Mugabe’s wife Grace, while — like all other successive Zanu PF pretenders to the throne — publicly denying to have any ambition to succeed her 91-year-old husband, has emerged as Mnangagwa’s new rival.
While the rivalry has been slowly coming out in the open in subtle ways, recent verbal and physical altercations — including the showdown at the Heroes Acre two weeks ago — have all but exposed the existence of brutal factional fights.
Political analyst and publisher Ibbo Mandaza said, while Grace wants to play “the reluctant leader”, forces within the ruling party had drawn her into the vortex of the fight.
“She has been pushed into the fore by the dynamics. Those opposed to Mnangagwa want to use her as a formidable opponent as they did when they used her as a weapon to deal with Mujuru. She probably has no choice, but to tag along even though she has little appreciation of what she is getting herself into,” Mandaza said.
Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo, who has used social media against an order from Mugabe to desist from “taking issues to the Internet”, has been particularly vocal in the fights.
“No thinking person can doubt that Amai [Grace] is with the President where the President is, hence, Munhu wese kunaAmai. Kusina amai hakuendwi! [Let’s all rally behind Grace] It’s factionalist mischief to claim that Munhu wese kuna Amai besmirches the President when it’s [the] same as ‘kusina Amai hakuendwi!’,” he said as he supported one group involved in the fight that took place during the recent burial of former Information minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu. He attacked the opposing faction using his recently coined “successionists” verbiage.
Moyo is believed to be a member of a group of hawks within the ruling party commonly referred to as Generation 40 or G40, which allegedly includes among its ranks Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere.
The group is allegedly agitating against Mnangagwa’s rise to the top. The Higher Education minister has used every opportunity to attack Mnangagwa, even knit-picking on his interviews to “raise dust” against the Justice minister.
While Kasukuwere was unreachable for comment as he was believed to be in Matabeleland on government business, Moyo was not answering his mobile phone yesterday and had not responded to questions sent to his email on Friday by the time of going to print.
Bulawayo-based analyst Lawton Hikwa, however, brought a whole new dimension to the reports of factions within the ruling party.
Hikwa said Grace denied habouring any ambitions to take over from Mugabe “and I would not want to speculate beyond that”.
“My take on the situation is that the issue of factions — while they are unnatural in succession politics — are a creation of the media. These things are expected, but to link what happened at Ndlovu’s burial to factions within Zanu PF does not really sell for me,” he said.
“I think there are a lot of wounded egos following the events of last December. That kind of fracas would be expected. There would naturally be groups or individuals aligned to one leader or another, but not really coalescing into tangible ‘institutions’ within the party as reported in the media.”
The T-shirts furore at the national shrine seems to have been inspired by Moyo’s Twitter rants following Mnangagwa’s comments regarding the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo, with the former Information minister — who is known for his acerbic tongue — demanding that the VP “explains himself” to clarify the issue.
Mnangagwa had claimed that former Rhodesian leader Ian Smith had told him and Mugabe that Nkomo and other nationalists except for Zanu PF leader were willing to do his bidding, hence could be viewed by Zimbabweans as “sell-outs”. The VP has maintained a dead silence over the issue amid the bedlam around him.
Mnangagwa’s stormtroopers have, however, immediately got to work, taking Moyo head-on. Gokwe Nembudziya MP Justice Mayor Wadyajena, a self-confessed disciple of Mnangagwa, was scathing in his response.
“A lot of spiteful political crooks, charlatans and low-life devil incarnates [are] abusing the First Lady [Grace Mugabe]’s name,” Wadyajena said last week.
Ironically, Mugabe last year described Moyo as a “devil incarnate and weevil” during the burial of national hero Nathan Shamuyarira.
Wadyajena was immediately supported by former student leader and Zanu PF convert, Tafadzwa Mugwadi, who also took a dig at Moyo, describing him as a “dangerous successionist”.
“The worst and dangerous successionist in our party, Zanu PF, is none other than himself, the one always writing about succession on his notorious Twitter account, the one who thinks that everything that Vice-Presidents or the First Lady do in their capacities should be interpreted in the stakes of succession politics,” Mugwadi wrote on Facebook, adding that Moyo wanted to destroy the party from within, a long-held accusation against the political science professor by his Zanu PF rivals.
Hikwa added that groups such as G40 were also a creation of the media “because those purported to be aligned to the group have denied it. But I am not saying there is no disgruntlement within the party with certain characters showing their displeasure in one form or another”. As things stand, Mnangagwa is seen as front-runner to take the baton from Mugabe, but his opponents are not “sleeping” as they scheme and plot to stop the “Croc”, as the VPs is known, from taking charge.
Meanwhile, Grace’s stock continues to rise with each day and she has openly flaunted her newly-found toys, gushing at one time: “Even the VPs [Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko] come to me for advice and take notes”.
The brutality with which she annihilated Mujuru would send chills down the spine of any of her opponents, but Mnangagwa is a sly operator who could prove a different kettle-of-fish.
He operates like his nickname “the crocodile”, striking at the opportune time, and the fact that he has kept his cool as his opponents wail could be a sign there is “more where this came from”.
It would be folly, however, to underestimate Grace, but analysts also agree her power is intricately linked to her powerful, but ageing and ailing husband.
She is aware the stakes are high and could even go higher if Mugabe leaves office.