It was a simple remark. But it was loaded with meaning. Holding the hand of his remaining top lieutenant Joseph Msika, President Robert Mugabe told mourners at former vice-President Simon Muzenda’s funeral wake that he had lost his right hand man.
Muzenda was Mugabe’s right hand man in more than one way. He was a power-broker, quelling in-fighting within the party and had the respect of most provincial leaders including war veterans. But more importantly he kept those with presidential ambitions in check, especially the Karanga, who had started complaining, after the first decade, that it was their turn to take over because they were demographically the majority.
Though no one can rob him of his immense contribution to the liberation of the country, his business and farming acumen and his generosity to the poor, Muzenda was considered a stumbling block to the aspirations of the Karanga to rule. Though he came from Gutu, he represented the Midlands capital of Gweru for the first decade, the decade of turmoil when the government unleashed members of Five Brigade to clean the area of “dissidents”.
Muzenda was the party supremo in the province keeping Richard Hove and powerful Emmerson Mnangagwa, once Mugabe’s special assistant, in check. Muzenda was so powerful that when he left the province, no one was able to fill the void. Even today, neither of the two powerful leaders can claim to be the party boss in the province, though Mnangagwa’s chances are better than those of Hove largely because of Hove’s personality which has tended to alienate him from the ordinary people.
As Mugabe’s hatchet man, Muzenda was deployed to Masvingo when provincial boss Eddison Zvobgo and his prot‚g‚ Dzikamai Mavhaire had taken over the province and were threatening the party as a whole as two distinct factions had emerged with the Zvobgo faction dictating the pace.
The Zvobgo faction had become so popular that they were threatening to unseat some of Muzenda and Mugabe’s favoured lieutenants. Zvobgo’s popularity, which was spreading outside the province as he was considered one of the few ZANU-PF leaders who was “fairly straight”, did not go well with the party because he was known to have presidential ambitions.
And because of the growing sentiment for a change of leadership, he could easily have caused a split within the party. Muzenda was Mugabe’s answer and he panel beated Zvobgo down to size, propping his lieutenants such as Shuvai Mahofa, provincial governor Josiah Hungwe, Tsungirirai Hungwe, and Foreign Affairs Minister Stan Mudenge.
Muzenda’s death has left a void not only in the national leadership, but at provincial level as well. Who is going to take over leadership of Masvingo province? Josiah Hungwe is a political lightweight without the backing of Muzenda. Mudenge too does not have a political base, though according to Africa Confidential, “Muzenda was determined to thwart Eddison Zvobgo’s presidential ambitions”…and was “determined to ensure that Mudenge takes his place when he retires….”.
Zvobgo is too powerful for Mugabe’s comfort, but he remains the legitimate successor to Muzenda. Though some media have been touting defence forces chief Vitalis Zvinavashe as Muzenda’s logical successor, he does not have much political clout in the province. He does not beat Josiah Tungamirai, for example. Tungamirai has all the qualifications that Zvinavashe has and more. He is better educated. He has both army and air force credentials.
But the leadership of Masvingo province will play second fiddle to Muzenda’s vice-president’s post because people believe that whoever takes Muzenda’s place will be Mugabe’s preferred successor. Historical analysis shows that only Mnangagwa can take over if Mugabe is to maintain his tribal balancing which has served him so well over the past two decades.
Though John Nkomo is more popular than Mnangagwa, according to the latest poll by the Mass Public Opinion Institute and the fact that he beat Mnangagwa to the chairman’s post, he is Ndebele and the Ndebele, or to be more precise, ZAPU, is represented by Joseph Msika.
Zvobgo could bounce back but he has been causing too many problems for Mugabe. He has been behaving like a member of the opposition lately. And it looks he is the Levt Mwanawasa type, a leader that is not likely to guarantee Mugabe immunity should he be elected leader.
Mnangagwa has always been Mugabe’s preferred choice and nature has provided him with a golden opportunity to prop him up without raising suspicions.
As The Insider has pointed out before despite his record during the dissident war, Mnangagwa remains a favourite with the West. Former Zimbabwean journalist, Trevor Grundy, writing in the Scotsman, said Mnangagwa was “now seen as an acceptable replacement for the widely discredited Mugabe by the US and Britain.”
Grundy said Mnangagwa was also favoured by South African President Thabo Mbeki as the man who can bring Zimbabwe back into the Commonwealth fold. “Public relations people in Harare, Johannesburg and London will soon start ‘selling’ Mnangagwa to the rest of the world,” a Commonwealth source in London is reported to have told Grundy.
But it will be some time before people know Mugabe or Muzenda’s successor. Mugabe usually takes his time to make such decisions.