Harare - It's been an incredible week in Zimbabwe. A man once thought to be untouchable – former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa – has been sacked and expelled from the ruling party and has fled into exile. What does that mean for ordinary Zimbabweans?
Mugabe’s grip tightened or more factions?
When former vice president Joice Mujuru was expelled from Zanu-PF three years ago, it was thought that a major threat to Mugabe’s hold on power had been dealt with once and for all. But two more factions were ready and waiting to vie for the top job – one led by Mujuru’s successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa and another aligned to First Lady Grace Mugabe, the G40 faction.
Could we see more factions arising from Zanu-PF? After all, Mugabe uses factions to his advantage, playing one off against the other. Political commentator Vince Musewe says that whatever happens in the ruling party, the aim is always to keep Mugabe in his position. "The situation is fluid and unpredictable except for one thing – it ensures Robert Mugabe stays in power."
Will Mnangagwa make a grab for power?
In a statement attributed to the exiled VP, Mnangagwa says that he will return to lead Zimbabwe. Opposition politician and former education minister David Coltart thinks those words are ominous, at least for the former vice president's political opponents. Writing on Twitter, Coltart said: "The nub of Mnangagwa's statement was 'we will very soon control the levers of power in our party and country'…This must send a few shivers down G40 backs." Musewe sees Mnangagwa's vow to return as "wishful thinking". He asked: "He's been in leadership for years. What's he going to offer us that he hasn't before?"
All 10 of Zimbabwe's ruling party's provinces have endorsed Grace as vice president. That doesn’t mean she’ll step into position immediately. Other names are being bandied about as possible candidates to fill Mnangagwa’s post: they include the defence minister, Sydney Sekeramayi and the finance minister Ignatius Chombo. But the party’s youth and the women’s wings are determined to get a woman into the presidium. This could see a situation where there are three vice presidents, with Grace (most probably) fulfilling the ‘women’s quota’. A clumsy arrangement? Actually, Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC has led the way on that one – it too has three vice presidents, including a woman.
It’s the economy, stupid
Beyond the political intrigue, Zimbabwe’s economy is in real trouble, marked by cash shortages and rising prices. In an opinion editorial, the respected Source news agency said: "The reality remains: the economy is in crisis and Mugabe and his victorious faction still don’t know what to do about it.” It said while locals this week fed on a stream of news on Zimbabwe’s political drama and “celebrated the downfall of one faction and the victory of another, some elderly men and women spent the night on the pavement to be first in line for a measly pension.”
One might think the serious divisions within the ruling party would present an ideal opportunity for the opposition MDC and its alliance partners ahead of next year’s polls. But the alliance is doing little to spread a message of hope among a jaded electorate. Analyst Musewe says the opposition isn’t unified, and it doesn’t have the resources that Zanu-PF has. "People say the Zanu-PF divisions give the opposition a unique opportunity. What opportunity? It creates a serious awareness that we’re in transition – to where we don’t know. Nobody has a clue."