THE political war of attrition between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his deputy Constantino Chiwenga has found expression in the President’s controversial new biography as internecine unresolved leadership battles play out in the ruling Zanu PF ahead of its elective congress next year.
This came as independent Norton MP Themba Mliswa has thrown the cat among pigeons through a public voice note message in which he disclosed that Mnangagwa’s former adviser Chris Mutsvangwa, who is the leader of war veterans and a former minister, has been plotting to remove Chiwenga from his position.
He says Mutsvangwa was recorded by the late Zimbabwe National Army commander Lieutenant-General Edzai Chimonyo discussing the issue.
Mnangagwa and Chiwenga are fighting over the spoils of the November 2017 military coup that ousted the late former president Robert Mugabe. Chiwenga, who engineered the coup and put Mnangagwa in power, thought the President would serve only one term and hand over the reins of power to him in 2023, but that has been publicly rejected, fuelling tensions and hostilities.
Last month, Mnangagwa 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-paged 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 depicts Chiwenga in negative light through its narrative.
Cross, Mnangagwa’s biographer and new loyalist, said the President will brook no nonsense from those threatening his hold 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, 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.
“The President consulted his security chiefs about the threat and gave instructions about what was to happen in his absence…The acting President retired General Chiwenga, demanded that a state of emergency be declared and that Martial Law be introduced. This would have effectively meant that the armed forces took over the administration of the state and the commander-in-chief of security services, but General Sibanda refused. He said his orders from the President were very clear.”
This suggests a new rift between Chiwenga and Sibanda, who seems to the President’s man.
Internet services were suspended during the protests after security forces were deployed to quell the disturbances.
“On Tuesday (after Monday protests) the country went back to normal as if nothing had happened. What had happened was that the President had stamped his authority on the state. He would not tolerate any challenge even from his closest colleagues,” the book says.
“But it came at a price, once again the army had been used to suppress street demonstrations and riots. Diplomatically it was a major setback but in hindsight probably unavoidable and following this incident the country was probably more stable. What it clearly showed was that the armed forces were fully under his control.”
The book also says government’s push for political reform, a key requisite for re-engagement with the international community, had been crippled by infighting within the ruling Zanu PF. Zimbabwe has since the turn of the millennium faced international isolation due to a chaotic land reform programme, a checkered human rights record and stolen elections.
“Only the United States government stated that until they saw real changes, they would maintain their sanctions on the Zimbabwe government and key stakeholders, in keeping with this they extended the Zidera (Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act) legislation in 2019,” it says.
“But the conflicts in the Zanu PF party persisted and these inhibited both the necessary reforms and the implementation of the economic changes that were deemed necessary. This slowed progress and was worrying.”
To demonstrate endless Zanu PF infighting, the book says Mnangagwa’s previous ambition of becoming the country’s Defence minister were blocked through ethnically driven politics by hawkish Zezuru stalwarts.
Toxic ethnic praxes blight Zimbabwe’s history, nation-building and politics. Zanu PF divisions and fault-lines are sometimes caused or fuelled by ethnicity. Soon after the 2017 coup, Mnangagwa is accused of reconfiguring his new cabinet along regional and ethnic lines.
He is also accused of purging those who put him to power, including army commanders who put their heads on the block for him.
This has exacerbated internal strife between Mnangagwa and Chiwenga, and within Zanu PF. Most recently, Mnangagwa and Chiwenga clashed over the appointment of the new Zimbabwe National Army commander Lieutenant-General David Sigauke to replace Chimonyo.
Chiwenga wanted his political ally retired Lieutenant-General Engelbert Rugeje to come in, but Mnangagwa preferred Sigauke.
The two political heavyweights’ wrangling is likely to worse towards next year’s congress.