The Daily News in Zimbabwe has reported that the jostling for power between President Robert Mugabe’s feuding deputies Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko is intensifying — amid suggestions that Mphoko, for long seen as junior to Mnangagwa, is now overtaking his counterpart in the Zanu PF and State pecking order.
Insiders yesterday said Mphoko’s freshly-awarded responsibilities to supervise all Cabinet ministers and permanent secretaries were hugely significant in the context of the worsening post-congress Zanu PF’s factional and succession wars.
“Things are looking ominous for Ngwena (Mnangagwa). Until recently, most people looked at him as the first deputy, while Mphoko was to all intents and purposes the junior partner. Now, the situation is changing dramatically, thanks to Zanu PF’s wars and Mphoko’s clever handling of Dr Amai (Mugabe’s wife Grace), the power behind the throne. The fact that the president has given him (Mphoko) these new responsibilities also means that Ngwena’s powers are being whittled down openly,” one of the well-placed sources said.
Analysts yesterday also warned that with the way the ruling party’s politics were panning out, Mnangagwa could soon find himself in the cold, as Mphoko now appeared to be very close to the controversial but increasingly influential Grace.
The analysts also found it curious that it was Mphoko himself, and not the President’s Office, who announced via lapdog State media yesterday that he was “greatly honoured by the trust His Excellency the President has bestowed on me by giving me additional responsibilities”.
The obsequious Mphoko has ingratiated himself to Grace in recent months, with his new additional duties seemingly being to accompany and introduce the First Lady at her disruptive rallies around the country, even though he is senior to her, at least on paper.
And clearly embarrassed by this humiliating situation, Mphoko himself offered an unsolicited and unconvincing explanation last week, saying he was happy to be subordinate to Grace as she was Mugabe’s wife and thus represented the president wherever she went.
On the other hand, Mnangagwa has not accompanied Grace to any of her recent rallies, as talk gathers steam that he and the First Lady are not seeing eye to eye and that they are competing to succeed Mugabe.
“At a glance, it appears as if Mugabe is now trusting Mphoko more or maybe paying him back for displaying his loyalty,” political analyst Shakespear Hamauswa said yesterday of the VP’s new responsibilities.
He added that the move to empower Mphoko could also be viewed as a warning shot by Mugabe to Mnangagwa that the Chirumhanzu-Zibagwe legislator needs to be patient if he wanted to rise further.
“So a leader can just do certain actions to show that one is still in control. Possibly, Mnangagwa has breached one of the laws of power that says ‘never outshine your leader’.
“Again those currently being favoured should not think they have won the battle as they need to read more about how Uncle Bob (Mugabe) operates,” Hamauswa said.
Another political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said it was clear that Mphoko was being rewarded for his loyalty.
“Mphoko is being rewarded for following the queen (Grace) and taking notes during the queen’s rantings. He is being rewarded for being loyal and unambitious and for not threatening her ambitions,” he said.
Saungweme said Grace was known for being brutal with anyone who posed a threat to her ambitions, after fronting the political decapitation of former Vice President Joice Mujuru and her allies who she accused of plotting to oust her husband from power.
“Mujuru is an example and Mnangagwa could be next. You can even hear the hymns being sung by Grace’s running dogs. Mnangagwa has been demoted, next is probably the boot or coercing him to resign. He has to smell the coffee,” Saungweme added.
However, University of Zimbabwe political scientist Eldred Masunungure said there was nothing amiss about the additional tasks that had been bestowed on Mphoko.
“I don’t think there is anything new about that,” he said, adding that Mugabe had recently adopted the division of labour principle in policy co-ordination.
He said that Mphoko’s task to oversee the ministers was a finer delineation of that policy co-ordination.
“I don’t think it’s entirely new or significant as we would want to believe. I wouldn’t read much into this,” Masunungure said.