President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s condemnation of the recent killing of protesters by the army and the disruption of a press conference at a Harare hotel a few days later has created a lot of confusion, which has left Zimbabweans wondering who really is calling the shots in government.
On Wednesday last week, the military was deployed into central Harare after protesters ran amok, destroying property and setting vehicles alight.
The soldiers fired live ammunition on protesters, resulting in deaths and injuries of civilians.
On Friday last week, police drove hordes of journalists from the venue of a press conference where MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa was scheduled to address the media. It took the intervention of acting minister of Information Simon Khaya Moyo for the police to disperse and allow the media briefing to proceed.
In both incidents, Mnangagwa appeared to have been in the dark, leading many to speculate the existence of a powerful force that could be giving orders without first seeking his approval.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure described Mnangagwa’s situation as desperate, saying he was caught in between accommodating those who helped him ascend to the presidency in November last year and appeasing the international community.
Mnangagwa, aged 75, was catapulted to the top office by the military, which dethroned former president Robert Mugabe.
“The man (Mnangagwa) is enduring pressure from various constituencies so it may not necessarily be a case of him being captured by the military but just managing them and trying to convince them that there is wisdom in reforming while at the same time he wants to be seen to be walking the talk by the western community whose support he is desperately in need of,” said Masunungure.
“What I see is a co-dependence between the military and Mnangagwa where the army element in Zanu PF needs the president for the political projects they would want to undertake while he in turn needs them for situations that require repression as happened last week.”
Maxwell Saungweme, a political analyst, described the developments as an implosion within Zanu PF and government, which is evidently a clash between hardliners who want to use military approaches to deal with election fallout and those preferring diplomacy and civil approaches.
“That dichotomy has been there since the day a cabinet with generals was formed. The generals in that cabinet do not really understand the workings of statecraft and all they know are hard iron and blood responses.
“That also explains why Zanu PF (spokesperson) Simon Khaya Moyo – a career diplomat – had (to) put his head on the firing line, directly ordering the police to desist from barring Chamisa’s presser,” said Saungweme.
Saungweme said there was growing evidence of lack of cohesiveness in government, with fissures emerging between militaristic hardliners and diplomatic politicians.
Vivid Gwede, another analyst, said Zimbabweans increasingly believe that Mnangagwa could be a lame duck president.
He said after toppling Mugabe about nine months ago, the military kingmakers now believe they have a stake in the new administration hence their overarching influence.
Media analyst Rashweat Mukundu opined that Zimbabwe was in a far deeper security crisis that is yet to be fully comprehended as no professional army behaves in the manner witnessed last week.
“While it may be a show of strength, it equally tells us how jittery (they are). The coup needs curing through a broad-based national political discourse,” he said.
Controversial playwright Cont Mhlanga believes Mnangagwa was firmly in control and that the confusion was part of his strategy whereby the president-elect will appear to be a “Mr Nice Guy”, with the hardliners doing the dirty work.
“These guys are just trying to build an academic scenario because remember we have one of the most intelligent armies that has generals with deep pockets and well educated,” said Mhlanga.