Mnangagwa: A Crocodile In Distress

Back in February this year, Sarah Mahoka stood before a huge crowd at the ZANU PF Headquarters and did the unthinkable. With President Mugabe quietly sitting between his wife Grace and his deputy and long-time assistant, Emmerson Mnangangwa, the ZANU PF Women’s League Secretary for Finance, Mahoka launched a scathing attack upon Mnangagwa, likening him to a hapless duck. She challenged him to come out in the open and declare his position on the issue of succession. It was an unprecedented public attack on a senior leader of the party.

Later, when asked about the humiliating incident, Mnangagwa refused to comment. But his allies, the leadership of the war veterans, were highly critical of Mahoka, saying her conduct was a serious breach of discipline which required stern action from the party. But nothing ever happened to Mahoka.

On 27 July 2016, five months later, at a rally organised by a group of war veterans to show support to Mugabe, Mnangagwa was at the end of yet another vicious attack from another woman in the party. This time it was the combative Mandiitawepi Chimene, who is also the Provincial Minister in charge of Manicaland Province. Chimene’s attack was more direct, the sting more piercing and more painful than Mahoka’s. She did not mince her words. “What was known as Tsholotsho was led by Cde Mnangagwa, this Lacoste is led by Cde Mnangagwa, as you sit there you are now two governments because some Ministers are known to be supporters of Cde Mnangagwa,” Chimene boldly declared, referring to the infamous Tsholotsho Declaration representing an audacious attempt by a group of ZANU PF leaders in 2004 to prepare Mnangagwa to take over from Mugabe.

“ZANU PF now needs culling just like animals … crocodiles must stay in the river where they do not threaten people. We don’t want them in the party, let them go to the river where they rule, not in the party,” she added. It was obvious whom she was referring to as the crocodile is the name by which Mnangagwa is known. She was demanding the banishment of Mnangagwa from the party.

When Mugabe’s turn to speak arrived, he did nothing to defend Mnangagwa or to censure Chimene or others who had also made insinuations against his number two. Instead, Mugabe deceptively talked about unity. “We shall keep together at the top, we shall remain united, we know that accusations will continue to be made, allegations naturally some true, some false, but ZANU PF knows how to settle its contradictions …” said Mugabe, in an apparent rejection of Chimene’s call to immediately sack Mnangagwa and his allies. But all this is vintage Mugabe employing his strategy of political of deception. Mnangagwa cannot possibly believe that Mugabe is sincere when he talks of unity in the leadership. He knows his goose is cooked and the old chap is biding his time. If he doesn’t see it, then he is probably deluded.

In a pointed note to Mnangagwa, Mugabe echoed the sentiments of both Chimene and Mahoka expressed earlier this year, when he said the top leadership should speak out and denounce accusations of plotting to remove him from power. “We the leadership must speak out when we are accused of succession plotting, to say we are not involved in such plots … we don’t want to be divided, it’s our duty to denounce these things together so that the people have total confidence in us,” said Mugabe. While he spoke in the collective, Mugabe was obviously referring to Mnangagwa. After all, Mnangagwa is the one in the presidency who had just been accused of plotting against Mugabe.


It is plain that Mnangagwa is now facing the biggest crisis of his political career. While he disassociated himself from the war veterans’ statement which hit out at Mugabe’s leadership, it is known that they are his allies and detractors have already found him guilty by association. Mnangagwa’s main strategy so far has been silence in the face of attacks against him or his allies. He knows the dilemma that he faces: if he defends his allies who are accused of plotting against Mugabe, he will have shown his hand, something his opponents are keen on. But if he does not stand up for his allies, his support base will continue to be depleted. Allies will be expelled and some will jump ship and join the winning faction. When former key ally in the days of the Tsholotsho Declaration, Professor Jonathan Moyo was sacked Mnangagwa did not come to his defence. Moyo can’t have been happy with his treatment, which probably helps to explain why he has become one of Mnangagwa’s foremost critics and opponents within the party.

The truth though, on a balance of probabilities, is that unless he pulls the proverbial rabbit out of the hat, the future of Mnangagwa’s political career in ZANU PF looks bleak. Surely he can see that his boss has lost confidence in him? Why else would he lay him out for attack by junior members of the party while he does nothing to protect him? Mugabe is treating him the same way he treated Joice Mujuru before the 2013 elections. He did not want her anymore but he kept her for convenience, to go through the crucial election with a ‘united’ ZANU PF, only to dump her less than 12 months afterwards. When his wife Grace started attacking Mujuru at her rallies from around August 2014, Mugabe did nothing to defend or protect her. Mujuru should have seen it coming, but she held on till the inevitable happened. This is where Mnangagwa is right now. But like Mujuru he is still holding on to a forlorn hope that things will come right but the reality is Mugabe is done with him and is ready to throw him under the bus.

But wily old Mugabe doesn’t want to be the one who fired him. He wants to do it under the cover of the people’s will. Already today, many speakers at the rally talked about the need for an emergency Congress of the party. ZANU PF and the government are broke but that has never stopped them doing their political business. It won’t be surprising if there is an emergency Congress by the end of the year, by which time Mnangagwa’s position will be untenable. Apart from orchestrating an extraordinary Congress to give Mnangagwa a final push into political oblivion, Mugabe’s other option is to patiently wait for the 2018 elections, after which he will dump Mnangagwa and his allies, just like he did with Mujuru and allies after the 2013 elections.

