’s one thing to dismiss the vice-president, but it’s another when it affects the stability of the country,” he said in a statement issued from Johannesburg, where he is recovering from treatment for cancer.
Obert Gutu, a spokesman for the MDC, said the party was “always willing and able to collaborate with all genuine Zimbabwean patriots”, but there had been no formal discussions with Mr Mnangagwa.
‘It’s one thing to dismiss the vice-president, but it’s another when it affects the stability of the country’