Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe yesterday named hardliner Emmerson Mnangagwa as his vice-president, putting the former justice minister in pole position to succeed him.
Mugabe announced the appointment at party headquarters to loud applause, days after sacking one-time presidential hopeful Joice Mujuru as vice-president.
Nicknamed “Ngwena” (Croc-odile) because of his ruthlessness, Mnangagwa, 68, has held senior posts in the country’s defence and security apparatus.
He is reputed to be one of the richest men in the country.
Mnangagwa was in charge of internal security in the mid-1980s when Mugabe deployed a crack North Korean-trained brigade against rebels loyal to political rival Joshua Nkomo.
Rights groups say 20000 civilians, most of them from the minority Ndebele tribe in western Zimbabwe, were killed.
Mugabe denied crimes against humanity but has admitted it was a “moment of madness”.
Mnangagwa also helped Mugabe hold on to power during 2008 elections, which the opposition won in the first round, but which it boycotted in the second round because of widespread violence.
Mugabe, 90, also named former diplomat Phelekezela Mphoko to the largely symbolic post of second vice-president.
Mpoko is seen as one of the remaining Zapu leaders loyal to Mugabe.
Mugabe said he would abolish the post of party chairman previously held by ex-ambassador to South Africa Simon Khaya Moyo.
Zanu-PF and PF Zapu merged in 1987 to form Zanu-PF. Since then, the second vice-presidency has been reserved exclusively for former PF Zapu members.
The two appointments cap Mugabe’s recent purge of rivals, a bid to end fierce infighting over who will take over from him.
Analysts say Mugabe is increasingly concerned with making sure his family is secure after he steps down or leaves power.
As part of that purge, Mugabe on Tuesday announced the sacking of Mujuru and eight ministers.
Rumours had swirled that Mugabe might seek to appoint his wife, Grace, to one of the vice-presidential posts, a move commentators saw as unlikely given her recent entry into politics.
In recent months, she has been used as Mugabe’s attack dog, hitting out at Mujuru and her supporters as plotting to overthrow the president and alleging dodgy business dealings.
Grace claimed Mujuru was incompetent and that Mugabe was doing the bulk of her work.
London-based investment advisory group Interhorizon Securities said the latest developmentscould bisect Zanu-PF.
“Zanu-PF already faces a potential fracturing in 2015, as Mujuru’s allies are likely to form a new party in an attempt to retain some of their political and business clout,” said Robert Besseling, a principal analyst at IHS.
“However, it is not yet known how much support she would be able to drain from Zanu-PF ahead of the national election in 2018 or any by-elections held before then.”
Mugabe is also expected to announce new members of the party’s administrative politburo following his endorsement last week as Zanu-PF leader.AFP and Reuters