President Emmerson Mnangagwa has moved to cut off Vice President Constantino Chiwenga from the military by withdrawing his oversight role of the Ministry of Defence and War Veterans.
In a stunning political blow to Chiwenga, Mnangagwa reassigned the former Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander to exercise oversight in “procurement and research” instead.
The changes were published in the Government Gazette on Friday in Statutory Instrument 214 of 2018.
Chiwenga led a military coup that ousted former President Robert Mugabe in November last year, installing Mnangagwa in his place.
He assumed the Vice Presidency when Mnangagwa formed a new government, and the new leader had allowed him to maintain military oversight. But after 2018 elections, when he formed his Cabinet, Mnangagwa removed him from Defence Ministry in a bid to weaken his grip on the military.
The blow is just the latest political setback suffered by Chiwenga, who has ambitions to be President, some say as early as the next election in 2023. Mnangagwa has systematically appointed tribal and political loyalists to government positions, including the Cabinet and key government institutions.
Earlier this week, the Zanu PF Youth League appeared to shut the door on Chiwenga succeeding Mnangagwa after just one term by chanting the slogan “2023 ED Pfee”. Mnangagwa told the youths during their annual national assembly that he liked the slogan.
Political analyst Alex Magaisa said the withdrawal of Chiwenga’s oversight role was “the latest move to completely remove the principal author of the coup from any official role over the military.”
Such was Chiwenga’s residual influence over the military that he was still using the office he occupied as commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces at Defence House, a stone’s throw from Mnangagwa’s Munhumutapa offices where Chiwenga initially refused to move after ordering renovations.
Supporters of the two men have squared off on the internet, and the party’s annual conference in December could prove to be a barometer of the widening schism.