VICE-President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been watching helplessly as his backers in the fluid race to succeed President Robert Mugabe are decimated by the G40 faction.
By Everson Mushava
The latest biggest casualtly of G40’s onslaught against Mnangagwa’s faction is former War Veterans minister Christopher Mutsvangwa, whose fate was on Friday sealed by Mugabe in brutal fashion.
Mutsvangwa had emerged as a key member of the Mnangagwa faction due to his influential position as a war veterans’ leader but on Thursday he was suspended from Zanu PF for three years for allegedly disrespecting First Lady Grace Mugabe.
Mugabe fired him from government the following day.
Grace is widely believed to be the power behind G40, a faction of Young Turks.
Mnangagwa is yet to say a word exactly three weeks after he was publicly attacked by Grace in Chiweshe for allegedly plotting Mugabe’s downfall.
The VP has also been at the receiving end of Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo’s attacks on Twitter for quite some time now, particularly after his elevation to the VP post.
Moyo has repeatedly said the VP post was not an automatic ticket to succeed Mugabe, but Mnangwaga has remained mum.
Once seen as a shrewd politician in the same manner a crocodile (his nickname) does — which employs patience and only attacks at a convenient time — the increasing direct attacks against Mnangagwa’s ambition has left many wondering if indeed his alleged political shrewdness is real or imagined.
His waterloo seems to be fast-approaching with the axing of Mutsvangwa and many other party members sympathetic to him in last week’s politburo meeting.
Some observers with a soft spot for Mnangagwa’s faction described his silence as political tact, but his critics have accused him of being a coward who is always desperate to serve his political skin at the expense of his allies.
His critics singled out his silence in 2004 when his allies then, Moyo and several provincial chairpersons, were put to the sword by Mugabe.
Despite being cited as the major beneficiary of the ill-fated Tsholotsho Declaration, Mnangwagwa survived the brutal Zanu PF purge that followed the discovery of the plot.
Moyo — now an ardent critic of Mnangagwa — has continuously taken to Twitter attacking the VP, saying only his faction remained after the expulsion of former vice-president Joice Mujuru in 2014.
Moyo’s acerbic criticism of Mnangagwa has gained currency in most Zanu PF circles, with many claiming the VP is a coward who cannot stand up for his allies.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said politics was all about self-interest, and Mnangagwa’s approach was not unique.
“The larger picture is that self-interest looms large in politics,” Masunungure said.
“Politics in Zanu PF is very fluid at the moment. For Mnangagwa, it is a high stakes game.
“It is a dicey game which needs to be handled with care. Purges will come the same way that happened to former vice-president Joice Mujuru’s faction.
“This could be a second phase, and there could be a third one and hence Mnangagwa is moving cautiously.”
But Masunungure said Mnangagwa’s silence could be a sign of political astuteness. He said Mnangagwa could be interested in maintaining his relations with Mugabe so that he rescues his political career, albeit at the expense of his followers.
“He has clearly opted for a more diplomatic approach, which to some of his allies and the public would seem as if he has abandoned his supporters,” he said.
“That is why Moyo would never forgive him after being chucked out of the party and government in 2004. There were many casualties but Ngwena survived.
Masunungure said Mnangagwa could be trying to ensure that he remained within Zanu PF to remain relevant.
“What is also abundantly clear, however, is that, he is more robust than Mujuru who kept quiet when she and her supporters were under attack,” he said.
“He has come to understand that a tepid approach does not work. He is quiet, but obviously mobilising war veterans and the military behind the scenes.
“His quiet diplomacy is different. We have already seen it, the war veterans are his constituency.”
Last month police thwarted a meeting by war veterans in Harare where the former fighters wanted to show solidarity with Mnangagwa after the VP was savaged by Grace at her Chiweshe rally.
But with Mutsvangwa, the shepherd struck, it is yet to be seen if the sheep will not scatter.
Masunungure said not all Mnangagwa allies might appreciate his behind-the-scenes efforts to fight for political survival.
“His allies might want someone who might throw back the punches. That is why some of them may accuse him of abandoning his allies,” Masunungure said.
Political analyst Takura Zha-ngazha said Mnangagwa’s silence could be well-calculated to ensure he maintains his cordial relationship with Mugabe and remain in the party so that he manoeuvres his way up.
“It is difficult for him to move his way up when he is out of Zanu PF,” Zhangazha said.
People Democratic Party spo-kesperson Jacob Mafume said Mnangagwa was exercising restraint in the face of extreme provocation, hence the silence.
“When someone who you have worked with for years sends his wife in the company of known political opportunists to attack you using street and market place language complete with gestures, if you respond loudly, people might not know who is mad,” Mafume said.
“The quietness has shown Grace to be completely irrational and without any boundaries. Where in the world have you heard a First Lady who speaks like that about a vice-president?”
He said for Mugabe to allow his wife to berate the VP using state resources, showed that the 92-year-old leader had lost control of his household.
He said Mugabe’s hold on the state was just but a “pretence, a charade which has to be stopped in the interest of national security.”
“The president has become a mere mouthpiece of unelected people and more importantly, his wife,” Mafume said.
“The silence by Mnangagwa has meant that all the noise has been coming from one side and the de-branding of Mugabe within Zanu PF, security sector, civil service and war veterans is almost complete and that there is the master stroke.”