Mnangagwa Not Heir Apparent – Reflections on the Succession Issue in Moyo’s BBC Interview

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by Alex T. Magaisa

Professor Jonathan Moyo was at pains to emphasise that contrary to so-called common thinking, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa is NOT the heir to the presidential throne in Zimbabwe.03...President-Robert-Mugabe-walks-down-the-podium-before-he-fell-682x1024

After the December Congress, and the events leading up to it, during which there was a dramatic purge of the then favourite, former Vice President Joice Mujuru and her allies, it was generally thought that Mnangagwa had become the new and obvious favourite to succeed Mugabe when he finally bows out of politics. At the time, however, with Mnangagwa’s allies in high spirits and referring to hi as the “son of God”, Moyo had rubbished claims that Mnangagwa was the heir to the throne. He was a mere appointee, not an elected leader, said Moyo, reminding Mnangagwa and allies that they were not there yet.

In this BBC HardTalk interview aired today, Moyo repeats that view in emphatic fashion. At one point, when the interviewer Stephen Sackur suggested that Mnangagwa was the heir apparent, Moyo was quick to interject and say, “That’s your view. It is not a fact”.

When Sackur insisted that but Mnangwagwa was now the VP (and therefore closer than before), Moyo quickly clarified and reminded the audience that Mnangagwa is only one of two Vice Presidents, both of whom are mere appointees of the President whose mandate is to assist him in his duties and not to succeed him. In other words, says Moyo, the fact that he is an appointed Vice President is nothing special and does not give him any better claim to the throne than others.

When Sackur further suggested that everyone now saw Mnangagwa as the successor to Mugabe, Moyo’s terse retort was “You can ask those who see him that way”. In other words, says Moyo, I don’t see him as the successor, ask those who see him as such!

It was clear that Moyo did not want to be drawn into making any positive statement regarding Mnangagwa’s position as the heir to Mugabe.

It may be that Moyo was just being careful not to be drawn into the succession debate and to disclose his own position, given that the succession issue remains a highly sensitive issue within the context of Zanu PF politics. Mugabe himself would not approve any endorsements at this stage, so probably Moyo is just be careful with his words.

But some will say, if that was the intention, then the manner in which he downplayed and dismissed Mnangagwa’s chances may have unwittingly revealed what appears to be an anti-Mnangagwa stance. Even the body language was not helpful. The suggestion of Mnangagwa as heir seemed to irritate, if not upset him. “The reference to him (Mnangagwa) as the next President is yours and it’s a burden that you should unravel for yourself and not state as a fact” says Moyo rather tersely.

On the other hand, if he was selling us a dummy and he really supports Mnangwagwa for the presidency and therefore, this was all a cover-up, then he did a very good job of it. The reason is that it left viewers with the distinct impression that Moyo did not fancy Mnangwagwa’s chances. He might at the very least, have been a little more positive about Mnangwagwa. But in this interview, Moyo was not only dismissive but almost contemptuous in his assessment of Mnangagwa’s chances.

Moyo was keen to point out that the Vice Presidency is an appointed position and not elected. This means Mnangagwa does not carry the mandate of the people, which would give him an advantage over other contenders. What we learn from this is that the succession race is still seen within Zanu PF as very wide open, contrary to the common belief since the December Congress that Mnangagwa is now the heir apparent.

In this case, it is important to note that the Constitution of Zimbabwe says that if a vacancy arises in the Presidency by death, resignation or incapacitation of the incumbent, the political party that was represented by the departing President will have the power to select a replacement within a period of 90 days. In the interim, the person who was the last acting President will be in charge of the country.

What these provisions mean is that, if there happens to be a vacancy in the Presidency because of death, resignation or incapacitation of President Mugabe, whoever was the last acting President between Mnangagwa and Mphoko will become the interim acting President while Zanu PF selects a permanent successor within 90 days. How Zanu PF will carry out this selection process in that eventuality is not clear and certain but most likely an emergency Congress will be called, at which the new President will be elected. It could be chaotic.

This is why Moyo and others continue to insist on the fact that there is no heir at present and that an appointee cannot be regarded as the heir. This is why the succession race remains hot and unsure. Mnangagwa must surely know that not all his comrades are with him and this interview will be an important reminder in case he has forgotten.

Also linked to the succession race, Moyo spoke boldly about Gukurahundi, the atrocities that took place in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions in the 1980s. This was in response to a question regarding the suitability of Mnangagwa given his alleged role in that period. Moyo referred to the 1980s as a “dark period” during which a lot of “totally unacceptable” things were done and said by elements of the political leadership, who included Mnangagwa. He does not refer to Mugabe by name but having been the leading actor as Prime Minister at the time, he would certainly feature in the list of such people in Moyo’s book.

In this regard Moyo cannot be faulted and instead, deserves some credit for being forthright compared to Vice President Mphoko who last week made headlines yet again for recklessly denying Gukurahundi and absolving the government of President Mugabe and instead piling blame of Western governments. In VP Mphoko’s book, these atrocities had nothing to do with the Zimbabwean government but were instead a Western conspiracy, a sorry and stupid excuse that he continues to peddle. It is not clear who VP Mphoko wants to please given that his boss, President Mugabe has admitted to the wrongful actions of that era, describing it as a “moment of madness”.

Moyo says of Gukurahundi that it is better to hold bridges than to harbour grudges. “It is not wise in politics to carry grudges with you,” says Moyo, in philosophical mode. Moyo once sponsored the Gukurahundi Bill in 2007 when he was an independent MP after being expelled from Zanu PF. It did not succeed but it is indicative of the fact that while he says he does not bear grudges, he has certainly not abandoned the demand for justice for what happened during that “dark period”. But of course, it would be unwise of him to suggest at this sensitive time that he harbours such thoughts. Therefore, when he says wisely, that is unwise to bear grudges, he is merely speaking to the gallery of his fellow politicians, not to his convictions.

Some people have said the interview has not given much. But if you watch the politics of Zimbabwe closely, or politics generally, you would have found some rich pickings in this interview. As I have said elsewhere, the value of political interviews lies not in what is said but more in what is not said. You have to grow an ear of these unsaid statements.

What is more prominent in this interview in respect of the important issue of the succession race, is that Moyo is certainly not effervescent in his opinion of Mnangagwa, who many have regarded since the December Congress as the leading contender for the presidency in the post-Mugabe era.

It is better to have a leader who has the wisdom to understand the country’s challenges rather than a leader “who may be young but foolish”, is Moyo’s assessment on candidacy for the country’s presidency.

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