President Robert Mugabe last week announced his fourth Cabinet reshuffle in less than three years. Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is facing probably the biggest test in his political career, was the most casualty after he was stripped of the Justice ministry.
By VIOLET GONDA
Three other ministers linked to the VP’s Lacoste faction also lost their positions in what was seen as a political statement by the 93-year-old president who is seen trying to clear the decks for his preferred successor Sydney Sekeramayi.
Journalist Violet Gonda (VG) spoke to renowned political scientist Ibbo Mandaza (IM) to unpack the reshuffle and the Sapes Trust director believes Mugabe has finally shown his hand in the succession race. He is also of the view that the reshuffle showed who is behind the G40 faction that has been giving Mnangagwa a torrid time.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
VG: Some observers have said the recent re-assignments and new appointments by Mugabe only serve two purposes, and that is to manage the succession issue and win elections. Do you agree with this?
IM: This reshuffle is an exercise in power on the part of President Mugabe. All reshuffles are always an exercise in power. But what is significant about this one is that it is the first since September 2016. It is happening against a backdrop of a vicious power struggle, a succession struggle.
And, therefore, it is less about performance-related criteria as is often used as a measure in reshuffles, than an exercise in power and designed to contain those who are viewed as a threat to the establishment or to Mugabe’s own power base.
VM: Who has been given the most powerful positions? In other words, who are the biggest winners and the biggest losers?
IM: There is this perception, often more real than imaginary, of factions: Lacoste or the Emmerson Mnangagwa faction, and the G40 which is seen to be led by the first lady.
But, in my view, I have always said the G40 is Mugabe himself.
Therefore, in terms of the balance of forces, we can conclude by saying that Lacoste has lost big time, has been weakened big time, and that conversely or correspondingly, G40 has been enhanced significantly in terms of the balance of forces.
VG: It is interesting that you are saying G40 is Mugabe himself but some people think that the leader of or the architect of the G40 is Professor Jonathan Moyo. Do you think Moyo had a hand in the putting together of this Cabinet because this seems well-thought through?
IM: It is possible, but basically, the head of G40 is Mugabe himself, and it might be that he has utilised those close to him, the so-called G40, the Jonathan Moyos, the [Saviour] Kasukuweres and so forth, to strengthen his position.
VG: Many people expected Mnangagwa to be fired, but all that has happened is that he lost his Justice ministry. How significant is this?
IM: It’s very significant, especially given the backdrop of the fact that Mnangagwa does not hold a post, a constituency position.
Given the changes made in 2014 in the Zanu PF constitution, from one in which the vice-presidents were elected along with the president in the party, these are appointees.
So from the outset, from 2014 onwards, the vice-president’s post has been deflated immensely as appointees of the president and, significantly or ironically, Mnangagwa, and I believe Moyo also, were the architects of that new constitution, which was designed primarily to deal with Joice Mujuru, who had been elected as the vice-president in the previous congress.
So, yes, Mnangagwa is certainly much weaker in his own right without the key portfolio of Justice which, as you know, is the leader of the House of Assembly of the ruling party.
It is also the ministry in charge of the judicial system, it is the ministry in charge of elections, [the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission] ZEC.
VG: Why wasn’t he just dumped outright like what Mugabe did with Mujuru? Why play these games? Why not just get rid of him?
IM: There appears to be two issues: the first is Mnangagwa seems to have chosen not to go the Mujuru way. If you remember, Joice was not fired, she walked away and saved herself anymore humiliation at the hands of the first lady and Mugabe himself.
It appears to me Mnangagwa doesn’t seem to know what to do. He could just walk away and use health issues or just fatigue as an excuse. It appears he has decided to go through it until he is fired.
Secondly, as I said earlier, the position of vice-president is an appointee position at the level of the party and, therefore, one argument is that at the December conference/congress, Mnangagwa will be given marching orders, at the discretion of the president himself.
It might be that this reshuffle is more of a holding operation. Clearly, there is the hint that there will be a more thorough reshuffle after the conference/congress in December.
VG: Some observers say that the only shot that Lacoste has to resucitate itself is if Mugabe dies before the elections and then that means Mnangagwa might have a chance.
IM: I don’t think so. I think since last year, the succession struggle has been intense.
I think the Lacoste faction has been systematically ring-fenced to a point where it doesn’t call the shots anymore — they don’t cause a threat to Mugabe.
