Mnangagwa sidelined in Mugabe retirement plan

HARARE – In an open show of defiance towards his Zanu PF succession rivals Defence Minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa has dismissed with disdain the pressure from within the party and Service chiefs for President Mugabe to resign with immediate effect, amid reports that the Defence Minister has lost grip on senior military officers who are now reporting to retired General Solomon Mujuru.

The feuding rival factions have escalated their bitter skulduggeries on the back of mounting health problems of the 87 year old President Mugabe and there are glaring signs that the party will soon disintegrate as both sides show no sign of working together without Mugabe at the helm.

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In the last few weeks, Mujuru has stepped up his campaign to force Mugabe into retirement and he has regional support particularly from the South African President Jacob Zuma who has threatened the Generals with the release of a highly sensitive election violence report.

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 In 2008 former South African President Thabo Mbeki commissioned a fact finding mission into state sponsored violence that took place in the run up to Zimbabwe’s one man presidential run-off.

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Mbeki, as mediator, sent six retired South African army generals on two fact-finding missions to investigate the cause of the political crisis, especially the role of the army in the violence. The highly sensitive damning report has still not been made public and attempts through the courts have hit the brick wall, but now South African government are threatening to throw the Generals to the wolfs, hence the latest effort to push out their leader.

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While this is happening, Mnangagwa has been sidelined and by-passed in high level discussions which will culminate in SADC Heads of State Summit on 20 May 2011 forcing President Mugabe to retire.

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In an interview with the State media, Mnangagwa lambasted the media for reporting what he described as nonsense and utter rubbish. 

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He added that President Robert Mugabe is here to stay, and that claims by the media are cheap politicking working in cahoots with Western sponsors. 

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“They and their western sponsors should stop fooling themselves as President Mugabe has proved beyond doubt that he is a tried and tested leader who still commands overwhelming support from his party, Zanu PF,” said Mnangagwa.  

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The Defence Minister also dismissed, as cheap politicking by the western sponsored paper, claims by the publishers of the paper that Service Chiefs held a teleconference with the President while he was in Singapore, asking him to relinquish power.

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In its edition dated 1 May 2011, the weekly Standard newspaper said Service Chiefs and hardliners in Zanu PF have asked President Mugabe to defer elections and appoint a successor.

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 Mnangagwa said while it is not the first time that The Standard has tried unsuccessfully to cause despondency in Zanu PF through falsehoods, this latest article showed how desperate the paper, which is failing to find relevant news, has become.

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 Sources within the military services said the Defence Minister is now being by-passed by senior Military officers who are closely working with the Zanu PF faction led by retired General Solomon Mujuru.

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Most senior army and airforce officers worked with General Mujuru during the liberation struggle while Mnangagwa was in an in the “back office” as an assistant to Robert Mugabe, hence he has struggled to gain respect among the service chiefs, who call him “povo”, meaning untrained civilian.   

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Hawks within Zanu PF and securocrats have reportedly demanded that President Robert Mugabe defer elections and immediately appoint a successor, as time was not on his side.

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Sources said Mugabe and the security chiefs held a teleconference last week, when the veteran leader was in Singapore, where the president was told to tone down on talk of having an election this year.

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He was also told to instead direct his energies to appointing a successor in an effort to prevent further fissures within the party and the country.

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The sources revealed that the hawks and securocrats told Mugabe that if need be, he had to dictate a successor to his party and they would support that person.

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“He was told that he was no longer marketable as a candidate,” an informant revealed.

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“Zanu PF’s best chance was in identifying a successor who would be sold to the electorate between now and 2013.”

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It was not immediately clear what Mugabe’s response was, but the insider said Zanu PF’s attitude to the poll roadmap indicates that the president agreed that it could be time to appoint a successor.

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Questions have been raised about Mugabe’s health and whether he was prepared for the rigours associated with another election, the fourth in nine years.

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Mugabe’s health has for decades been a matter of speculation and conjecture and interestingly the teleconference was held while he was in Singapore, where he has previously sought treatment and at a time when the veteran leader had gone to collect his stricken wife, Grace.

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Mugabe has been demanding an election this year to end what he describes as an impasse in the inclusive government.

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The uneasy coalition government was created by his Zanu PF party and the two MDC formations in 2008 after an inconclusive election.

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In recent days Zanu PF has changed its tune on elections, saying the dictates from the poll roadmap made it impossible for a vote to be held this year, with 2013 being the most likely date.

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Then, Mugabe would be 89 and too old to embark on an exhaustive electoral campaign.

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“It is my own opinion that it is not possible to hold elections this year. We need to start talking about elections next year or 2013, assuming that the (constitution) referendum is completed in September as we have been advised by Copac (Constitutional Parliamentary Committee),” Chinamasa told the state media last week.

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This indicates a major climb down from Zanu PF, which had claimed they would have polls whether a new election had been approved or not.

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Security chiefs are said to have warned that going for elections was likely to mirror the 2008 polls, where Mugabe lost the popular vote.

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He only maintained power by holding a much condemned election re-run, after neither he nor his long time nemesis, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai were unable to pass the 50% threshold to be declared outright winner.

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The Zanu PF succession debate has been a thorny issue in the last two decades, amid claims of a widening rift between two factions, one led by retired army general Solomon Mujuru, whose wife, Joyce is the vice-president and another led by Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.