A potential conflict and possibly a constitutional crisis might emerge if President Emmerson Mnangagwa does not deal with overlapping responsibilities between him and his equally powerful deputy, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, analysts warned this week.
This followed last week’s haste decision by the former commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF), who led a military campaign that dethroned former president Robert Mugabe, to dismiss an estimated 15 000 nurses for taking part in an industrial action.
Chiwenga said he was doing so in his capacity as head of the social services cluster, even though the nurses are employed by the Health Services Board (HSB), which works in concert with the minister of Health and Child Care.
His boss, Mnangagwa, has earmarked the health and education sectors as key social improvement targets for his administration along with the business and investment environments.
Last week, Mnangagwa subtly reversed the retired general’s decision, encouraging all the supposedly fired nurses to reapply, but analysts said that does not explain why the new vice president believed he could act in such a way in the first place.
“Perhaps more to the point: did he have the go-ahead from … Mnangagwa to do so?” NKC African Economics analyst, Gary van Staden, asked rhetorically yesterday.
Not so long ago, the vice president was linked to another controversial decision when the whole top brass of the Zimbabwe Republic Police was fired while Mnangagwa was on an official visit to Zambia, only for the president to veto the dismissals on his return.
Analysts that spoke to the Daily News yesterday said the partitioning of roles between Mnangagwa and Chiwenga — who also happens to be the Defence minister — was a recipe for disaster as it creates competing powers while engendering rifts between them.
People’s Democratic Party spokesperson Jacob Mafume said if left to persist, this could create a constitutional crisis.
“The experiment is not going to work in the current format. One of them has to agree he is ceremonial for it to work. In this case, maybe the croc (Mnangagwa) was put in for window dressing and is yet to come to terms with it,” said Mafume.
Political analyst Vivid Gwede said the new dispensation seems to have two bulls in the same kraal, adding there “appears to be a tug-of-war of influence peddling and competing centres of power, hence the confusion”.
According to Gwede, this is traceable to the way the new government came into power in November last year when the then ZDF commander led a soft military coup that forced Mugabe to resign after 37 years of autocratic rule to pave way for a Mnangagwa presidency.
“But there is also the glaring tragedy of military-framed politics, where command disturbs and overrules consensus and consultation,” said Gwede. “But there is nothing new here, those who constitute the new dispensation have not been known for the politics of persuasion and that trend of coercive decision-making might become the default mind-set of government if not challenged and changed soon enough”.
Social commentator Cont Mhlanga said Chiwenga’s statement has the effect of portraying him as a default dictator president of Zimbabwe given the background of how the new dispensation came about, where the army — under his command — openly supported Mnangagwa’s ascendancy to the post.
“We may be witnessing a confusion of the centre of power of the new political dispensation between government, the party and the military. A whole vice president who is minister of Defence for that matter making such pronouncements ahead of the HSB, the minister of Health or even the president informs the nation that we are not in a normal political dispensation,” said Mhlanga.
“No one can be certain about where the centre of power is with this new political dispensation….Such blunders must be minimised or better still avoided. The country does not need them.”
Crisis Coalition spokesperson Thabani Moyo warned Mnangagwa to be mindful of the fact that his ability to defend the Constitution could become compromised by those with soldierly backgrounds who may exert themselves on civilian issues using military approaches.
Said Moyo: “This is an anathema to democratic existence: By allowing the general (Chiwenga) to go on this tangent, the president has allowed for the wanton violation of the Constitution. He did the same when he fired the whole top brass of the police and now repeating the use of force rather than undertaking constitutional approaches towards addressing national issues.”
Political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said even though Chiwenga had used his powers as the one in-charge of social service, he did not follow the country’s labour laws.
“The key factor is, however, whether the labour law and public service employment statutes were followed. If not then the ED (Mnangagwa) government may be tripping itself on its call that it abides by national laws. The firing may be an indication that the militaristic approach of November 2017 is still determining government policy.
“The VP must not appear on national media firing public service staff but rather the requisite authorities following the laws of the land. The Zimbabwe open for business mantra is undermined by such actions which demonstrate that this government will act arbitrarily when it feels threatened,” Mukundu said.
Political analyst Macdonald Lewanika said the dismissal of striking nurses besides the clear and present danger it poses to the health of millions, and infractions on the rights of the nurses not just to strike but also to fair remuneration for work tendered, was patently sexist, classist, dictatorial, patronising retrogressive and a poor attempt at dividing health workers in the country.
“It is sexist as it is a decision that affects women who are the majority of nurses in the country and is a study in contrast to the governments treatment of junior doctors just last month, who figures suggest are mostly male. It is classist and an attack on the working classes as it ill-treats and renders redundant thousands of hardworking nurses who are already hamstrung by poor remuneration and working conditions,” said Lewanika.
“It is dictatorial in that where negotiations could have yielded fruit, where the government could have been empathetic it chose the heavy hand of firing nurses with legitimate concerns.
“It is patronising as it assumes that the issues raised by striking nurses can be wished away yet even those who come to replace them will have the same concerns as soon as they assume post.
“It is a clear abuse of power by a vice president who has assumed powers he ordinarily doesn’t have and based on a whim and insensitive judgement has placed the health system in jeopardy through impacting quality and availability of nursing services in the health systems continuum of care.
“But that is to be expected from people who rule without a mandate from the people and who were not selected for their leadership by the people,” said Lewanika
Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, said the retired general must learn that he is no longer in the army.
“Nurses are not easily replaced. He has endangered the nation’s health because of a lack of skill and patience,” Chan told the Daily News.
“Although the Foreign minister was received open-mindedly in London at the time of the Commonwealth summit, questions were indeed privately raised by several presidents as to whether the general knows how to do his job as a civilian leader.
“Civilian life requires negotiation, especially with the most valuable members of the work force.”
Political analyst and civil rights campaigner Gladys Hlatywayo told the Daily News that militarisation was a real threat to democracy in Zimbabwe.
“The move by the vice president to fire striking nurses is regrettable and a clear indication that those with military background must stay in barracks and not be involved in civilian affairs. The military is run by commands and clearly the Vice President is still in that modus operandi,” she said.
“It would have been desirable for him to re-orient himself with civilian affairs through resigning from the military and having a cooling off period before getting into active politics. In my opinion, the appointment of Chiwenga in the Executive was a mistake, one that will cost the country dearly.”
She said nurses have a constitutional right to air their concerns through strikes and demonstrations among other strategies and therefore the government must seek to engage them with a view to reach an agreement.
“It obviously raises questions on whether this is a new dispensation or it is simply authoritarian consolidation,” Hlatywayo said.
Piers Pigou, senior consultant at the International Crisis Group, said in a context of deep frustration and limited options, it is important that cool heads prevail.
“An array of concerns must be acknowledged. An essential front line service, nurses are struggling on meagre salaries in a context of rising prices and diminishing purchasing power. Yet, the government is under intense pressure to curb rising expenditure in civil service wages as a core indicator of its commitment to address its budget deficit.
“Options are limited and there are understandable concerns that further industrial action by other sectors of the civil service will also be met with a clenched fist,” Pigou told the Daily News.