I think they are devastated, they have been pruned so seriously that it will be difficult to see how they can reassert themselves, let alone Mnangagwa himself. In my view, I think he is a goner.
VG: What about the first lady herself, Grace Mugabe. Where does she fit in, in all these succession issues? It seems like the nation is spell-bound by her antics. We seem to be captured by Grace.
IM: Her pronouncements over the last two years, ever since 2014, she has increasingly viewed herself as the other side of the coin of the president, so much so it seems it is not necessary for her to have any more power than she has already.
On a very practical level, I think we have made a distinction between what Mugabe wants done and what Grace says and wants done.
At the end of the day, Grace says that which Mugabe wants and, in the end, Mugabe does what he wants to do but the first lady is his agency, so to speak.
VG: So how come he didn’t give her a Cabinet position?
IM: She doesn’t need it. She is more than a Cabinet minister. She has said that many times. She is with the president. She declared that last Thursday, saying “don’t try and make a distinction between me and the president”. She used the term, “we are one and the same person.”
VG: So with these latest developments, where does Sydney Sekeramayi fit in?
IM: Well, I think basically if one looks at dynamics, it appears as if Mugabe and his wife are clearing the obstacles, literally frustrating the Lacoste, giving him the latitude with which to have elected a successor if he chooses to retire before elections.
If his health is failing, he would retire before the next elections. I think he is likely to retire before the next elections. In my view, it seems he is carving out a succession model in which whoever succeeds him has the latitude and the platform on which to move forward.
Whether it means going for elections in 2018, carving out a (government of national unity) GNU, or even a model of the [national transition authority] NTA given that whoever comes in will need a strong enough political base, a level of national cohesion on the basis of which to engineer much-needed economic reforms in the face of an economy that is collapsing.
VG: It is clear from the videos that we are seeing at rallies that he doesn’t look well and so many people believe that is the reason why the G40 faction has been fighting hard to make sure that they have all their ducks in a row because anything could happen to the president before the elections.
But then, on the other hand, some analysts say that this is going to be a legacy election — 2018 — and there is no way that Mugabe is going to step down before the elections. That he needs to win his last election.
IM: No, I don’t think so. I think once he has carved out a succession model, once he has done away with what is perceived as a threat to his power base, once he has neutralised the Mnangagwa threat; it doesn’t matter whether he stands for elections himself or his successor stands for elections.
He will be there. He will probably do a Julius Nyerere, where he remains president of the party. The important thing is that he and his wife are the platform — if you remember Grace said something to the extent of “name the horse and we will run with it”.
She exclaimed: that you name the person and we will run with the person. So, really, I don’t think his physical presence in an election is necessarily the precondition for success.
I think it is really ensuring that one, he has that person that he wants to be elected as his successor and he insists on an election.
Secondly, the kind of political buttressing, the political scaffolding that the person will have with his help and that of his wife, and of a party that will be unified around that person.
We are talking about less than 12 months away. And, yes, he is not looking physically well, but he has been very coherent these last few weeks.
I watched him the other night on TV. He is very coherent. He is not staggering mentally. He might be staggering physically but I think he has his marbles all together.
VG: Just going back to look at some of those key ministries, like for example this whole issue of appointing the CIO boss, Happyton Bonyongwe to take over from Mnangagwa to become the Justice minister. Is this a strategic appointment to deal with the service chiefs? To weaken military chiefs like General Constantino Chiwenga?
IM: It sends a message. He set the precedent, an indication following Mugabe’s speech a few months ago where he said the security chiefs are going to be retired.
To quote him, “We won’t allow them to languish in poverty. We will give them something to do.” So, there you are, the first person, Bonyongwe is out, retired from the security forces and given a political position.
But one in which he maintains his previous role given the CIO intelligence as a key factor in the electoral process, especially given that the intelligence is a key factor in ZEC, no doubt about that.
So, if it is true that Mnangagwa was a key figure, a key cog in the electoral process over the last two decades, then, clearly, Bonyongwe is inheriting that function and with a lot of experience and a backdrop in the exercise of the intelligence operation.
VG: We had also heard that Chiwenga is going to be retired soon. What are you hearing regarding that?
IM: That is the point I am making. Mugabe has set the precedent that these security chiefs are going to be retired, all of them and Chiwenga included.
