Knives out for Mugabe

Deep divisions have surfaced within President Robert Mugabe's inner circle over his decision to run for another five-year term of office amid growing concerns about his advanced age and deteriorating health.

Wide-ranging inquiries by the Sunday Times revealed that Mugabe’s cohorts are now divided about him becoming Zanu-PF’s candidate in the next elections despite mounting evidence that he is becoming frail due to age and health problems.

The main divisions are between Mugabe’s civilian advisers and his security loyalists. Civilians, even those who want him to stay on, think his case is becoming increasingly untenable, while the security advisers feel they could still force another term for him.

Civilians close to the 87-year-old include the secretary in the office of the president and cabinet Dr Misheck Sibanda, his spokesman George Charamba, family spokesman Lawrence Kamwe, Father Fidelis Mukonori and Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono. Father Mukonori, a Jesuit who acts as the chaplain to Mugabe and his family, is very influential. So is Gono.

Among politicians and securocrats, those close to Mugabe are Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and Joint Operations Command (JOC) members. JOC brings together army, police and intelligence service chiefs.

Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantine Chiwenga, Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri and Air Force of Zimbabwe commander, Air Marshal Perence Shiri, are also close to him.

Mnangagwa and the security chiefs want early elections while Mugabe is still fit, but Zanu-PF politburo members are warning this may spell disaster for Mugabe and the party.

"The situation around Mugabe is getting very volatile and unpredictable largely due to what is happening in the Middle East and North and West Africa. Events around the world are influencing the situation in Zimbabwe. As a result there are now divisions between his civilian and security advisers. There are also differences among the civilians and within the securocrats," a senior security official said.

"This creates new circumstances and introduces new dynamics in Mugabe’s bid for another term of office. The president’s health and age are fuelling the problems."

Mugabe has of late been shuttling between Harare and Singapore for treatment. Charamba has tried to downplay the health problems, saying he went to see doctors in the Far East for an eye cataract.

Medical experts have dismissed this, saying it was a cover-up, because there are many competent eye specialists in the country, including Dr Solomon Guramatunhu, one of the world’s best ophthalmologists.

Just last weekend Mugabe was in Asia again on medical grounds, although Charamba claimed it was a "private visit".

Mugabe has always denied health problems until recently, when he could no longer convincingly explain his frequent trips to Singapore.

To make matters worse, his wife Grace is also reported to be sick, although the Sunday Times could not confirm what is ailing her. This, coupled with revelations this week that Chiwenga had been airlifted to China due to health problems, has created a sense of instability and insecurity. Chiwenga and the army are the key cogs in Mugabe’s faltering rule.

On Monday Mugabe lost one of his stalwarts and strategists, Mernard Muzariri, deputy director of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), who died of liver cancer in Harare.

Insiders said ruptures have emerged between and within JOC and Mugabe’s civilian advisers, who think it is time for him either retire or announce his successor to avoid defeat which could spell doom, not only for himself but for his family and top Zanu-PF officials. The party, already torn apart by factionalism, will disintegrate if he loses.

Zanu-PF divisions were further exposed recently by its defeat by the MDC-T in the election of Speaker of Parliament. Several Zanu-PF MPs rebelled and voted with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s faction, showing that the divisions which resulted in Mugabe’s defeat in the first round of presidential elections in 2008 have widened.

Mugabe and Zanu-PF officials fear defeat because of accusations of human rights abuses and other atrocities committed during their 31-year reign. Insiders plugged in the office of the president and cabinet say two weeks ago, Mugabe’s civilian advisers wrote an "advisory note" urging him to tackle the controversial succession issue as part of the measures to improve his re-election prospects.

The advisers also indicated that the president should clear the air on speculation over his health and that he should say when he was going to relinquish power.

"Mugabe has been given advice by his close civilian advisers and aides that it would be better for him to deal with certain critical issues to try to secure victory and guarantee his future," said an official close to Mugabe’s office.

"The advice was comprehensive. It painted a positive picture of the situation and outlined advantages which Mugabe has in trying to get re-elected before pointing out the downside. It was honest advice. It indicated Mugabe has the advantage of incumbency and liberation struggle credentials and is a revolutionary icon. The note also included Mugabe’s achievements on education, health and land reform, while also mentioning empowerment and indigenisation."

However, the insiders said the "advisory note" also raised alarm over the succession issue and factionalism within Zanu-PF. It also said sanctions were a disadvantage.

"The issue of succession is prominent in the advice which Mugabe has been given by close advisers. They are concerned that the president’s failure to resolve the issue and indicate when he will leave makes it very difficult for him to get re-elected," one official said.

  • Mugabe insists he is ready for re-election.

President no royal guest

There will be no place for President Robert Mugabe at the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in London at the end of the month.

The invitation is for one guest only from Zimbabwe – it’s for the High Commissioner to the UK, Gabriel Machinga – and it is not transferable.

Some observers believe that Mugabe would have made a fitting guest for the royal occasion, with his clear English-style dress sense and an eye for the good things in life.

Zimbabwe appears on the guest list released by the UK Foreign Office this week with two other surprises – North Korea and Iran.

But there is no place for the Libyan ambassador, who initially had been invited, but had his invitation revoked because of the turmoil in his country.

Officials at the Zimbabwean embassy in London could not confirm whether Machinga will attend.TimesLive