Mugabe deputies nothing but pawns

I am not surprised that vice presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko are now locked in a public battle. They are just pawns in President Robert Mugabe’s age-old political trick of divide and rule. Mugabe is in no hurry to leave office and he is using all the tricks in his die-in-office bag to ensure that he remains the real and only centre of power.

Tawanda Majoni
Tawanda Majoni

The best way to do that, as we have seen him do in the past, is to give all possible successors the impression they are the favoured ones. That way, they get busy tearing at each other and the Old Man smiles all the way to State House and then his Blue Roof mansion.

There is no other way to explain Mphoko’s plucky statement that he is not Mnangagwa’s junior. I would never have imagined that he would say that in public, considering especially that Mnangagwa had never called him that. Not in the public sphere at least.

New-found glory

Not only does the remark seem uncalled for; it has negative implications on the relations between the two deputies. Mphoko was literally plucked out of the political wilderness ahead of last year’s ruling party congress and had greatness thrust on him when he was appointed vice president alongside Mnangagwa.

One would thus expect him to be happy with his new-found glory and avoid growing a big head. Mnangagwa, on the other hand, considers himself Mugabe’s natural heir, particularly as his long-time rival Joice Mujuru is now out of the way. As someone who has been close to Mugabe for a long time, he can be forgiven for seeing Mphoko, who comes from the old Zapu, as a junior. He would never consider Mphoko an equal, more so because he was his senior in state security after independence.

The question, then, is: Where is Mphoko getting the courage to stand up to Mnangagwa? The answer is: Mugabe is handing him glasses of whisky for Dutch courage. The president, after unashamedly dumping Mujuru, a long time comrade, has come to realise that Mnangagwa cannot be trusted.

The Crocodile, like Julius Caesar, is too ambitious. He has the potential and desire to remove Mugabe from power, but the Old Man loves power just too much he will not let it go before he dies. There is need, therefore, to get Mnangagwa under check by balancing him out with Mphoko.


This is an old narrative repeating itself. Mugabe pitted Mujuru against Mnangagwa for self-gain. He took advantage of the rivalry between the Zanu (PF) factions they led. He saw that, in their bid to survive, they tended to come grovelling before him, and that gave him the capacity to twist them for his own use.

In 2004, when Mnangagwa seemed to be gaining political ground in the fierce race to succeed him, Mugabe quickly moved in and installed Mujuru as his deputy. The Zanu (PF) book of rules was quickly changed to accommodate Mujuru. That was done to weaken the growing Mnangagwa base.

Mugabe must have known that Mnangagwa would not go anywhere or do anything stupid by forming a splinter political outfit. Ten years later, he was back with the same shenanigan. Unsettled by Mujuru’s growing clout in the sunset of his political career, he agreed to a ploy to oust her and put Mnangagwa in her position.

He made sure that congress placed emphasis on only one centre of power—him. In fact, the 2014 congress was about nothing else but him. It was reduced to a praise-and-worship pilgrimage as all and sundry sang themselves hoarse about Mugabe as the dear and immortal leader. As icing on the cake, Mugabe, at the installation of the new vice presidents, announced very clearly that the two were only there as his rubber-stamping proxies.

He obviously considers them both as mere stooges. It is clear that he does not believe anyone can rule this country after him, typical of pre-colonial African kings and monarchs. As we all know by now, Mujuru did not intend to dispose Mugabe by illegal means. Her sin was that she was restless signs of a deputy who felt her time to take over had come. That is a crime in the Mugabe dictionary of politics.

Bu I am not sure if Mugabe will succeed with his divide and rule machinations this time. Mphoko does not have sufficient clout or any power base to talk about. Mnangagwa might be unpopular with most people at the grassroots, but he commands a meaningful mass, implying that he can still have his way. With all state machinery firmly under his control, Mugabe can still keep Mnangagwa in check.

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Post published in: Analysis

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