That is the message behind Bonyongwe’s removal from the security sector into the political arena; President Mugabe made it clear a few weeks ago that he would, “retire the service chiefs”.
“We won’t allow them to languish. We will give them something to do in the political arena, either as ministers, ambassadors, whatever.”
VG: What do you make of Patrick Zhuwao’s latest appointment because some actually say whoever is in control of the pension fund runs the country?
IM: The minister who controls NSSA has a lot of latitude in how the NSSA funds are used.
It is no secret that almost every minister who has been in that position, including the out-going one, is said to have used NSSA to the advantage of oneself, the faction (Lacoste) to which she belongs. It is no secret that Prisca Mupfumira is a strong Lacoste member and that the other faction has raised questions about the way she has been utilising or controlling NSSA.
So there she is a goner and clearly G40 has gained a key ministry. It is a major resource base with $3,5 billion, according to some sources.
VG: So what impact is this Cabinet going to have on the country when you have people who are accused of massive corrupt activities getting key ministries, like Ignatius Chombo becoming a Finance minister?
IM: The performance criteria is secondary to the political rationale, the exercise of power and it might be that as I said earlier, Chombo might just be a holding operation. It appears to me the priority was to get Patrick Chinamasa out of that post because of the perception, on the part of the other faction, that he is part of Lacoste, this I think is a pity. I know Patrick Chinamasa very well, we are contemporaries. He is a very hardworking man, a very honest man.
VG: Really? Patrick Chinamasa? Hardworking man? An honest man?
IM: Yes, I have just said that.
VG: Many would disagree with you on that because of what we have seen happening in the country, especially to do with finance. I remember interviewing former Finance minister Tendai Biti and he said he held Chinamasa responsible for the crisis we had in the economy.
IM: I think Biti gets over the top sometimes. The crisis in our country is structural, regardless of which person comes into the post. It is unlikely that any minister will resolve the problem.
It is structural. Our structural problems reflect the fact that it is impossible to reform as long as, in my view, Mugabe is there.
Biti makes a lot of noise about this matter but I think basically, he would have been undone with the passage of time if he had remained long enough into where we are now.
So, I think we need to be very careful. Make a distinction between the individual who might be hardworking and focused on the one hand, and on the other, the structural problems which go beyond the capacity or the latitude of the minister in place.
VG: So Chinamasa is not responsible for the bond notes?
IM: No, I think it was an initiative of the state. I don’t think it is a thing Chinamasa would have done on his own without his boss and the security establishment. Isn’t it?
VG: Speculation is rife. It is said one of the reasons he has actually been demoted is because some of his colleagues in Zanu PF accuse him of having created the recent shortages. Apparently, this was part of a plot or ploy by the Lacoste faction to create unrest in the country when Mugabe was attending the United Nations General Assembly… so that by the time he came back there would be chaos. Is this far-fetched?
IM: If that is true, I don’t see how Chinamasa was part of it, especially since he was the one to face the music thereafter. When he was the one to go on radio and television to try and smother the fires.
I don’t think he was part of that. I don’t doubt the possibility that there were malcontents that were trying to foment unrest as much now in the last week or so when there was that unexplained panic buying and contrived shortages.
And likewise, last year, when we had those incidences in Epworth. There has always been suspicion that there is a faction within the state, which wants to cause chaos as a pretext for a coup, or unrest, beyond which they could capitalise politically.
I don’t doubt that, but I would say I can’t imagine Chinamasa being a part of that. That would be far-fetched to imagine him to be part of the chaos group.
VG: But is he part of the Lacoste faction?
IM: I don’t think so. I think he is caught in the crossfire, in my view, he lacks the political acumen, the political skills to play like others are able to play. He has been sacrificed. That is my view, but that is a personal view of a man I know.
VG: For a long time we have heard of how the West are in a re-engagement mode with Zanu PF and that their preferred candidate is Mnangagwa.
Do you think that perhaps this is the reason why someone like Walter Mzembi has been appointed Foreign Affairs minister to destroy those overtures, those Lacoste ambitions in the Foreign ministry?
IM: I doubt. I don’t think Mzembi has the skills for that. In my personal view, I don’t think he is up to it at all. The Foreign Affairs minister is largely a messenger and, in Zimbabwe, the ministers of foreign affairs are just messengers of the head of state.
