ZIMBABWE's incoming interim president designate Emmerson Mnangagwa might have survived the poison that nearly took his life in August this year, but will he survive the poisonous legacy that his predecessor Robert Mugabe has left him?
On August 12, at a rally in Gwanda in Zimbabwe's Matabeleland South Province, Mnangagwa fell seriously ill vomiting blood in what was alleged to be an attempt on his life. He had to be airlifted from the rally and then flown to South Africa for treatment, amid rumours that he was poisoned by ice cream manufactured at Gushungo Diary, a company owned by Mugabe’s wife, Grace.
While at first the then president Mugabe tried to downplay the incident, saying Mnangagwa had not been poisoned but was suffering from some other illness, rumours that he had been poisoned did not die, drawing anger from Grace.
At the next rally in Bindura, Grace lambasted Mnangagwa, without mentioning him by name, for telling people about his illness and poisoning as if he were the only one who ever gets sick. She said the president had also been sick, but did not go around telling people about it.
This event and the ones that followed marked Mnangagwa’s fall from Grace. Eventually he was kicked out of both the Zanu-PF Party and government.
While Mnangwagwa might have survived the poisonous “ice cream” or whatever it was that nearly took his life, he is once again faced with a poisoned chalice.
Poisoned economic legacy
The economy he is inheriting from Mugabe has the potential to kill his political career. The political environment he is inheriting is one that is not acceptable to the opposition parties, who have been calling for election reforms.
Will he be able to make concessions without appearing weak, let alone risk losing the next elections in 2018? One of the reasons why Mugabe managed to hold on to power for so long is that he never gave his opponents the reforms they kept asking for.
Will Mnangagwa stick to Mugabe's tactics without losing the goodwill the world has given him?
Still on reforms, Mnangagwa is inheriting an economy with growing calls for civil service sector reforms. International monetary institutions are on record as saying they are ready to loosen their pursesm if the country embarks and implements civil service sector reforms.
Currently, civil service sector wages gobble up over 92% of the country’s national budget. Implementing the reforms has however proved difficult over the years, as government workers are considered Zanu-PF election machinery and support base.
Despite the Zimbabwean economy’s struggles to the extent of running a huge budget deficit, it had to guarantee paying civil servants annual bonuses, just to keep them happy. How will Mnangagwa implement reforms without risking losing a key party ally?
The land reform hot potato
Then there is the issue of land. In 2001 Zimbabwe embarked on a chaotic land reform programme that saw most whites losing their farms without compensation. Mugabe simply refused to share land with whites and was strongly against blacks who invited whites to partner them in farming.
The land reform programme is one of the reasons why Zimbabwe was put under sanctions by Western countries. So as Mnangagwa takes over, British eyes, led by Theresa May and Boris Johnson, both of whom have said they are ready to support a new Zimbabwe, will be upon Mnangagwa to see if he will allow their kith and kin back on the land.
But if he does, how will the locals react? There are also blacks, most of them Zanu-PF members - including Mugabe - who have more than one farm. Will he take some from them without risking losing support?
- Crecey Kuyedzwa is a Fin24 correspondent. Views expressed are his own.