ON Monday November 6, one of the most dramatic days in Zimbabwean politics in recent years, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa was fired by his boss President Robert Mugabe.
By ALEX T MAGAISA
It marked the end of a special relationship. The relationship had broken down irretrievably. It could no longer be rescued. It was so bad that not long after his sacking, Mnangagwa sneaked out of the country, allegedly seeking refuge from threats to his life. A few months back he had survived alleged poisoning.
Two days after his sacking, writing from his safe sanctuary, Mnangagwa issued a damning five page statement reacting to his new circumstance. In it, Mnangagwa went down memory lane, reminding his old boss of the long, arduous road they had travelled together and the sacrifices he had made for the liberation of Zimbabwe. It was almost nostalgic. The words revealed a man in utter pain, a man who felt betrayed and let down by someone he had served with great loyalty.
But there was also a note of defiance – an expression of independence. He had joined the independence struggle of his own volition, starting in Zambia where he had grown up before joining Zapu and later Zanu, he says.
He was at pains to demonstrate his liberation war credentials – that he was a self-made cadre, not an invitee to the party as Mugabe has suggested in recent weeks.
For the first time, Mnangagwa is trying to assert his independence, to give his own narrative of his role in the struggle, challenging Mugabe’s version. Yet all along, while he was inside, he allowed Mugabe’s version of history to take the limelight.
The statement itself in parts read like a desperate plea for answers, the kind of questions a son would ask of a father who has disowned him: what did I do wrong, father? “I have been very close to the President ever since [1976).
We have avoided life-threatening situations together. I even doubled up as his personal bodyguard. In return, the President has passed on life skills which have put me in good stead throughout my long period in government. Our relationship has over the years blossomed beyond that of master and servant but to that of father and son.
My mouth has never uttered a single foul word against the President nor have I contemplated bringing him harm in any way …” Here, Mnangagwa is merely confirming that he was nothing but a loyal water-carrier. “My service to the party and government of Zimbabwe and my public and private posture towards my boss are well known. No amount of convoluted thinking can diminish my loyalty to my party and the President.”
The problem, as Mnangagwa sees it, is coming from his old boss’ wife, whose sanity he questions. “I find it preposterous that any sane person can lyrically direct such accusations towards me” he says, referring to allegations of disloyalty which have been levelled against him principally by Grace Mugabe.
He accuses her of colluding with and being influenced by characters who “plunder public funds and are used by foreign countries to destabilise the party”. He also accuses Grace of “brazenly” protecting people who are destroying the party. It is reasonable to surmise that the people Mnangagwa referred to are Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasukuwere, two pillars of the G40 faction whom Grace has publicly protected in recent weeks despite accusations levelled against them.
In his dossier presented to the Politburo, Mnangagwa had also accused Moyo of being a CIA agent. He also accused Grace of “[spewing] fake news” at the church gathering last Sunday, where she also attacked Mnangagwa. If Mnangagwa’s relationship with Mugabe has broken down, it is fair to say there is no love lost between him and Grace.
But as the statement went on, Mnangagwa could not hold back direct punches against his boss, signifying the depths to which the formerly special relation had sunk. He accuses him of allowing the party to be infiltrated by “novices and external forces as well as individuals who have a proven track record of treachery,” a circumstance which he regards as “sad and deplorable”.
Mnangagwa goes on the offensive, accusing Mugabe of privatising the party. “This party is not personal property for you and your wife to do as you please” he charges, the capital letters being emphasis, but could also be interpreted as literally shouting to his old boss. He ends by calling on fellow party members “to say NO to Demi Gods and people that are self-centred and only think of themselves and their families”.
He accuses Mugabe of refusing change and being stuck in the past — language that ironically matches persistent calls by the MDC over the past two decades, the same MDC he and Zanu PF suppressed with brutal means, especially in 2008. But the style and tone of language reflects a man in a combative mood, ready and willing to not only defend his corner but to attack his former boss.
As for his rivals, he has no kind words at all. He refers to them disparagingly as “G40 boys”. Speaking like a true patriarch, he refuses to accord them the title of manliness. To be called a boy when you are an adult male is to be disrespected in a fundamental way. It’s the language of exclusion. So when Mnangagwa refers to Moyo, Kasukuwere and others in G40 as “boys” it is a sign of the contempt in which he holds them.
It might be a little late but the statement shows that Mnangagwa is not ready to go without a fight. “I will go nowhere,” he says, ensuring the words are captured in bold print for emphasis, just in case someone takes it lightly. “I will fight tooth and nail against those making a mockery against Zanu PF founding principles, ethos and values. You and your cohorts will instead leave Zanu PF by the will of the people …” It remains to be seen what action he will take in “the next few weeks” as threatened in the statement. Some may say they are just desperate efforts to be seen to be saying something. But having made the threat, it is important that he fulfils it otherwise no one will take him seriously.
It is interesting of course that Mnangagwa refuses to be fired. This is not new. Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo also tried to fight their expulsion from Zanu PF in 2015, even taking their cases to court. It was a wasteful effort. Once an organisation has decided to expel you, it does not matter how many battles you fight. No court can force an organisation to associate with you unless there are contractual arrangements and there are alternative remedies, such as compensation.
The reaction of Mutasa, Gumbo, Mnangagwa and others who refuse to be sacked from the party is a curious case of a person who refuses to leave an abusive situation. Joice Mujuru was the same. She continued to call him “baba” (father) even after the abuse to which he had subjected her. They insist that they are Zanu PF even as Zanu PF is rejecting them. It’s a pitiful situation.
He was there when Zanu PF championed the “One Centre of Power” doctrine. In fact, he oversaw the constitutional amendments. And just a few months ago, against all reason, as Justice minister, he championed a highly retrogressive constitutional amendment which saw Mugabe getting exclusive powers to appoint the Chief Justice and his deputy – centralising powers that the 2013 Constitution had decentralised. He was the beneficiary of Mujuru’s sacking – even mocking and kicking her when she was already down. He was there in 2008 after Mugabe lost to his nemesis, Morgan Tsvangirai and had to be rescued by violent means.
The truth is, for most Zimbabweans, the things that he complains of happened a long time ago. The country was captured long back. And as Mugabe’s water-carrier, he too should carry the cross. He’s being devoured by the monster he helped create, when everyone else was telling them that they were making a grave mistake. If anything, he should be writing a lengthy note of confession and apology to the ordinary men and women of Zimbabwe.
But when all is said and done, it is fair to say the special relationship that formerly existed between the two men is at an end. There is no room for recovery. No middle ground. It has been said of international relations that there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests. It is an adage that applies with equal force in the arena of politics, a bitter lesson for Mnangagwa, the man who spent most of his life playing the role of water-carrier for Mugabe only to be discarded at the most crucial moment.
This article was first published on www.bigsr.co.uk