PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa and Zanu PF – which has been setting up grassroots structures at a time the political activity of opposition parties is restricted by Covid-19 regulations – are increasingly consolidating power with eyes firmly fixed on the 2023 general election.
Zanu PF officials told The NewsHawks that the party was in election mode hence the removal of Victor Matemadanda as political commissar and his replacement with Patrick Chinamasa this week.
“Matemadanda was found wanting when it comes to mobilising hence his replacement with Chinamasa ahead of 2023. Questions about Matemadanda’s capacity grew after his failure to mobilise people for the anti-sanctions rally in 2019, when between 5 000 and 7 000 people pitched for the rally at the National Sports Stadium which has a capacity of 60 000. The President was embarrassed both at home and abroad since there was a lot of scrutiny on the event,” said an official.
“The writing was on the wall from that time and his fate has now been sealed.”
Matemadanda found no sympathisers as he was also not liked by the faction linked to Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, which was behind the appointment of retired Lieutenant-General Engelbert Rugeje in 2017. Rugeje was however elbowed out by Mnangagwa, as he sought to seize control of the party from the military faction.
Officials revealed Mnangagwa was also forging ahead with his own consolidation as seen by his latest push to control the judiciary, so that he capitalises on the gains he has made since 2017.
Mnangagwa is working with Chief Justice Luke Malaba on a massive power consolidation project with a view to securing re-election in 2023.
The political project includes consolidating power and influence in the executive, judiciary, legislature, security sector and the media ahead of the elections.
Mnangagwa and Chiwenga are locked in a war of attrition which started soon after the 2017 military coup which toppled former president Robert Mugabe. Chiwenga was the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces during the coup which catapulted Mnangagwa to power.
The two however fell out soon afterwards over a number of unresolved power-related issues.
Military and Zanu PF officials say Mnangagwa had agreed to serve one term, until 2023, and thereafter allow Chiwenga to take over. He has however reneged on the verbal agreement.
Mnangagwa has been gradually consolidating power and now has an upper hand over Chiwenga who lost ground because of a life-threatening illness and the death of his most powerful backers in Cabinet, former Agriculture minister Perrance Shiri and Foreign minister Sibusiso Moyo.
Mnangagwa’s latest power consolidation move saw him orchestrating the amendment of the constitution to facilitate Malaba’s continued stay as head of the judiciary beyond 70 years while also concentrating power in his hands at the expense of the judiciary and legislature.
The constitutional amendments were however challenged in the High Court, formerly headed by Chiweshe, who previously headed the Directorate of Legal Services and was Judge Advocate-General in the Zimbabwe National Army. He was seen as a Chiwenga ally.
The power consolidation drive suffered a body blow when a three-member panel consisting of Justice Happias Zhou, Edith Mushore and Jester Helena Charewa, appointed by Chiweshe, ruled that Malaba and other superior court judges, as incumbents, could not benefit from the constitutional amendment.
They ruled that Malaba ceased to be Chief Justice on 15 May when he turned 70.
But to seize control of the High Court, Mnangagwa this week promoted Chiweshe and five other judges to the Supreme Court bench to enable him to put an ally as judge president while diluting Chiweshe’s influence.
Three of the judges will hear Malaba’s appeal against the High Court judgement.
Broadly, the amendments permit the President to promote judges of the High Court and the Supreme Court to a higher court on the recommendation of the JSC without the need for public interviews, thereby opening the door to promotions on the basis of political suitability and cronyism.
They allow judges of the ConCourt and the Supreme Court to continue to serve beyond 70 years, if the President after consulting the JSC consents to their doing so.
Malaba has already benefitted from this provision, which will however strip judges of their security of tenure, hence their independence.
After his appointment as chief justice in 2017, Malaba has sought to control the judiciary to help Mnangagwa’s administration consolidate power.
The Act enables Mnangagwa to reward judges who would have aided his power consolidation bid, while eliminating independent judges.
Mnangagwa also influenced the passing of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No.2) Act, whose legality is being challenged in court. The Act concentrates power in the President’s hands.
The Act removes the running mate clause which was supposed to come into effect in 2023 and allows the President to appoint his deputies.
Seen in Zanu PF as the “Chiwenga clause”, the amendment allows Mnangagwa to contain Chiwenga as he will serve at his pleasure. The running mate clause allowed the vice-president to enjoy the same security of tenure as the president ‒ meaning that the President was not able to dismiss the deputy.
The Act therefore allows Mnangagwa to have pliant deputies who will serve at his pleasure.
The Act also allows the President to appoint up to seven ministers from outside Parliament. At present he can appoint only five.
This will enable the President to extend his power to control cabinet as well as extending his powers of patronage.
The Act further gives the President ultimate discretion on the appointment and dismissal of the Prosecutor-General. It departs from the requirement that public interviews be held, as is the case with High Court judges.
The amendment will decrease the Prosecutor-General’s independence meaning he or she may be deployed for politically motivated prosecutions.
The Act also increases the President’s personal power by allowing him to appoint and dismiss the Public Protector after consulting the JSC and Parliament’s committee on standing rules and orders.
“In other words, the office of Public Protector will be yet another office within the President’s gift,” noted Veritas, a lawyer grouping with an interest in legal, parliamentary and constitutional issues.
Having realised that Zanu PF no longer has a two-thirds majority in parliament through deaths, Mnangagwa reached out to the MDC-T first under Thokozani Khupe using overt and covert means including through the Political Actors Dialogue (Polad) platform.
He managed to secure Khupe’s support and also the support of Douglas Mwonzora after power changed hands following the party’s congress before using the MDC-T to recall MDC Alliance legislators while ensuring that by-elections are not held to fill vacancies.
The MDC-T replaced MDC Alliance senators and collaborated with Zanu PF to ensure that the two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution was attained.
After assuming power, Mnangagwa unleashed a wave of purges in the military, police and Central Intelligence Organisation targeting Mugabe and former first lady Grace Mugabe’s allies, before going for Chiwenga’s loyalists.
Key commanders – who pivoted the coup including the commander of the Presidential Guards unit, retired Lieutenant-General Anselem Sanyatwe – were removed in February 2019 while Chiwenga was battling ill-health in India. Like his earlier South African health mission, the Indian health trip was unsuccessful, resulting in him seeking treatment in China for treatment, allowing Mnangagwa to consolidate.
Commanders retired ahead of diplomatic assignments, included the late Zimbabwe National Army chief-of-staff retired Lieutenant-General Nyikayaramba, who was chief-of-staff responsible for service personnel and logistics, retired Lieutenant-General Martin Chedondo and retired Air Marshal Sheba Shumbayawonda.
In May 2019, Mnangagwa then appointed Sanyatwe Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Tanzania, while Nyikayaramba was posted to Maputo, Mozambique. Chedondo was posted to China.
Sanyatwe had a personal relationship with Chiwenga to the extent that he flew from Tanzania to assist him finalise his divorce proceedings with his wife Marry Chiwenga nee Mubaiwa.
Another big blow for the Chiwenga camp was the removal of Rugeje from heading the Zanu PF’s critical mass mobilisation political commissariat. Rugeje operated in the war room during the coup.
Mnangagwa has also gone on a serious drive to co-opt privately owned media houses, resulting in self-evident capture of some big players. The government has issued broadcasting licences to companies associated with Zanu PF officials.