PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe on Tuesday shocked one of his senior ministers, Information minister Jonathan Moyo, when he unexpectedly told him to leave cabinet room at Munhumutapa Building indicating he was no longer a minister — at least for now — in a move which could herald a looming cabinet reshuffle and political re-alignments after Zanu PF’s stormy congress last December.
Government and Zanu PF officials told the Zimbabwe Independent this week the dramatic move reflects growing conflict within the ruling party and government in the aftermath of Zanu PF’s controversial congress which booted out former vice-president Joice Mujuru and several other bigwigs aligned to her.
Cabinet ministers who witnessed the drama on Tuesday said Mugabe’s surprise strike at Moyo was like a bolt from the blue as no one expected him to treat him like that after his by-election victory when there had been opportunities to resolve the issue quietly without outsiders knowing.
Given Mugabe and Moyo’s love-hate political relationship, Tuesday’s incident is widely seen as gamesmanship meant to keep the mercurial minister, who is proving to be a major factor on succession, on a tight leash.
Ministers who witnessed the spectacle say after entering the cabinet room and greeting everyone, Mugabe started by expressing surprise and questioning why Moyo was in the meeting. As they did not understand his gripe it thus came out as shock, signalling removal or dismissal in an unusual way.
“When the President arrived, we stood up and he greeted everyone as usual, but as he sat down he turned to Moyo and expressed shock why he was in the meeting,” said a senior minister.
“The president expressed surprise that Moyo was there, saying ‘you are here, why are you here?, don’t you know that you are no longer a cabinet minister until we decide to re-appoint you?’. He told him that only then would he be required to take a new oath of office as a Member of Parliament being appointed into cabinet.”
Moyo is said to have stood up while Mugabe was still speaking and walked to him where they engaged in hushed tones, with Mugabe doing most of the talking after which Moyo went back to his seat which was about six chairs away from his boss and gathered his belongings before walking out, leaving colleagues stunned.
“Moyo was emotionless as Mugabe addressed him. He looked stoical but we were just astounded. We didn’t expect the President to humiliate him as he did because the issue could have been resolved before the meeting or any day between June 10 when the by-elections were held and Tuesday,” said another minister.
“But I believe that the decision to freeze him out, whether temporary or not, was after advice given by the Attorney-General (Prince Machaya), but I cannot say if that counsel is valid or not, and why they decided to enforce it on that particular day. It was almost a week after he was sworn-in as a new MP and the president could have simply informed him before cabinet that he was no longer a minister in the meantime, and should not attend cabinet meetings until the issue has been regularised.”
Debate and speculation are raging as to why Moyo was ejected from cabinet with some saying it was a technical issue after his Tsholotsho North by-election victory, while others insist it was Machiavellian move by Mugabe which is neither a constitutional nor a legal requirement.
The incident has caused a lot of confusion as some lawyers, who apparently include Machaya, support Mugabe’s interpretation of the law that Moyo needs to be sworn in as an MP before being reappointed minister to attend cabinet.
However, other lawyers say what has happened amounts to two things: either Moyo has been fired, or has resigned because anything else has no legal basis.
Constitutional lawyer Lovemore Madhuku said this week a minister appointed outside parliament does not vacate office upon being elected into parliament.
He said subsection 4 of section 108 does not require such a minister to vacate office in those circumstances.
“On the contrary, the principle in the constitution is that such a minister’s position is strengthened when he or she gains a seat in parliament,” Madhuku said.
“Regarding the reports surrounding minister Jonathan Moyo, if it is true that some advice was given to the president suggesting that he ceases being minister upon becoming an MP, that advice would certainly be an incorrect reading of the constitution.
“There are only two legal ways in which Jonathan Moyo may vacate office as a minister in the current circumstances. These are (i) being fired by the President and (ii) himself resigning.”
The drama comes amid new revelations that Mugabe was actually unhappy with Moyo’s decision to contest the by-election without consulting him first as he had appointed him among the five ministers chosen outside parliament for their professional skills and competence after losing in the 2013 elections.
“The president seems unhappy that Moyo did not consult him before contesting the by-elections. In cabinet he suggested that he was presumptuous in contesting and coming back to cabinet as usual. He felt undermined that Moyo seemed to forget that serving in cabinet was at his discretion,” said another cabinet member.
This, top government sources said, has led to Mugabe being sluggish in going through the procedures to bring Moyo back into cabinet as a punishment through his own controversial interpretation of the law.
Moyo was appointed into cabinet using section 104 (3) of the constitution which states that “ministers and deputy ministers are appointed from among senators or members of the national assembly, but up to five, chosen for their professional skills and competence, may be appointed from outside parliament.”
Other beneficiaries were Agriculture minister Joseph Made, Mashonaland West Provincial Affairs minister Faber Chidarikire, Mashonaland Central Provincial Affairs minister Martin Dinha and Primary and Secondary Education minister Lazarus Dokora.
Although Moyo has already been sworn in as MP, eyebrows have been raised that it is now 16 days after the by-elections and Mugabe has not done the necessary procedures to re-appoint him.
Instead it has triggered instability and speculation that he wants to use the issue as a pretext for a cabinet reshuffle which has been looming for some time.
The reshuffle could see a number of ministers, especially those linked to Mujuru, being dropped from cabinet, while possibly opening the door for First Lady Grace Mugabe to enter cabinet as Minister for Women Affairs.
Government officials told the Independent this week Moyo was not assured of being reappointed to the Information ministry as Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his allies do not want him in that portfolio. Mugabe saved Moyo after congress as Mnangagwa wanted him re-assigned, but now fresh doubts abound whether he would rescue him again.
If the Mnangagwa camp has its way, Higher Education minister Oppah Muchinguri and Energy minister Samuel Undenge would be moved from their portfolios. Moyo would go to Higher Education. Dokora and Sports minister Andrew Langa, aligned to Mujuru, remain on the firing line.-The Independent