'Dictatorial' VP Chiwenga 'posing a security threat' in Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe Vice President Constantino Chiwenga . (File, AFP)
Zimbabwe Vice President Constantino Chiwenga . (File, AFP)

Political opponents in Zimbabwe have reportedly said that Vice President Constantino Chiwenga is posing a "security threat" in the country "as his hand in often dictatorial government decisions has been evident".

Last week, Chiwenga, the country's former military chief sacked at least 16 000 striking nurses over what he claimed was a "politically motivated" industrial action.

In a terse statement, Chiwenga described the nurses' strike as "deplorable and reprehensible", as the government had released $17 million to boost their pay and allowances, a report by AFP said.

"Government has decided in the interest of patients and of saving lives to discharge all the striking nurses with immediate effect," Chiwenga said at the time, adding that unemployed and retired nurses would be hired to replace those fired.

Chiwenga's decision was, however, reversed by Mnangagwa, thus, fuelling speculation that the two were locked in a bitter power struggle.

'Strategic move'

The "shock sacking, according to New Zimbabwe.com, put a spotlight on the former military commander's "overbearing influence on governance issues", which dated "back to the time he was the country’s top soldier".

A spokesperson for the People's Democratic Party (PDP), Jacob Mafume said that Chiwenga was behaving as if Mnangagwa was not his boss but a partner.

"He is paranoid out of control drunk with power," Mafume was quoted as saying.

However, in an interview with News24, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) senior researcher, Derek Matyszak maintained that although Chiwenga appeared influential, he was still taking orders from Mnangagwa.

Matyszak said that it was highly likely that Mnangagwa and Chiwenga were using their different approaches to government issues as a "strategic move".

Social unrest

"I don't think Chiwenga is running the show as some suggest, and I have not been provided with any clear evidence of this... It is possible that ED (Mnangagwa) uses this perspective to play good cop against Chiwenga's bad cop," said Matyszak.

Matyszak said that the industrial action by the nurses last week should also be seen in a context of the country's political dynamics.

He said that the trade unions were testing the new administration's tolerance of dissent. 

Matyszak said that the new administration was nervous about widespread industrial actions and was, therefore, using the nurses' strike to send a clear message to other trade unions, including the teachers' union that there was no room for industrial actions. 

"The purported firing (of nurses) is government exercising a strong-arm or strongman tactic in trying to resolve the dispute which is reminiscent of Mugabe's style of governance.

"Clearly government is nervous of social unrest, which can damage the 'Zimbabwe is open for business' catchphrase. It wants to send a clear message to others contemplating a strike," said Matyszak.

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