Mugabe's reshuffle: the crocodile is running out of water
As expected, President Mugabe’s cabinet reshuffle had little to do with performance but everything to do with succession and preparations for the ZANU PF Conference in December. The obvious target of the reshuffle was Vice President Mnangagwa and his faction, Lacoste. But as predicted in the last article, Mugabe was never going to fire Mnangagwa in this reshuffle – not directly anyway. The aim was to isolate him by whittling down his powers, sacking or demoting his allies and leaving him exposed.
First, as predicted, Mnangagwa lost the powerful Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, which not only ensured that he was the Leader of Government Business in Parliament but gave him political authority in the administration of justice. When he retained the portfolio after he was appointed VP in 2014, it was seen as a good sign of the favour that he enjoyed from Mugabe. Now that it’s gone, it’s only logical that it’s seen as sign that he has fallen out of favour.
Compared to his co-Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko who retains his peace and reconciliation portfolio, Mnangagwa is now quite literally a Vice President without portfolio. A quick glance at history of reshuffles shows that when Mugabe takes away a substantive ministry and gives you a role without portfolio, he is basically punishing and demoting you. Edison Zvobgo, the fiery and ambitious Masvingo supremo who also dreamt of succeeding Mugabe suffered the same fate that has now befallen Mnangagwa. It is hard to swallow but it is a demotion.
One consequence is that without the justice ministry, Mnangawa loses his role as Leader of Government Business in Parliament. It was a role that placed him at the centre of government, giving the appearance that he was more powerful compared to his counterpart Mphoko. He will also lose influence in the appointment of the next Deputy Chief Justice, after working tirelessly to change the Constitution to give Mugabe unilateral powers of appointment. Here too he shares another parallel with Zvobgo who in 1987 masterminded Constitutional Amendment No. 7 to give Mugabe extra executive powers believing that he would benefit from them in future. Zvobgo died in 2004 a long distance away from the Presidency. Here, too Mnangagwa has been left clutching thin air.
There are other significant losses that Mnangagwa has suffered, through the decimation of his allies.
A reckless tongue
In Mashonaland West, he has lost Faber Chidarikire, who was the Minister in charge of province. Mashonaland West. Chidarikire made a schoolboy error soon after Mnangagwa was appointed Vice President in 2014, when in a moment over-excitement and in his bid to endear himself to the man who would be king, he publicly introduced Mnangagwa’s wife, Auxillia as the “acting First Lady”. At that time, Mugabe and his wife Grace were away on their Christmas vacation. Grace Mugabe would not have forgotten that moment of indiscretion. He has paid dearly for his alleged inclination towards Mnangagwa.
From guarding the national purse to guarding the internet
Apart from Mnangagwa himself, the biggest casualty is Patrick Chinamasa, the former Minister of Finance who has been relegated to a new security guard-type role as Minister of Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation. There are no words that can accurately capture the mightiness of this fall. Here’s a man who held the keys to the national purse who has now been reduced to a superintendent of the internet. His new portfolio is essentially a department in at least three different ministries: State security, Home Affairs and ICT. Chinamasa’s new role is by function at the level of director in a substantive Ministry. In fact, Supa Mandiwanzira at ICT was already spearheading a bill to monitor cyberspace. This appointment is tantamount to constructive dismissal. At best he has been demoted.
But more ominously creating a standalone Ministry to monitor cyberspace also shows Mugabe's penchant for expanding instruments of coercion as opposed to protection of fundamental freedoms. Chinamasa's new role should send alarm bells ringing in both civil society and the opposition. The hand of state repression is only getting stronger and Chinamasa will try to justify the relevance of his new role.
However, Chinamasa may be relieved to escape the misery he has endured at the finance ministry where clearly, he had an impossible job. Although he has tried in recent years to keep his head under the parapet to avoid being soiled by the factional wars, Chinamasa has been linked to Mnangagwa's Lacoste faction. His public spate with Professor Jonathan Moyo, a lynchpin of the G40 faction, would not have helped his cause. Moyo has been jealously guarded by Grace Mugabe. It may be that Mugabe has sacked him for alleged incompetence, but if it is for alleged Mnangagwa links, it won’t be the first time that he has suffered on that account. Back in 2004, he had to plead for forgiveness after being implicated in the Tsholotsho Plot, which was ostensibly intended to push for Mnangagwa’s candidacy as the VP to succeed the late VP Muzenda.
It is hard, however, to understand the logic of appointing Dr Ignatius Chombo as his replacement at the finance ministry. He has no known experience in economic or financial matters. Before he became a politician and government Minister in the 1990s, Chombo was a lecturer in the Department of Education at the University of Zimbabwe. Besides, he comes with a huge baggage of corruption allegations, especially in his old portfolio as Local Government Minister for many years. Finance is at the deep end of the pool and while it will certainly expand his rent-seeking opportunities, there is not much hope for the average Zimbabwean in his appointment. It is hard to see how he will perform any better than the hapless Chinamasa who failed not because of any inherent weakness on his part, but because the entire government is hopelessly incapable of reviving the country’s economy.
