Zimbabwe: Mnangagwa is losing key allies who sanitised the military coup

By Farai Shawn Matiashe
Posted on Thursday, 14 April 2022 15:38

Trevor Ncube, chief executive of the weekly 'The Independent' newspaper sells copies of his paper in the morning rush hour traffiic in downtown Harare 19 October 2001.REUTERS/Howard Burditt

After coming to power through a military coup that ousted long-time ruler Robert Mugabe in November 2017, President Emmerson Mnangagwa attracted businesspeople both at home and abroad with his mantra: Zimbabwe is 'open for business'. Many wanted to give him a chance to change his predecessor's authoritarian policies.

In January 2019, Mnangagwa established the 26-member Presidential Advisory Council (PAC) to assist him in formulating key economic policies and strategies. He has however failed to turn around the economy with corruption remaining rampant, gross human rights violations persisting and poverty becoming widespread.

Many PAC members have resigned in disappointment. Media mogul and entrepreneur Trevor Ncube is the latest PAC member to quit. He expressed anger toward Mnangagwa’s failure to fulfil his promises when he took over power.

“We thought he [Mnangagwa] was concerned about Zimbabweans when in actual fact, it [was] time for him and his people to eat,” Ncube said when he appeared at a BizNews Conference in Drakensberg, South Africa.

During and after the coup, Ncube was one of the business people who “stood up” and said “Give Mnangagwa a chance”, but he is now greatly “disappointed”.

Mnangagwa’s fallout with PAC members

Mnangagwa’s PAC comprises leaders from the business, tourism, civil society, faith-based and agriculture sectors.

Shingi Munyeza (an outspoken pastor and entrepreneur), Busisa Moyo (a businessman) and Kudakwashe Tagwirei  (Mnangagwa’s controversial business ally) are some of the PAC members.

For Mnangagwa, the PAC was designed as a symbolic instrument to give the impression of a consultative governance style.

Munyeza has been criticising Mnangagwa in his sermons and on social media, describing the current regime as oppressive.

Choosing cooperation

Many political analysts argue that Ncube and Mnangagwa had personal interests at stake and it is doubtful that their cooperation was about turning around the economy or respecting human rights.

Ncube used his newspapers, including the daily flagship Newsday and weeklies The Standard and the Zimbabwe Independent, to tout the Mnangagwa administration after the coup, a move which led some staffers to resign.

Rather than open up the media space, Mnangagwa awarded radio and television licences to loyalists. “Vested interests are often the glue that binds such relationships together,” says professor Eldred Masunungure, a political analyst based in Harare.

“For Mnangagwa, the PAC was designed as a symbolic instrument to give the impression of a consultative governance style – different from Mugabe’s – when in reality, substantive or hard decisions were [made] elsewhere, including in cabinet.”

What use?

Masunungure says the PAC became a redundant and empty arrangement. “PAC became an embarrassment that yielded little to the partners, including […] Ncube. He quit out of acute disappointment, having dismally failed to harvest from his association with Mnangagwa. He did not eat enough to sustain his allegiance,” says Masunungure.

Mnangagwa represents the continuation of the Mugabe regime.

Admire Mare, an associate professor in the department of communication and media at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, says: “Ncube wanted to give Mnangagwa a chance to clean the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) mess, but what has happened over the last few years has left many wondering if the military-assisted regime will ever change its spots. As a business person, I think he was looking forward to benefiting from TV licences, but he has been overlooked,” he says.

Mnangagwa is losing his grip on power

The recent by-election results, where the main opposition party led by Nelson Chamisa won a majority of the 150 parliament and municipal seats up for grabs, show that Mnangagwa is losing support.

Ahead of the 2023 general polls, Chamisa’s base is still strong despite all the efforts by Mnangagwa – using the police, judiciary, electoral institutions and the rival Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai – to bring down the youthful and charismatic leader.

“The euphoric atmosphere that engulfed the country in mid-November 2017 has melted away and indeed, many Zimbabweans, including those who were Mnangagwa’s closest political lieutenants, seem to have lost hope and confidence in his leadership of both the party and the government,” says Masunungure.

Even those in ZANU-PF want change. They want young people to take over.

Maxwell Saungweme, a political analyst, says Mnangagwa “represents the continuation of the Mugabe regime. Corruption is still high, [there are] human rights abuses and nothing has changed, so you will not expect people to be aligned to him”.

Masunungure says though many people feel betrayed, there is still a significant proportion of core supporters who have stuck with Mnangagwa.

Mounting pressure from the G40

Since taking over ZANU-PF’s top leadership, Mnangagwa has been struggling to unite the ruling party. His main rivals are in the Generation 40 (G40) faction led by Mugabe’s wife Grace, former higher education minister Jonathan Moyo and former local government minister Saviour Kasukuwere.

Mare says the friction is still there, but some are warming up to Mnangagwa’s overtures. “It will not be a surprise to see some rejoining ZANU-PF in the near future,” he says.

In March, Robert Junior (the son of the late Mugabe) made an appearance at a Zanu PF rally ahead of the by-elections in Chitungwiza, a town 30km from the capital, Harare. He pledged his support for Mnangagwa and the ruling party.

“What is clear is that Mnangagwa is making every conceivable effort to entice the former G40 cadres and the return of Robert (Junior) to the ruling party is loud testimony of this,” says Masungure.

The Chiwenga factor

Insiders say there was an agreement between Mnangagwa and his deputy Constantino Chiwenga before the coup: the former would serve for one term and the latter would take over.

The political and the military are still tangoing together and will do so up to the elections.

However, as early as September 2018, Mnangagwa started showing his desire to remain in office. To maintain his grip on power, Mnangagwa has been replacing top military officials loyal to Chiwenga with clansmen and people from home area.

Who wants change?

Political analyst Saungweme says widespread poverty and poor salaries have affected everyone, including those in the military and state institutions.

“A constituency in Chikurubi voted for [Chamisa’s] Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC). This showed that people want change. Even those in ZANU-PF want change. They want young people to take over,” he says.

Many of the voters in Chikurubi constituency work for the police, prison services and the military. Masungure argues the military and political divide has not reached pre-coup levels. “The political and the military are still tangoing together and will do so up to the elections,” he argues.

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