All eyes on VP Mnangagwa as vultures circle above Zimbabwe’s political “crocodile”
APA-Harare (Zimbabwe) - The political star of Zimbabwe’s feared Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa appears to be losing its shine amid uncharacteristic criticism and outright derision by his opponents who are seeking to oust him from the governing ZANU PF party.
The under-fire vice president, for long seen as President Robert Mugabe’s heir apparent, does not appear to be invincible or to be an enigma any more.
What started as cheap shots by junior party officials in February 2016 when he was told in his face that he was a “lame duck” during a rally in the capital Harare, the anti-Mnangagwa juggernaut is gathering pace and seems unstoppable.
It was previously unthinkable for anyone within ZANU PF to openly challenge Mnangagwa, but that is all changing – and changing fast – for the man commonly referred to as the “crocodile” of Zimbabwean politics.
The same tactics that Mnangagwa employed – in cahoots with First Lady Grace Mugabe – to elbow out his predecessor Joice Mujuru in 2014 are being employed to engineer his own downfall.
History is repeating itself as the vice president has recently become political cannon fodder for Mugabe and his wife – in the same manner that Mujuru was ridiculed at rallies and accused of plotting to overthrow the long-serving Zimbabwean leader.
In the latest incident, Grace Mugabe accused Mnangagwa on Thursday of insinuating that she attempted to poison him during a ZANU PF rally in August.
"I am the First Lady and Mnangagwa is a nothing. He was employed by my husband. Why would I kill him?” Grace Mugabe ranted during a ceremony in Harare to launch a youth empowerment initiative.
This followed claims by the vice president at the weekend that he had been poisoned at a political rally in western Zimbabwe in August.
The claims have also drawn criticism from other ZANU PF officials, including his fellow Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko. Zimbabwe has two vice presidents.
In a statement on Wednesday, Mphoko accused Mnangagwa of lying about the exact circumstances behind his sudden illness in August that saw him vomiting blood during the rally in Gwanda and being airlifted to South Africa for treatment.
“Contrary to his statement, his medical doctor, while briefing President Robert Mugabe in the presence of VP Mnangagwa, confirmed that Vice President Mnangagwa was not poisoned,” Mphoko said.
He said the latest poisoning claims by Mnangagwa also contradicted his earlier statement in September in which he categorically denied eating any ice cream from Gushungo Dairy during the Gwanda rally.
This was after widespread rumours that he had been poisoned after allegedly eating ice cream from Gushungo Dairy, owned by the First Family.
In an attempt at damage control, Mnangagwa hastily called a press conference on Thursday night where he tried to give his side of the story.
He said he was misquoted during an address last weekend at a memorial service for late Masvingo provincial governor Shuvai Mahofa in Gutu, about 200km southeast of the capital.
He denied ever saying he was food poisoned in Gwanda, but had merely said he was poisoned at the same rally.
“During the Ordinary Session of the (ZANU PF) Politburo held on 6 September 2017, and the Ordinary Session of the Central Committee held on 8 September 2017, I informed the meeting that my doctors had said that I was not food poisoned. I did not state that poison had been ruled out,” he said in the statement issued on Thursday night.
Capitalising on the latest developments, Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo – a sworn adversary of Mnangagwa – took to micro-blogging social media site Twitter and accused his party senior of engaging in “desperate dog-whistle politics.”
“This ‘I was not poisoned, I was poisoned’ Mnangagwa statement is an example of desperate dog-whistle politics. Even fools are not fooled!” the minister said on Friday.
Prominent law professor Alex Magaisa said Mnangagwa is getting a taste of his own medicine.
“This is exactly what happened to Joice & those crying now were supporting it. What goes around comes around,” Magaisa tweeted on Friday.
He said Mnangagwa debacle is part of the ongoing ZANU PF succession saga.
“Clearly, there is no middle ground. It's dog-eat-dog in Mugabe succession race,” Magaisa said.
It now remains to be seen whether the “crocodile” can survive this episode and whether he will be forced out of ZANU PF.
In his own words, the trait of a crocodile is that it never hunts outside water and always ”strikes at the appropriate time.”