Yes, it is true that the Lima Initiative was meant to stabilise the economy, get us back in line with the international financial institutions and so forth; and it is also true that some Western embassies believed that Mnangagwa was the reformer.
A difficult thing to accept, as I said to you in our last interview given that Mnangagwa has been part of the architecture of what we see as the pathological state that it is.
Secondly, it is also true that some embassies may have inadvertently undermined Mnangagwa, destroyed his chances. For example, one ambassador, whom I can’t name, said to me last year, “Ibbo, why are you pushing this National Transitional Authority?
Mnangagwa has been waiting for 40 years to become president and you are trying to kill his chances through an NTA”.
I have never seen such partisanship on the part of an ambassador and I had to tell the person that I have an intimate knowledge of the history of Zanu PF politics; and it is not as alleged by some, that I have inside information.
My conclusions, my views on succession are that Mnangagwa has never been a contender. And I think that he was put in contention by those kinds of ambassadors, by sections of the media and by that Eurocentric view of African politics, which is all about the “big man” syndrome behind which the Mugabes and Kamuzu Bandas have thrived.
The idea that only the “big men” can control the “natives”, and I have always been suspicious of these so-called benevolent Western countries who want to carve out our future for us. As I have said before — to hell with them.
VG: Talking about suspicions, I understand that there is a report that Mnangagwa presented to Mugabe recently in response to the video that was presented to the politburo by Moyo. And in that report by the vice-president he apparently accuses you of being one of the coup plotters… that you are a G40 sympathiser and that you have been working with Moyo and others to try and destroy Zanu PF. What can you say about that? I am sure you have seen the reports?
IM: I have seen the report. If it is Mnangagwa’s report, I am shocked at the shallowness of it. Firstly, it does not answer to the allegations of the report which are levelled against Mnangagwa in Jonathan Moyo’s report.
Secondly, I am dumbfounded at why my name and Sapes Trust are brought into the narrative. I can understand his views and that of his supporters and others in Zanu PF which is well-known.
The opposition to the NTA, we can understand. But Jonathan Moyo, too, wrote against the NTA. There were no takers for the NTA, neither in the ruling party nor in the opposition.
That is well-known. And our position on the NTA was clearly non-partisan. It was an insistence that the government should abdicate and defer to a neutral and non-partisan group of 18 Zimbabwean technocrats, including ensuring that even those of us pushing the NTA would not be part of the NTA.
The NTA runs the government for at least two years, reports to Parliament, and causes both political and economic reform. Clearly, it was not to be partisan in any way nor in any form, not at all, and it was not aligned to any faction. In fact, one would say both factions in Zanu PF didn’t buy into the idea of the NTA. So I found ED’s report crazy, completely misinformed.
VG: What about where he says that Sapes Trust is CIA-funded?
IM: I was shocked to read that nonsense and I am informed by reliable sources that some of those who helped Mnangagwa put that report together are CIO functionaries, some of whom were students at Sapes Trust for the Masters in Policy Studies (MPS) degree programme.
This one individual, in particular, was my student together with many such as Oppah Muchinguri and Obert Mpofu. Sapes Trust is well-known as a regional organisation, non-partisan, over the last 30 years, it has been a platform with an established reputation: in recent years, not only the Jonathan Moyos have been hosted at Sapes Trust, but also many other politicians and experts including Chinamasa, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangundya and opposition leaders like (Morgan) Tsvangirai, Priscilla Mushonga, Tendai Biti, Nelson Chamisa, to name but a few; it’s a forum for anyone who has something to say.
You know about our Policy Dialogue Forum. For people who are supposed to have come from an intelligence background to utter such nonsense: that I have been to Sweden and I have been working with a Swedish agent.
Firstly, I don’t even know a Swedish man who is mentioned as Carl somebody. Secondly, I was not in Sweden last year. Last time I was in Sweden was in 1999, almost 20 years ago. I was shocked at such nonsense.
VG: Many people feel that even though Zanu PF is fighting like this, they will still unite for that one event, which is the elections in 2018. So one has to ask where is the opposition in all this while Zanu PF’s house is on fire right now?
IM: The opposition in Zimbabwe is an obliging and complicit opposition, particularly because of their experience in the GNU.
What do I mean by obliging and complicit? If the opposition, in particular the MDC-T, wanted to collapse the Mugabe regime, all they had to do was walk out of Parliament tomorrow and furthermore declare, as Kenya’s Raila Odinga has said, “no reforms, no elections”, a position which they had taken a year or two ago.
