This is the first of a series in which I will subject the main contenders to close scrutiny, starting with Mnangagwa – who just happened to pop out of my hat first.
My own take is that he has only a remote chance of landing the coveted post when Mugabe is finally out of the picture, be it through advanced age, ill-health, death or voluntary retirement.
Mnangagwa, 68, has skilfully used his long-standing closeness to Mugabe as an inspiration and political capital to start building structures that have developed into the faction that he leads today. He was at one time Mugabe’s protégé, having been his personal aide during the armed struggle. Again, the Zanu (PF) legal secretary was Mugabe’s chief election agent in the 2008 and 2013 elections and he is credited with giving the throne back to the Old Man when all odds were against him on both occasions.
Since independence in 1980, he has held several key government and cabinet posts as defence and justice minister as well as speaker of Parliament. All this must have convinced this enigmatic man that he stood in good stead to take the baton from Mugabe. While he hasn’t been saying anything about it, those in the know tell us that Ngwena (Crocodile)—a nickname inspired by his deadly subtlety and undercover approach to politics—has intensified his turf war against his most immediate rival, Joice Mujuru, as the December Zanu (PF) December approaches. We hear that he is already planning to stand Mugabe down on his birthday in February next year.
Despite all this, I still find it naïve of Mnangagwa to think that he can take over from Mugabe. Granted, he is considered an astute strategist. He schemes quietly and sometimes pulls awesome stunts. In the past, he has managed to rally Zanu (PF) district and provincial structures in a manner that unsettled his rivals. But that is where it ended. Mnangagwa’s cleverness as a strategist has been blown out of proportion. In fact, despite all the initial smartness, his strategies have all crumbled when he thought he had arrived.
Last year, he succeeded in bringing most of the key district coordinating committee (DCC) leaders to his tent. However, that came to nought because Mujuru made a quick counter move and the DCCs were suspended and are likely to be banned forever. In 2004, he got at least six provincial chairpersons to his side ahead of another crucial congress, together with numerous other influential Zanu (PF) stalwarts.
The elite group gathered in Tsholotsho to plan how to wrest the party presidium from their rivals. Again, that came to nought when the Mujuru faction blew the whistle on the Dinyane school clandestine meeting that was cloaked as a prize giving event. The major blow was that Joice landed the post that Mnangagwa wanted and, in a subsequent cabinet reshuffle, a vague and meaningless portfolio—that of Rural Amenities—was created for the “astute schemer” as an obvious demotion.
Readers will remember that Ngwena at one time attempted to get the party chair’s position but failed, thanks to counter manoeuvers from his rivals in Zanu (PF). The Speaker’s position that he received after that is considered in the party as a symbol of seniority, but Mnangagwa failed to take advantage of that to make the national chair’s position his next destination.
Al this makes him something of a political loser. There is, therefore, little chance that, come congress, he will manage to upstage Mujuru.
He might have succeeded in roping in Grace Mugabe to help his cause, but there is no guarantee that he will triumph. Besides, Ngwena’s grassroots support base is thin. The shifty loyalty he enjoys is at the top of the party structures and is therefore elitist. If he is using money to buy that loyalty, it is possible that he can still lose it if someone comes up with bigger monetary offers.
Add to that the fact that Mnangagwa is aloof. He lacks the requisite social skills to mobilise genuine supporters. To make matters worse, he keeps the media at bay and only talks when he thinks it suits him. He never answers his phone, even when you call on his private number.
That is extremely vain for a person who reckons he can take over the Zanu (PF) reins and, ultimately, lead this country. It would be easier for him to squeeze blood out of a stone than get enough votes to run this country, come election. The people just don’t associate with him and that is why the Mujuru camp has such strong following in the Midlands province where he hails from.
Mnangagwa is a remote Number 14 in the Zanu (PF) hierarchy. This is lurking danger to his chances of succeeding Mugabe. I know, of course, that the party has unofficially declared that the top posts outside Mugabe’s are up for grabs and anyone can compete. We are yet to know the authoritative position regarding the manner of competition for the post and it remains possible that, assuming the Mujuru faction lays its groundwork well, the party will once again open up space for contestation on the basis of seniority.
Mnangagwa might only be left with the option of buying votes at congress to beat Mujuru, especially if the party goes ahead and uses the secret ballot. However, it’s one thing to buy votes and another to have people vote for you. Still, beating Mujuru would not translate into him ruling Zimbabwe – unless, of course, he employs rigging mechanisms to win future national elections. – To comment on this article, please contact [email protected]Post published in: Analysis