After Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa was pictured with businessman, Energy Mutodi carrying a mug inscribed “I am the boss”, a storm brewed — as with everything in Zanu PF, it was seen with succession lens and there were questions what that meant — but many still wondered what the hullabaloo was all about, as it seemed quite an innocuous picture.
By NQABA MATSHAZI
But in a world where perception is often more important than reality, the messaging on that mug and the pictures that went viral precipitated an onslaught on the Vice-President and nine months later the mug issue continues to be used to pummel him, as he stares down the barrel of a gun.
On reflection, it seems Mnangagwa has made several missteps since he became the Vice-President, with the enduring question being why he has not reined in his supporters, who seem to be making each passing day more uncomfortable than the previous one.
One aspect of the succession race is that Mnangagwa has been portrayed as someone who is too eager and impatient to land the presidency.
Who can forget that shortly after his appointment, Mashonaland West Provincial Affairs minister Faber Chidarikire referred to Mnangagwa’s wife, Auxillia, as acting First Lady.
First Lady is a borrowed title, without any legal grounding and this would not necessarily be an issue, but in Zimbabwe, where the succession issue is often a cloak and dagger affair, this was seen as a play for power and Mnangagwa ought to have reprimanded his lieutenant, his critics will argue.
But Mnangagwa did not, leading to a political soap opera, where he has moved from being seen as Mugabe’s definite successor, to today, where people are literally counting the days to when he will be axed.
The war veterans have been a key cog in campaigning for Mnangagwa, but they inadvertently may be his biggest undoing.
In an effort to besmirch First Lady Grace Mugabe — because they view her as their biggest impediment — war veterans have unwittingly (or maybe purposefully) cast aspersions on Mugabe and he is bound to respond angrily to them and in the process Mnangagwa becomes collateral damage because of their very vocal support for him.
Take for example war veterans’ secretary-general, Victor Matemadanda’s admonishing of Grace that she should first discipline her children and that she was a failed mother.
By extension, the message was denigrating Mugabe, as it was implying that he too is a failed parent and obviously that was going to draw a very strong response from the veteran leader.
In January, Mnangagwa tried to dissociate himself from the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association executive led by Christopher Mutsvangwa, describing them as “lost and wayward”, but this was seen as too little too late, as much damage had been done in the preceding six months.
The reprimand was seen as rather too mild and it does not help that the war veterans’ leaders have continued openly backing Mnangagwa and calling for Mugabe to name him as his preferred successor.
The lack of action in reprimanding his so-called allies is again haunting Mnangagwa, as again he left it too late to speak on his alleged poisoning saga and his foes latched onto that.
Mnangagwa waited for more than a week before clearing the air and even when he did, the Mugabes were already livid and, for them, the damage had been done.
Then there was Godfrey Tsenengamu, who called several Press conferences, whose central message was “touch not the successor”, another bizarre sequence of events, as keeping quiet on the issue would not have cost him anything.
It did not help that Mnangagwa was pictured with Tsenengamu on the day he carried the “I’m the boss mug” and a point can be made to question why the Vice-President was hobnobbing with an axed Zanu PF official.
His defence for hosting Mutodi on that day was quite meek at best and pitiable at worst, as he claimed that the businessman had gate-crashed what was in essence a family function.
It is difficult to believe that the businessman could walk into the Vice-President’s home in the late hours without security details raising alarm and to cap it all, the intruder goes on to take a picture with Mnangagwa.
It also becomes curious when that same person is one of the loudest in calling for Mnangagwa to take over from Mugabe and this becomes fodder for the Vice-President’s rivals.
The Vice-President has the right to associate with anyone he wants, but as the adage says, you are only as good as the company you keep, meaning if Mnangagwa was hosting people who have challenged Mugabe openly, the President was certainly going to lash back because of the associations his deputy kept.
The Bible takes it further and in Proverbs says you are the company you keep.
Mnangagwa’s supposed rivals can be forgiven for thinking the Vice-President is a gift that keeps on giving, as they found many opportunities to hit at him, he was literally a sitting duck — to use a metaphor once used by a former Zanu PF women’s league executive member, Sarah Mahoka — for his enemies.
This is not to say Mugabe must not be challenged, but contextually, we have seen how ruthlessly he has dealt with those eyeing his throne, with Mnangagwa’s predecessor, Joice Mujuru being a living testimony to that.
While Mnangagwa can maintain that he is loyal to Mugabe and has been with the President for several decades, the reality is that his allies and the company he keeps are putting him in an uncomfortable and unenviable position in Mugabe’s eyes.
What Mugabe would have probably wanted is for his deputy to immediately and vocally distance himself from these so-called allies, but this has not happened and now, as he has done in the past, the President is girding his loins and preparing to defend his post from real or perceived enemies.
Mugabe has in the past shown that he is willing to reward loyalty and brooks no dissent, so in the coming few months — as in the past — we can expect more culls of anyone who has associated with Mnangagwa.