So, in reality, they are party to the situation we are experiencing right now in our country and; indeed, given the trajectory of the election process and the precedence we have seen during the last four elections, there is little belief that the outcome will be any different from what it was in the past.
Secondly, I don’t believe that Zanu PF really needs elections even though they have used elections as a mode to legitimise and reproduce their rule.
So one might ask; you finish Lacoste, you finish with the opposition, and then what? The economy is in shambles, it’s collapsing.
The government is almost virtually moribund. I think it brings back on the table the idea of the National Transitional Authority, to begin anew by using a bunch of technocrats to put our country back on the rails before the next elections.
And I hope at the end of the day that the secessionists, whether G40 or Lacoste, will realise that one faction winning this round is not the solution.
There are bigger issues ahead of us, the urgent need for political and economic reforms in our country.
VG: Then I guess the biggest problem is that there is a leadership crisis in both Zanu PF and the MDC because it would look like both parties have failed to groom new leaders? Just the other day we saw a report from MDC official Eddie Cross saying that Tsvangirai is in fact very sick and might not be well enough to contest in the elections next year. Tsvangirai has revealed in the past that he has cancer.
So it appears that the MDC is lost without Tsvangirai and is completely overwhelmed right now.
IM: Yes, it is true, rightly or wrongly, Tsvangirai has become the brand of the opposition in Zimbabwe, thanks to his own reputation as a brave Zimbabwean. I really wish him well, health wise.
I am annoyed at the Eddie Cross’ mutterings about the health of his party leader. Is he the doctor? Does he understand that in our culture you don’t go ranting around about someone’s health in that manner, not to mention appearing to be an authority on Zimbabwean politics?
I think it was in bad taste what he said and I have heard reliably that Tsvangirai is nowhere near the kind of the condition that our friend Cross is talking about.
And I must ask, under what authority does he speak on the condition of Tsvangirai?
He is not the party spokesperson, he is not a medical specialist.
He is not privy, from what I heard, to Tsvangirai’s condition. But it is true that speculation about Morgan’s health does throw into disarray the fortunes of the opposition on the eve of a would-be election.
The more reason why the opposition should adopt a different strategy, not one given inexorably to elections, but more towards a discussion around the kind of stuff we are talking about, the NTA.
It will not be possible for them as an opposition, whether the MDC-T on its own or as the mooted MDC-T alliance, to produce a replacement for Tsvangirai, should he be found not healthy enough to face the rigours of an election campaign.
So, we are stuck and in that regard one might say Zanu PF have fared better. They appear in one year to be resolving their succession problem within their party.
They appear to have an indication as to how the succession thing might pan out. And, as I said earlier, it may not be necessary to have the person of Mugabe in the election campaign next year for Zanu PF to win the elections.
The backdrop of the electoral process, the fact that there are no reforms, all that makes it almost a bygone conclusion that Zanu PF will win the elections. So to answer your question, yes, the opposition are in a mess.
VG: Quite a few people have said it was insensitive of Eddie Cross to reveal that information. That it was not his place to do that, but on the other hand, some would say this is what happens when these political parties do not communicate with the people. Even with Mugabe, we never really know what is wrong with him. All we know is that he regularly goes to Singapore. And a final word?
IM: I think the condition in which our country finds itself politically, the squabbling in both the ruling and opposition political parties, the uncertainty as to how the elections will turn out, peacefully or otherwise, and above all, the economic situation in which we find ourselves and about which it is almost impossible to imagine an economic turnaround, as long as Mugabe is there and as long as the succession issue is not resolved.
As I have said elsewhere, it is difficult to see things beginning to improve as long as things are what they are.
I would again join the call that we should have a national dialogue and look at the possibility of a National Transitional Authority, scaffolded by an international conference on Zimbabwe, on reconstruction, to mobilise resources far beyond those required for paying our debts, to institute an economic reform programme and reconstruction, which also involves the diaspora.
We have four million Zimbabweans outside; 70% of whom are professionals and skilled persons are in the diaspora.
These are contributing almost two billion a year in remittances back home.
We need a framework through which we can re-integrate our diaspora into the national programme of reform and reconstruction, first and foremost. That is my plea.
l To contact the journalist, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @violetgonda on twitter. See more at www.violetgonda.com