VICE-PRESIDENT Constantino Chiwenga has moved to de-escalate tension by appearing to support President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s 2023 re-election bid, as well as a potential stay in power beyond the constitutional 10 years, a familiar script in Zanu PF.
On the ground, however, Chiwenga’s allies are engaged in a war of attrition with Mnangagwa’s backers as seen by the chaos and violence during the party’s ongoing restructuring exercise and unrest among war veterans.
Officials in Zanu PF say Chiwenga is actually contemplating challenging Mnangagwa who has betrayed him by seeking re-election although the two had agreed that the President would complete a single term before handing over the reins to his deputy.
The deal was part of the 2017 coup agreement, which saw the military then under Chiwenga’s command, topple Mugabe before handing over power to Mnangagwa.
In a move that could have far-reaching political consequences for the ruling Zanu PF and the nation, Chiwenga is considering challenging Mnangagwa in the party’s elective congress next year, as the two powerful gladiators head for battle royale, amid a dramatic realignment of forces.
This comes as Chiwenga moved last week to strategically de-escalate dramatically rising political temperatures between him and Mnangagwa, saying his rival will be the uncontested Zanu PF candidate in the 2023 elections.
He repeated his de-escalation move at a rally in Matabeleland South last week.
“You heard the national chair saying last month we held our National People’s Conference in Bindura . . . All provinces in Zimbabwe, including you here, said you want a good leader; a leader who has improved Zimbabwe. You all said you want Mnangagwa. He will be our candidate in 2023,” he said.
“He will be our candidate in 2023, so that what he has planned to mature in 2030, comes to fruition. Our enemies are desperate and saying useless things. We are behind President Mnangagwa in 2023.
“He is our candidate. If Zanu PF rules until donkeys grow horns, we can even change the constitution and say we want him as life president.”
Chiwenga’s de-escalation drive came as his top business executive and ally Caleb Dengu, who has said Mnangagwa is illegitimate and must not run in 2023, a fortnight ago slipped out of the country to catch a breath of fresh air in the Netherlands as the President’s hounds turned the heat on him, threatening him with a fierce backlash and financial ruin.
Mnangagwa’s legitimacy as Zanu PF leader is being challenged in the courts by party member Sybeth Musengezi. Although Musengezi says he is acting alone, his move is overwhelmingly supported by the Chiwenga faction.
An official in the Zanu PF top 10 told The NewsHawks last week: “Let the courts deal with the matter; it’s important for us to follow the constitution and internal processes.”
The defeated yet still alive Zanu PF faction — G40 — is also supporting the move. This has created a convergence of forces between the Chiwenga camp and the dormant but resurrecting G40 group.
Manoeuvres are underway by Chiwenga and G40 strategists to realign forces within Zanu PF and challenge Mnangagwa head-on next year.
Inside sources said after Mnangagwa reneged on the deal with Chiwenga prior to the November 2017 military coup that ousted the late former president Robert Mugabe to serve only one term and allow his deputy to come in 2023, gloves are now off within the ruling party over unresolved leadership issues.
“The fallout within the party leadership is serious. We are heading for battle royale between Mnangagwa and Chiwenga next year,” a source told The NewsHawks last week.
“That is how politics within Zanu PF and state institutions is currently shaping up. The unresolved leadership question can no longer be managed and swept under the carpet; it has got to be settled politically, and that means through congress next year. There is no question of another military coup; well, perhaps a palace coup might happen, but not a putsch.”