Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko has stirred a hornet’s nest by publicly stating that there is no single tribe divined to lead Zanu PF or Zimbabwe, utterances critics say are intended for Emmerson Mnangagwa, a Karanga, long taunted as President Robert Mugabe’s heir apparent.
Mugabe, who turns 92 next Sunday, is battling to douse fires in Zanu PF as factions fight to succeed him when he eventually decides exit politics. The veteran Zanu PF leader has flatly refused to name a successor despite clear failing health coupled with old age.
Mnangagwa has been seen as the natural successor to Mugabe by virtue of being the second vice president with a camp known as Team Lacoste drumming up support for his elevation in Zanu PF. But the Lacoste camp has instead solicited vehement opposition from a rival group, the G40 which is said to be linked to Mugabe’s wife Grace.
But Mphoko, whose bootlicking of Mugabe and Grace is legendary, appeared on Friday to pour cold water on Mnagangwa’s natural ascension in the Zanu PF presidency.
“There is nowhere in the constitution where it says the country was liberated by a Ndebele, Karanga or Zezuru. The constitution says the country was liberated by Zapu and Zanu. So what we are hearing now that since Mugabe is Zezuru, the next should be a Karanga is misplaced. It will not succeed,” Mphoko told party supporters on Friday at a Mazowe rally convened by the First Lady, Grace Mugabe.
While some analysts view the remarks as yet another blow to Lacoste’s presidential ambitions, others say it is fundamentally flawed for Mphoko or anyone for that matter to ethicise Zimbabwe politics in the first place.
Questions abound whether Zimbabwe is ready non-Shona president with critics pointing out there appeared to be an unwritten rule that only the Zezuru or Karanga tribes should occupy by top national positions while Ndebeles become deputies.
The critics point that in 2006, Welshman Ncube’s MDC, which had broken away from Morgan Tsvangirai’s main formation, had to parachute Arthur Mutambara from the United States of America to become its president at the expense of Tsvangirai’s long-serving deputy Gibson Sibanda, who had sided with the group.
But Mphoko is now seen as the devil’s advocate in the tribal and faction-riddled Zanu PF although analysts say he appears content with his appointment as vice president.
However, Reward Mushayabasa, a journalism scholar and political analyst based in the United Kingdom, said Mphoko is actually saying in public what most Zimbabweans have been saying in private spaces.
“Zimbabwe is for all its citizens. No ethic group was ordained to rule this country for eternity. The ultimate arbiter for who should rule this country is the Zimbabwean people,” said Mushayabasa.
“If they decide to be ruled by a Ndebele, let them be ruled by a Ndebele; if they choose a Zezuru, let they be ruled by a Zezuru. It is wrong for anyone to impose their ethnic choices on the people of Zimbabwe. Let there be debate on the issue. We need more light; less heat. It’s very sad of late we have been receiving more heat, less light on the issue,” he said.
For Candles Mylo, a Zimbabwe political activist now domiciled in the diaspora, Mphoko’s utterances also serve as a clear sign the two Mugabe deputies are not friends after all.
“The comments reflect a clear rivalry between the two. My reading is that Mphoko knows that he himself cannot be president and all he is doing is throwing his lot with a faction that is taking his enemy head on, hence his comments on tribe. What he is telling us is that the number one family has chosen Grace Mugabe as the successor to Mugabe. For that to happen, all other contenders need to fall. First, (Joice) Mujuru, now Emmerson,” said Mylo.
The former MDC-T youth leader from Matabeleland, however, was quick to add, “God knows what will happen to Mphoko when his time comes but I suspect he is content by what he is now.”
Mylo doubted if a Ndebele would rise as a leader in Zanu PF and Zimbabwe due to the country’s tribal influenced political machinations.
“It could lead to a fully drawn out war. Zanu PF will take that question to war. But the Mphoko rhetoric is aimed at internal Shona tribes to send a clear message to his adversary. There is nowhere in this world will Zanu PF allow a Ndebele to lead. They are the architects of tribalism and it will be foolish of them to drop the ball now especially their standings on Gukurahundi and all. It is not going to happen.”
Mushayabasa thinks chickens are coming home to roost.
“Mugabe era’s has survived this long because of his adeptness at playing the ethnic card at every turn. That has been part of his grand strategy since the days of the liberation struggle. But it looks like this strategy has run full circle. It’s now time to go back to the drawing board and re-strategize.
“We need fresh ideas and strategies which will bequeath a united nation long after Mugabe is gone. Old tricks of divide and rule do not work anymore. They create a divided nation. And I don’t think Mugabe wants to leave a legacy of a divided nation which is not at peace with itself. He should take a cue from the late Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda whose legacies have endured long after leaving office,” he said.
Maxwell Saungweme, a development analyst closely watching Zimbabwean politics based in Afghanistan, believes Mphoko’s understanding of the liberation struggle is verified skewed.
“Zimbabwe was liberated by selfless Zimbabweans who died and toiled to support our fighters. Liberation struggle cannot be attributed to Zanu and Zapu, that’s a very parochial and narrow sentiment.
“Zimbabweans are ready for any leader who will do things differently and bring change. It’s only in ZANU PF where they major in trivialities and ethnicities. Zimbabweans don’t care who the next president becomes as long as the person delivers. This why in 2008 Tsvangirai won. People wanted change not someone’s ethnic background,” said Saungweme.
Mqondisi Sibanda added his voice on the issue commenting on social media: “We don’t care where The President comes from, what want is not an autocratic leader, not the one running a patronage system favouring family members and loyal supporters.”