Another casualty is Retired Colonel Tshinga Dube, the former War Veterans’ Minister. Lady Fortuna has been unkind to him. His career as a Minister has been very short-lived. It’s not long ago that he came to office, replacing another Mnangagwa loyalist, Chris Mutsvangwa. Dube did not manage to bring back the war veterans into the fold or to solve the problems in that sector where Mutsvangwa and his team refuse to be tamed by Mugabe. Not long ago, Dube had to pull back after bravely calling on Mugabe to name a successor. Mugabe rebuked him for that and it is no surprise that he has been sacked. Dube’s departure is another blow to Mnangagwa.
Also waking up without a job today was Prisca Mupfumira who was the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare is an important promotion. It’s a double blow for Mnangagwa because an ally has been replaced by a nephew of Mugabe and a key member of the G40 faction, Patrick Zhuwao. If ever there was a clear sign of where the favours tilted, it is this replacement of a supposed Lacoste loyalist by a key G40 member. Labour is a strategic ministry not just because it is a big employer but because it has important national assets which bring a lot of financial resources and therefore power to those who control it. One of such assets is NSSA, the social security company which presents countless rent-seeking opportunities. Lacoste would have been happy to have it under its control. But now G40 has it – an enormous transfer of opportunities, fortunes and power. It’s a huge promotion for Zhuwao. It’s the biggest job that he has ever held in government and he will, no doubt, enjoy the power and control that comes with it. For G40, it represents a huge boost.
Zhuwao's G40 ally, Saviour Kasukuwere has also been rewarded with an expanded Ministry. His portfolio now covers rural development. This is a bog blow to Lacoste which not so long ago was on the verge of evicting Kasukuwere from his role as ZANU PF's political commissar. He was saved by the Mugabes. And now he has shown even more confidence by expanding his ministry. Their chief ally, Moyo who has been having running battles with Mnangagwa remains firmly in his role, unaffected by the changes. All this must hurt Lacoste badly, seeing that their rivals are getting reward or protection while their faction is being decimated.
No more flying games
Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, who as Foreign Affairs Minister was the country’s chief diplomat has also been demoted to a backwater portfolio, the Ministry of Macro-Economic Planning and Investment Promotion, which is essentially a department in the Finance Ministry. A native of the Masvingo, Mumbengegwi appears to have also suffered for alleged Lacoste links. Replacing him is Walter Mzembi, who although not identified as G40, is one of Mugabe’s blue-eyed boys. Mugabe has praised him as an able Minister and he obviously has a liking for him. He represented the country fairly well at the Tourism portfolio and he has been duly rewarded. Mugabe will have a staunch loyalist in Masvingo, to neutralise the threats he faces in a province that has caused him trouble.
Another Minister who has been reduced to the level of a director is Chris Mushowe who drops from the Information and Publicity role to take charge of national scholarships in the President’s office. To understand the scale of the demotion it is important to understand that this is a role that he has been playing while he was Information and Publicity Minister. It was essentially a side job. Now he has been asked to work full-time on the side job, an entire Ministry snatched from him. Under Mushowe’s watch, public media went on a rampage against G40 members. The attacks stopped not because of Mushowe but after the intervention of Grace Mugabe who publicly chastised George Charamba, the Permanent Secretary in that ministry. Mushowe has paid for that, now reduced to superintending national scholarships. But even though he's now effectively a boarding master, he will be grateful to be still on the gravy train.
Rehabilitation of offenders
Ever the schemer, Mugabe has resurrected the careers of three politicians who appeared to have fallen out of favour in the last reshuffle. The biggest winner in this is Webster Shamhu who was sacked in 2015 following implication in the plot to hoist former VP Joice Mujuru as a successor to Mugabe. Shamhu, a serial praise singer who wants described Mugabe as “Cremora” to suggest that he was a supreme figure, is now the Minister in Charge of Mashonaland West, his home province.
After his predicament two years ago, Shamhu did what all submissive politicians do: he took his punishment quietly and chose to repent. He refused any association with the Mujuru team even though he had been fired for alleged collusion with her cause. He dutifully attended party events and humbled himself even as he was humiliated in public. Now he has been rewarded, itself a sign by Mugabe to all other rebels that if they repent, the gates of political heaven will be opened for them. Now that he is back on the gravy train, Shamhu can be expected to turn up the volume in support of his benefactor. He will not disappoint. What most don’t realise is that he is the proverbial cat with nine lives because 2015 was not the first time he lost his place on the gravy train. In a previous life as Charles Ndlovu he was fired before he returned. Now he has resurrected once more, which is quite a distinction.
