Mugabe Dents Deputy’s Leadership Bid in Zimbabwe Cabinet Change

HARARE (Capital Markets in Africa) – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe replaced his finance minister in a cabinet reshuffle that weakened his vice president, who’s considered one of the main contenders to succeed him as leader of the southern African nation.

Mugabe, 93, removed Patrick Chinamasa as finance minister, giving him a new cyber-security portfolio and stripped Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa of his position as justice minister. Chinamasa was replaced by former Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo, while the justice portfolio was given to Happyton Bonyongwe, director general of the Central Intelligence Organization. Mnangagwa remains as one of two deputy presidents.

The announcement appeared to weaken a faction in the ruling party that backs Mnangagwa, 75, and is known as Lacoste, taken from the French sportswear company’s Lacoste’s logo, a crocodile — the nickname the vice president earned during the liberation war against white-minority rule. Opposing him are party members championing Grace Mugabe, 52, as a possible successor to her husband, who’s ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years. While Mugabe is the official candidate of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front in elections next year, he’s grown increasingly frail, sparking speculation that he may not be able to see out another five-year term.

Loyalists Strengthened
Mugabe’s move was aimed at strengthening his loyalists at a time of increasingly publicized splits in the party, according to Gary van Staden, an analyst at NKC African Economics in Paarl, outside Cape Town, South Africa.

“The cabinet reshuffle was clearly all about loyalty, factions and putting Mr. Mugabe first -– it had nothing to do with competence, improving the economy and financial situation or suggesting Zimbabwe could pull out of its terminal dive,” he said in an emailed note. “The inevitable consequence of that is that it will not.”

The intensifying political maneuvering comes at a time when Zimbabwe faces deepening unrest over widespread unemployment, the collapse of basic services and a severe cash crunch after abandoning its own currency in 2009 in favor of the dollar. The economy has halved in size since 2000.

Read more on cash shortages hurting the economy

Mugabe’s cabinet changes aren’t a fatal blow to Mnangagwa’s chances of succeeding the president, according to Alex Magaisa, a U.K.-based law lecturer and one of the architects of Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution.

Mnangagwa’s Survival
“Mnangagwa may yet survive and lead Zanu-PF, but it will not be because of Mugabe’s doing,” Magaisa said in an emailed response to questions. “He has to do it all on his own, against the wishes of his old mentor.”

Tensions in the government escalated after Mnangagwa was flown to a South African hospital in August to treat what he described as poisoning. He didn’t blame anyone and publicly denied that it was the result of eating an ice cream from a dairy company owned by the Mugabe family.

Mnangagwa may suffer the same fate as former Vice President Joice Mujuru, fired in 2014 after a scathing attack from Grace Mugabe. Last week she publicly accused Mnangagwa of being a “womanizer” and a “nobody.”

Mujuru went on to form her own party and is now in an opposition coalition with Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai to challenge Zanu-PF in the elections.

“He finds himself between a rock and a hard place,” Magaisa said. “He cannot respond to Grace Mugabe without wounding and risking the wrath of the man towards whom he claims to have unflinching loyalty, but if he does not respond, he will appear weak and incapable of defending his honour.”

Source: Bloomberg Business News


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