IN a move that could have far-reaching political consequences for the ruling Zanu PF and the nation, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga is contemplating challenging President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the party’s elective congress next year, as the two powerful gladiators head for battle royale, amid a dramatic realignment of forces, deep state sources have told The NewsHawks.
This comes as Chiwenga moved this week to strategically de-escalate dramatically rising political temperatures between him and Mnangagwa, saying his rival will be the uncontested Zanu PF candidate in the 2023 elections.
It also came as Chiwenga’s top business executive ally Caleb Dengu, who has said Mnangagwa is illegitimate and must not run in 2023, last week slipped out of the country to catch a breath of fresh air in the Netherlands as the President’s hounds turned the heat on him, threatening him with a fierce backlash and financial ruin.
Mnangagwa’s legitimacy as party leader is being challenged in the courts by party member Sybeth Musengezi. Although Musengezi says he is acting alone, his move is overwhelmingly supported by the Chiwenga faction.
An official in the Zanu PF top 10 said: “Let the courts deal with the matter; it’s important for us to follow the constitution and internal processes.”
The defeated yet still alive Zanu PF faction — G40 — is also supporting the move. This has created a convergence of forces between the Chiwenga camp and the dormant, but resurrecting G40 group.
Manoeuvres are underway by Chiwenga and G40 strategists to realign forces within Zanu PF and challenge Mnangagwa head-on next year.
Inside sources said after Mnangagwa reneged on the deal with Chiwenga prior to the November 2017 military coup that ousted the late former president Robert Mugabe to serve only one term and allow his deputy to come in 2023, gloves are now off within the ruling party over unresolved leadership issues.
“The fallout within the party leadership is serious. We are heading for battle royale between Mnangagwa and Chiwenga next year,” a source said.
“That is how politics within Zanu PF and state institutions is currently shaping up. The unresolved leadership question can no longer be managed and swept under the carpet; it has got to be settled politically, and that means through congress next year. There is no question of another military coup; well, perhaps a palace coup might happen, but not a putsch.”
The source added: “When Mnangagwa took over, there was a clear understanding that he will not seek re-election in 2023. However, Chiwenga and others were shocked to see him telling the world in an interview in September 2018 during the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly in New York that he would seek re-election in 2023. That was never agreed.”
After that, Mnangagwa and his allies moved a gear up and launched a campaign during the December 2018 Zanu PF conference at Mzingwane High School in Esigodini for him to serve two terms. “At that time, it became clear Mnangagwa had broken ranks and reneged on the deal,” another source said.
“That worsened internal strife and infighting fuelled by the White City grenade attack in June 2018 which most Zanu PF leaders know was an inside job. The 1 August 2018 killings in Harare in broad daylight and the January 2019 stayaway and bloodbath that left many dead exacerbated the situation.”
The political war of attrition between Mnangagwa and Chiwenga recently found expression in the President’s controversial new biography as the internecine clashes over unresolved leadership issues play out in the party ahead of its elective congress next year.
That came as independent Norton MP Temba Mliswa threw the cat among pigeons through a public voice note message in which he disclosed that Mnangagwa’s former adviser Chris Mutsvangwa, leader of war veterans and a former minister, has been plotting to remove Chiwenga.
He said Mutsvangwa was recorded by the late Zimbabwe National Army commander Lieutenant-General Edzai Chimonyo talking about that.
Mnangagwa in August launched his authorised biography titled A Life of Sacrifice: Emmerson Mnangagwa, which book reviewers and political analysts say exposes the widening rift between the two.
The 154-page biography, which Mnangagwa described as a “brief window” into his life, was authored by Eddie Cross, a former opposition MDC high-ranking official and MP. It is a hagiography for Mnangagwa which depicts Chiwenga in negative light through its narrative.
Cross, Mnangagwa’s biographer and new loyalist, said the President would brook no nonsense from those threatening his grip on power, a warning to Chiwenga.
Mnangagwa, who at the time of the coup had fled the country to South Africa after his mentor-cum-tormentor Mugabe had hounded him out, only returned after Chiwenga led the coup that sent Mugabe packing. Mugabe later described Mnangagwa as his “tormentor”.
The book, which has been reported on by The NewsHawks since launch, reveals that Chiwengwa’s appointment as co-deputy, together with Kembo Mohadi (who resigned early this year after a sex scandal), was part of Mnangagwa’s coup-proofing ploy.
Mnangagwa appointed General Philip Valerio Sibanda to succeed Chiwenga as commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces. Sibanda, according to the book, is “possibly the best soldier in southern Africa and a man that was deeply respected in the army”.
“Mnangagwa’s actions drew little attention, but what the President was doing was closing the door on any possibility of the military -assisted transition (military coup) being repeated. He needed to know that the security services were led by men in whom he had confidence as professionals,” the book says.
Differences between Mnangagwa and Chiwenga played out when the latter demanded that a state of emergency — martial law — be declared during the 2019 riots which had been triggered by a 150% increase in the price of fuel.
“When it became known that a state visit to Russia was planned for the week beginning the 14th January 2019, disturbing intelligence was received that disturbances were planned,” the book reads.
Cumulatively, this has now divided the party down the middle, leaving it regimented into two major factions led by Mnangagwa himself and Chiwenga.
The Mnangagwa group is mainly Midlands and Masvingo provinces-based, while the Chiwenga one has threads cutting across different regions, although its main base has roots in the three Mashonaland provinces — Mashonaland East, Mashonaland West and Harare.
Other provinces constitute the middle ground. Some of Mnangagwa’s key allies include July Moyo — whose relations with the President are now touch-and-go — Owen “Mudha” Ncube, Larry Mavhima, Daniel Mckenzie Ncube, Joram Gumbo, Frederick Shava, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, Paul Mavima, Amon Murwira, Monica Mutsvangwa, Ziyambi Ziyambi, Kazembe Kazembe and unhappy battlers like Mutsvangwa, among others.
Chiwenga is mainly backed by disgruntled former ministers in the party, including those now working at party headquarters led by Zanu PF secretary for administration Obert Mpofu.
He also has the support of those with security backgrounds, including former Presidential Guard commander retired Major-General Anselem Sanyatwe and retired Lieutenant-General Martin Chedondo.
Chiwenga’s marksman is retired Lieutenant-General Engelbert Rugeje who last year in July challenged Mnangagwa in a Zanu PF politburo meeting over the growing divide between him and those who put him in power.
“The factions have now crystalised and solidified over the past three years. Most senior party leaders have taken a position and now know where they belong, although there is big middle ground among those in the middle and lower ranks, as well as foot soldiers,” a source said.
“This projects Zanu PF’s clan, ethnic and identity politics, as well as factionalism based on personalities, class or material interests that have toxified and polarised Zimbabwe’s body politic since 1980.”
The volatile situation is made all the more explosive by the dangerous backdrop of events such as the June 2018 White City bombing in Bulawayo, the shooting at Rugeje’s Harare house in October last year and, most recently, the mysterious burning of Zanu PF senior official Patrick Chinamasa’s house. Chinamasa is a Mnangagwa loyalist.
Mnangagwa is cornered in a high-stakes internal power struggle manoeuvre over his dubious legitimacy as Zanu PF leader in the aftermath of a recent High Court application by Musengezi which reflects factional strife and his faltering grip. Repeated efforts to get comment from Zanu PF spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo failed.