Mugabe’s reported comeback a spoiler for Mnangagwa

State media in Zimbabwe are reporting that former president Robert Mugabe is backing the National Patriotic Front (NPF), a breakaway party from the ruling ZANU-PF, in a bid to make a political comeback.

Reports that Mugabe is plotting a political comeback have clearly rattled his successor President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Returning to the political fray would be a very risky move by the 94-year-old ex-leader, jeopardising his generous golden handshake at the very least.

But some analysts believe such a bold political gambit by Mugabe could be a spoiler, contributing to a shock defeat for Mnangagwa in the general elections expected in July, even if Mugabe has no chance of returning to power himself.

Retired army brigadier and ZANU-PF MP Ambrose Mutinhiri, a veteran of the liberation struggle of the 1970s, resigned from the party and from Parliament a week ago, as a protest against the military coup which had ousted Mugabe in November.

On Sunday Mutunhiri met Mugabe at his Harare home and then on Monday announced the launch of the NPF.

The NPF is seen as a political vehicle for the so-called G40 faction of ZANU-PF, which included Mugabe’s wife Grace and is bitterly opposed to Mnangagwa, who routed its members in and after the coup.

The NPF has suggested that it has Mugabe’s backing, though he himself has not confirmed this. Addressing a ZANU-PF Youth meeting on Wednesday, Mnangagwa said he was “unhappy” with the reports that Mugabe was backing the NPF but had not yet confirmed them.

Analysts are not sure if Mugabe would be so bold as to take on Mnangagwa directly or if he would make any political impact if he did so. He has a lot to lose.

After he was pressured to step down by the military after firing Mnangagwa as deputy president, Mugabe was reportedly offered a very generous severance package including a $10-million pension and many perks such as full security for himself and his family and many free flights on the national carrier.

Tony Reeler, a senior researcher at Harare’s Research and Advocacy Unit, says the extent of Mugabe’s involvement in the NPF is not yet clear, but it was evident by his recent statement to visiting African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki that he had not accepted his displacement.

“His statement that it was a coup is an indication that he has not given up the fight.”

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