Mnangagwa, a long-time aide of Mugabe and one of two surviving members of Mugabe’s first post-Independence cabinet along with Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, was widely believed to be the front-runner to succeed Mugabe after the December 2014 sacking of his long-time rival former vice-president Joice Mujuru.
However, his fortunes have taken a knock with both Mugabe and Grace publicly suggesting that he may not be the successor. He is also facing renewed opposition from Generation 40, a group of young Turks seeking to weaken him by expelling his key allies from the party. Those targeted for immediate expulsion include his close ally July Moyo, War Veterans minister Chris Mutsvangwa, legislators Justice Mayor Wadyajena (Gokwe-Nembudziya constituency) and Owen Ncube (Gokwe-Kana).
According to sources, it was in the context of such raging issues which are threatening his survival that Mnangagwa hired an expensive private jet to visit Mugabe, who is on annual vacation in Dubai, seeking to clear the air and possibly obtain assurances concerning his prospects of succeeding him.
It is unclear who initiated the meeting, but Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko also left for Dubai on Monday to meet the Mugabes. Mnangagwa though, took his wife Auxilia with him and son Sean to Dubai where they dined with Mugabe, Grace, Mugabe’s daughter, Bona, and her husband Simba Chikore as well as Mugabe’s sons Robert Jr and Chatunga.
Mnangagwa’s backers said he wanted to use the Dubai meeting to put his presidential ambitions back on track.
“However, he was never afforded that opportunity by Grace who steadfastly remained by her husband’s side and never left him alone to allow for any private discussions to take place,” said a source close to the First Family.
“Even the children, particularly Chatunga (Mugabe’s last-born son), were ever present and the most Mnangagwa got out of the visit were the normal family dinners”.
The sources say although the Mugabes had approved the meetings, they had unkind words for the Vice-President when he left.
The sources also said the First Family were not happy with the fact that their guests had hired a private plane which was formerly owned by the Malawian government and sold to an arms company by former Malawian president Joyce Banda.
The plane was bought in 2013 by Bohnox Enterprises, a firm registered in the British Virgin Islands, which operates from South Africa, where it is loaned to VIPs by the jet company Fortune Air. Both companies are linked to Paramount Group, Africa’s largest private defence and aerospace firm.
The sources say Mnangagwa offered Mugabe the use of the plane which the President politely declined.
While Mnangagwa reportedly found no joy in his endeavours, some of his allies, particularly Wadyajena, posted statements and tweeted pictures of the Dubai meeting of the two families citing the pictures as proof that the two had a cordial and fruitful exchange.
“Naked @ProfJNMoyo (Jonathan Moyo) busy fantasising Crocbustering while the real Crocodiles vachivaka nyika! Zvoto Zvinemazera! MaLevels asiyana,” tweeted Wadyajena last Saturday.
The tweet meant that while Higher Education minister Prof Jonathan Moyo was fantasising about destroying Mnangagwa’s political career, Mnangagwa was actually busy working with Mugabe to plot the country’s future during his Dubai visit. The tweet was accompanied by two photographs, one showing Mugabe and Mnangagwa with their wives and children and the other a photoshoped image of a smiling half-naked Moyo riding on a crocodile he had subdued.
Ngwena (crocodile) is Mnangagwa’s moniker.
However, sources close to the First Family say the tweet was an attempt to cover for the disappointment of Mnangagwa’s abortive trip.
Mnangagwa has suggested in the past that he sees himself as Mugabe’s natural successor, citing his long ties with him as his aide as well as claiming to be the only surviving member of the party’s original politburo which was formed in 1977 when Mugabe replaced Ndabaningi Sithole as Zanu leader.
During an interview with London-based New African magazine last August, Mnangagwa said he had learnt a lot from Mugabe since they started working together at the formation of Zanu in 1963 — a factor that should place him in good stead to succeed him.
However, Grace has shown on several occasions that she does not share Mnangagwa’s views and last August, during a visit to Binga in Matabeleland North province, she warned both vice-presidents were not guaranteed to succeed her husband.