Why doesn’t Mnangagwa jump rather than wait on political death-row? Loyalty, patronage, fear of persecution, inability to see life or to survive outside ZANU PF and much more. There are several factors, even when it’s plain that one is no longer welcome, which makes voluntary departure unattractive. Mnangagwa is alive to the consequences of leaving the party. Speaking to party supporters at a rally, he once likened leaving ZANU PF to a leaf falling off a tree. “It quickly shrivels,” he said, adding that it is very miserable outside ZANU PF. Mnangagwa fears the coldness outside ZANU PF, the one political home he has known for more than half a century, 36 of them in government.

Although somewhat out of date now, a helpful inside view was given by Professor Moyo in revelations contained in the US Cables leaked by Wikileaks a few years ago. Moyo made reference to “Mnangagwa’s continued strong personal loyalty to Mugabe” as a constraining factor on his faction. According to the cables, Moyo “assessed that Mnangagwa did not intend to overtly or implicitly challenge Mugabe as long as Mugabe remained in office, and that Mnangagwa believed that Mugabe could yet confer the presidency to him”. That was back in 2006, ten years ago when there was still some prospect that Mugabe would hand over the baton. Now, however, it must be plain that Mugabe has no intention of doing that.

The one challenge that Mugabe has is that some generals in the security establishment are said to be in the Mnangagwa camp in pursuit of their own political ambitions. He has spoken out in recent months against generals who are dabbling in politics, which is ironic because in the past he has approved of the generals’ role in political affairs, against complaints by the MDC and other opposition parties. Mugabe has over the years stridently opposed security sector reforms, believing it to be part of a “Western-sponsored regime-change agenda”. Now, however, feeling the heat from the generals’ political ambitions, Mugabe has been at pains to keep them away.

The military has always been crucial to his political power base, but with some batting for Mnangagwa, he is unsure. It’s probably one reason why he continues to keep Mnangagwa closer, to avoid chaos. But he has one powerful weapon against the ambitious generals: they have been in office for far too long and one view is that they are currently on one-year rolling contracts, renewed each year by Mugabe. Mugabe could trigger their departure by simply not renewing their contracts. Promoting a new cohort of generals would create a new pool of loyal generals who do not pose an immediate threat to his power. After all, the leadership traffic jam in the military must mean there are some very unhappy and frustrated younger generals that are keen to take over. But Mugabe knows this is uncharted territory which, if handled without care, could create disgruntlement in the security establishment, something he won’t like at a time when government is struggling to pay soldiers’ wages.

A master of divide and rule, Mugabe may prefer to keep Mnangagwa knowing he’s now a lame-duck Vice President. Mnangagwa will probably rue the suspension of the running-mates clause in the new Constitution. If he had become Vice President under that arrangement, he would not have to rely upon Mugabe’s benevolence. Instead, as negotiators, they chose to keep the arrangement of having a Vice President by appointment. It made it easy for Mugabe to fire Joice Mujuru, and replace her with Mnangagwa. But the weakness of the appointed Vice President has come back to haunt Mnangagwa. “You are the one who gives people jobs, so when they start doing the wrong things, we ask you to remove them,” said Chimene imploring Mugabe to sack Mnangagwa. His opponents in the G40 faction taunt him for being a mere appointee. That, indeed, is one of his weakest points. Mugabe enjoys keeping him insecure because that way he has more control.

But Mugabe also enjoys it best when his lieutenants are fighting between themselves. The war veterans made this point in their scathing communique last week when they ascribed authorship of factional fighting to the hand of Mugabe. When the factions are fighting, their energies are expended on each other, not upon him. He has thrived on that for many years and he prefers to keep them going. Perpetual fighting between factions is also a useful distraction. For the past 3 years, since he retained office, the major pre-occupation of the party and government has been with factional fighting. Even as Mugabe spoke today, an unfamiliar observer would not have known that the previous day the country’s stock market, the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange’s overall trades were a paltry $US105 – a market showing extreme signs of low confidence. In his speech, Mugabe did not make any effort to address the economic crisis. Instead, he was busy issuing threats to opponents – real or perceived, both within and outside the party.

What wrong did Mnangagwa commit to suffer the current torrent of abuse and for Mugabe to throw him to the dogs? Ambition is one, albeit ambition qualified by great reluctance. Mnangagwa’s ambition is of an unsure, tentative and timid character, a lack of boldness which may also be his own downfall. But more importantly, Mugabe must have lost trust when it emerged that Mnangagwa is the favoured choice of the West within ZANU PF succession politics. Whether or not it’s true, that association may have done him some serious damage in the eyes of Mugabe, who in the past 15 years has become very paranoid about the West.

However, Mugabe knows throwing out Mnangagwa would be the nuclear option. He might spare him for a while, while chopping down his allies, one by one, as he has been doing in recent months. There is the factor that their long relationship means Mnangagwa is privy to most of Mugabe’s deepest secrets. Gukurahundi in the 1980s looms large. He certainly was the central character in the DRC war and the exploitation of minerals during that period. As finance chief of the party for many years, Mnangagwa also had a big hand in the financial affairs of the party. It could be that Mugabe feels Mnangagwa knows far too much to be shipped away to Gonakudzingwa, our political equivalent of Siberia, just yet.

Unlike his haughty and impatient allies who are urging him to fire Mnangagwa, Mugabe knows it is better to keep the enemy closer, to keep him insecure and to keep him guessing. As long as it’s like that, he is no threat to his long-held ambitions of a life-presidency. What happens afterwards, the egocentric leader won’t been too concerned. If he had any concern for anything beyond self-interest, he would have settled the succession issue a long time ago. If Mnangagwa elects to bear the continuing humiliation, he too will be remembered, like many in ZANU PF, as an accomplice to a very damaging but avoidable life presidency.


See previous Mnangagwa article:

WikiLeaks US cable link:

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