Vice-President John Nkomo is of little value to President Robert Mugabe because he enjoys little support in Matabeleland and would be of little help in boosting Zanu PF support in an election.
This emerged from a leaked United States diplomatic cable to Washington after the death of Vice-President Joseph Msika in 2009 and debate was raging on who should succeed him.
In cables dispatched to Washington but intercepted and leaked by whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, US diplomats in Harare said Nkomo was “unquestionably loyal to (President) Mugabe” but had no support from Matabeleland.
According to the cable, it was obvious that President Mugabe would replace the late Msika with someone from Matabeleland.
The cable said though there were several candidates such as Obert Mpofu, Cain Mathema and Simon Khaya Moyo, Nkomo appeared the obvious choice.
“The decision on who will replace Msika, although theoretically made by the politburo, is (President) Mugabe’s,” read the cable.
“In keeping with the historical precedent maintained since the 1987 Unity Accord, (President) Mugabe is almost certain to fill the vacancy with an Ndebele.
“Additionally, he will seek to name an individual who will be loyal to him and, with an eye to the next election, can help rebuild the party in Matabeleland.
“His task is made difficult by the paucity of Ndebele leaders with national stature. Publicly known figures such as Minister of Mines Obert Mpofu, Ambassador to South Africa SK Moyo, and Bulawayo Governor Cain Mathewa are generally considered lightweights. The leading contenders would appear to be John Nkomo and Dumiso Dabengwa.”
But the cable, dispatched by a top US diplomat in Harare, Katherine Dhanani, said Nkomo would be of little value to President Mugabe.
“He is unquestionably loyal to Mugabe. Because of this loyalty, however, he enjoys little support in Matabeleland which probably explains his decision not to stand for a parliamentary seat in the 2008 elections. He would be of little help in boosting Zanu PF support in future elections,” the cable said.
“Nkomo also reportedly suffers from prostate cancer for which he receives treatment in South Africa. He would be a safe choice for (President) Mugabe in the short term, but he offers little longer-term reward.”
On the other hand, Dabengwa, a former Zanu PF politburo member who left the party to resuscitate the old Zapu, offered high risk but potentially significant benefits.
“He was the head of Zipra intelligence before independence and had a collaborative relationship with General Solomon Mujuru who headed Zanla, the military wing of Zanu PF,” the cable said.
“Dabengwa is prominent in Matabeleland and could offer the possibility of strengthening Zanu PF in that area,”
But the cable said President Mugabe would also have other reasons to distrust Dabengwa’s loyalty.
“Dabengwa is close to Solomon and Joice Mujuru, (President) Mugabe’s primary intraparty rivals, and he has a strong relationship with South African President Jacob Zuma who is a Mugabe critic.”
Solomon Mujuru, the retired army general, died in an unexplained inferno at his farm in Beatrice two months ago. The cable said Zanu PF politics was opaque, primarily because one man made the decisions and rarely tipped his hand to others.
“Since (President) Mugabe is primarily concerned about himself and wants to stay in office indefinitely, the most likely pick — because it’s the safest pick for him personally — is Nkomo,” the cable said.
“But we don’t underestimate (President) Mugabe’s ability to surprise.
“He could work out a deal with Dabengwa, choose the junior and lightly-regarded Mpofu, or do something unforeseen.”
The cable said Msika’s death would affect the current political situation in the country but President Mugabe would continue to cling to power.