Robert Mugabe demotes key contender for party leadership

Zimbabwe’s president promotes members associated with faction loyal to his wife

Emmerson Mnangagwa was  stripped of his  influential post in an overnight cabinet reshuffle. Photograph:  AFP/Getty Images

Emmerson Mnangagwa was stripped of his influential post in an overnight cabinet reshuffle. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

 

Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe has demoted one of the main contenders to succeed him as leader of the country’s ruling party, stripping him of an influential post in an overnight cabinet reshuffle.

Vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa was replaced as minister for justice in a shake-up that promoted a number of Zanu-PF party members associated with a faction loyal to Mr Mugabe’s wife, Grace.

The cabinet reshuffle on Monday evening was seen by many observers as the president’s way of clipping the wings of the ambitious Mr Mnangagwa (75), who has been widely tipped to succeed the 93-year-old Mr Mugabe as leader of Zanu-PF.

Mr Mnangagwa was replaced as justice minister by Happyton Bonyongwe, a retired army major general who was the director general of the country’s spy agency, the Central Intelligence Service.

However, he retained his position as one of Zimbabwe’s two vice-presidents, most probably because he has played a significant role in helping Mr Mugabe retain power in previous elections.

Mr Mugabe will contest a presidential election next year as leader of Zanu-PF in a bid to extend his role in a position he has held since 1980.

Social media threat

In all, eight cabinet ministers were moved from one post to another and a further two were removed. Mr Mnangagwa’s ally, Patrick Chinamasa, was demoted from his finance minister post to head the new Ministry of Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation.

He is reportedly being tasked with bringing under control the threat that social media poses to the ruling party. Rights activists in Zimbabwe are increasingly taking to social media platforms to organise protests against government.

The changes in cabinet will likely increase tensions between the two main factions vying to take over control of Zanu-PF, as the reshuffle clearly favours the group fronted by Grace Mugabe over Mr Mnangagwa’s supporters.

Mr Mnangagwa has been openly criticised in recent weeks by Ms Mugabe, who has accused him of trying to sow divisions in Zanu-PF along tribal lines.

Hostilities between Mr Mnangagwa’s and Ms Mugabe’s supporters have intensified against a backdrop of allegations that an attempt was made on the vice president’s life when he attended a Zanu-PF party rally in mid-August.

Poison-laced ice cream

Mr Mnangagwa’s supporters allege he was struck down by poison-laced ice cream produced on a farm owned by Ms Mugabe, a claim she has strenuously denied.

He was flown to South Africa for medical treatment following the incident, and he has said publicly that doctors there told him he had been poisoned. However, Mr Mnangagwa has denied pointing the finger of blame at Ms Mugabe.

Nevertheless, Ms Mugabe has kept up her attacks on the vice-president. On Sunday she warned of a possible coup plot against her husband at a rally in Harare. “We are being threatened night and day that if a particular person does not become president we will be killed. We will not bow to that pressure. They say there will be a coup, but no one will recognise you,” she reportedly said.