Another who has been rehabilitated is Dr Paul Chimedza, the former chairman of Zimpapers who was elected as an MP in the 2013 elections before he was appointed Deputy Minister of Health. He was sacked in 2015, against implicated in the Mujuru plot. He is back in as Minister in charge of Masvingo, a position vacated by Shuvai Mahofa who died in August. It goes without mention that Mahofa was a Mnangagwa loyalist. Mugabe has replaced a Mnangagwa loyalist with someone who bears a grievance at the way he was treated in 2015. He will be most grateful and loyal to Mugabe for the rescue.
The third is Simon Khaya Moyo, who has been appointed to the Ministry of Information and Publicity. This appointment strategically places the ZANU PF spokesperson in the propaganda ministry but in the factional dynamics it also means another senior politician who once suffered a setback for his alleged alliance with Mujuru has now been elevated. Before this he was in a backwater ministry. Khaya Moyo’s political fortunes suffered badly in the last 4 years after a promising start in 2013 when he was appointed Senior Minister, which many thought was political apprenticeship for elevation to the Vice Presidency before Phelekezela Mphoko emerged from the shadows to take the role. His alleged association with Mujuru’s bid to succeed Mugabe brought him ill-fortune but he survived by the skin of his teeth. Now, though he seems to have recovered and like others similarly place, he has every incentive to put in an extra shift for the godfather.
The common thread between these politicians is that they were all implicated in the Mujuru saga in 2014 and suffered for it in different ways. They all lay low after taking punishment and they have now been rehabilitated. In elevating them, Mugabe is killing many birds with one stone. He is telling all rebels or those in the cold that there is always room for a comeback if they behave. He is also neutralising the Mnangagwa faction by bringing in previously disgruntled figures whom he knows will never try to rebel again. Third, he is also extending a hand to all those in political Siberia to come back home in time for the 2018 elections. Finally, he also knows they need no extra motivation to fight for him in the next election. Chimedza will be his commissar in Masvingo, while Shamhu will play the same role in Mashonaland West and Khaya Moyo will sing loudly for his supper in the propaganda ministry.
The obedient son
Obert Mpofu takes over from Chombo at Home Affairs. He is a safe pair of hands for Mugabe. He holds the distinction of having been the whistle-blower in the Willowgate Scandal, the huge car vehicle scam which involved senior ministers, government officials and their associates. Mpofu assumed notoriety after the discovery of the Marange diamonds in 2007 when he was the Minister of Mines. Accused of massive corruption, he is said to have amassed huge amounts of wealth. Said to have signed off memos to Mugabe as “Your obedient son”, Mpofu is very loyal to Mugabe. Once cruelly mocked by Jonathan Moyo as having the body of an elephant and the mind of a rat, Mpofu has had a bad relationship with G40 and in particular, with Moyo and Kasukuwere. He was prominent in the effort to sack Kasukuwere. But he bears the profile of one who goes with the wind and now that G40 seems to be in the ascendancy, he will probably take a safety-first approach and go with what he believes his political godfather prefers. Mugabe is basically taking away one of Mnangagwa’s allies and in exchange, Mpofu will simply do his master’s bidding. Politics is intensely selfish business and he will abandon his dalliance with Lacoste very quickly.
Spying to justice
The appointment of Retired Major General Happyton Bonyongwe to the Ministry of Justice represents the early beginnings of reconfiguration of the security sector. Hitherto, Bonyongwe has been head of the national spy agency, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). Back in 2014, unsubstantiated rumours placed him as sympathetic towards the Mujuru faction although he was unaffected by the changes that took place at the time. His appointment is important because the justice portfolio is significant, especially since he is taking it from Mnangagwa. This will effectively make him the new Leader of Government Business in Parliament. A former soldier and spy chief in charge of justice seems ominous not just for Mugabe’s internal rivals but also for the broader opposition movement. It is the political authority in charge of elections and will therefore have a huge influence upon ZEC. It represents yet another influential hand of the security structure in elections.
However, contrary to some reports, Bonyongwe is a lawyer. He graduated from the University of Zimbabwe in the early 1990s and was awarded a prize as co-best student in his stream. He is an able legal mind and the hope will be that he will put it to good and productive use during his tenure. And who knows, he could be a dark horse in the succession race and his transfer to the political arena should be carefully watched. Of the current generals, he is the one who boasted a more superior intellect although he was less known and more discreet by virtue of his role in the spy agency.
The reshuffle was only ever going to be about succession. The principal target was Mnangagwa and the appointments, demotions and removals have been designed with this in mind. It’s a clear demolition job. Those who remain are essentially working on notice. The next big event now is the ZANU PF Conference in December. Mugabe could use that conference to complete the job, hiding behind party organs and processes to do it for him. For Mnangagwa and Lacoste, the writing is clearly on the wall. They will probably take it on the chin and hope to fight another day. But it’s slipping away and as indicated in the last BSR, they are so far behind on points that they now desperately need a knockout. The crocodile is running out of water. But it is a resilient species. It has survived where dinosaurs are long extinct. Maybe, and only just maybe, a small window still remains … maybe Lady Fortuna is still to come bearing gifts.