HARARE – Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa has tightened his security following suspicions that his rivals could be out to eliminate him physically in the wake of his alleged poisoning about three weeks ago
A long time aide of President Robert Mugabe, Mnangagwa was allegedly poisoned mid last month at a Zanu PF youth interface “meeting” in Gwanda, resulting in him being airlifted to South Africa after brief treatment in Gweru, which was meant to stabilise his condition.
Those in the vice president’s inner circle told the Daily News last week that every measure has since been taken by his family and allies to scale up his security, including deploying private security to guard all his properties in Harare and elsewhere.
According to sources, Mnangagwa is now ensuring that he has a trusted relative among his security personnel provided by government.
They said alarm was raised after the doctor who attended to him in South Africa disclosed the extent of the damage that was caused by the alleged poisoning.
“Everywhere where the VP is, we must ensure that there is a close relative because some people have their agendas and can be paid by our enemies,” said a close relative of Mnangagwa.
According to the well-placed sources, the vice president, who is close to Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander Constantino Chiwenga, now has coteries of military intelligence officers providing security — on top of personnel assigned by the police and the Central Intelligence Organisation.
Mnangagwa, who has been a minister of Defence and State Security, has vast links among the security institutions and enjoys cosy relations with the military top brass and thus when he was airlifted to Gweru from Gwanda, it was little wonder that the military dispatched soldiers to guard him throughout the night before he was assisted to fly to South Africa.
The involvement of the army, according to the sources, is yet another demonstration that the vice president or his family now has little faith in the usual security.
This is symptomatic of the mistrust and suspicions that have become deep rooted in Zanu PF due to the intense infighting over who should succeed Mugabe, now in the twilight of his political career.
In the Midlands and Masvingo provinces, where Mnangagwa seems to enjoy support over his rivals, his allies are alleging in hushed tones that the vice president has become the target of witchcraft attacks and poisoning.
Mugabe, who is battling to engender a spirit of unity in his party ahead of do-or-die elections next year, has not been amused by the reckless talk, warning Zanu PF faithful a few days ago to desist from the tendency of attributing every sickness to witchcraft, saying it is lack of ideological clarity.
Speaking at the National Heroes Acre during the burial of Moudy Muzenda and George Rutanhire last week, Mugabe instead urged people to go for regular medical check-ups and stop believing in the mysterious world of witch-craft.
“Takange tisina vanegeda-geda, kwete zvatava kuona izvi. Vanoti vanoona varoyi, hanzi napresident vava muroyi, nekwatabva kwose uku, vangani vandauraya? Kuti zvinobva kuMidlands here zvichienda kuMasvingo? Hatina huroyi muparty. Down with such witchcraft talk! (Unlike today, we didn’t use to have the unprincipled amongst us in the past, who are quick to point at witchcraft, including accusing the president of practicing witchcraft, never mind how far we have journeyed together. How many have I killed, if I may ask? Is this coming from the Midlands and spreading to Masvingo? There is no witchcraft in the party,” he said.
Mugabe blamed the witchcraft talk on lack of ideological clarity.
“When someone falls sick, you hear some people saying they have been bewitched. That’s lack of ideological knowledge. Mutungamiri akarwara anonzi aroiwa, ah, zvakatanga rinhi izvozvi? (When leaders fall ill, the illness is blamed on witchcraft, ah, when did this all begun? Diseases attack and these bodies are not ours,” said Mugabe, adding that with new technology, people must go for regular medical check-ups.
Mnangagwa, who has survived several attempts on his life including an attempt in 2014 that left one of his assistants in critical condition after inhaling cyanide that had been sprinkled in his office, has had his offices broken into on a number of occasions.
The Midlands godfather allegedly leads the Team Lacoste faction and although he appeared in 2014 to be on the way to the presidency his political foes in the rival Generation 40 faction have worked flat out to challenge his high hopes.
Commenting on the vice president’s move to beef up his security, analysts said it was expected as there was now suspicion and lack of trust.
Respected political analyst and University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, said the succession struggles in the ruling Zanu PF have reached boiling point such that physical elimination of the supposed players can no longer be ruled out.
“It was expected (for Mnangagwa to beef up security) given the episode in Gwanda, where nobody really knows what happened and in the absence of information on how he was healed…given those circumstances, one beefs up security,” he told the Daily News.
“It is a direct reaction to the incident that led to the poisoning incident. It’s now clearly a do-or-die situation necessitated by the succession struggles, which are becoming more vicious. The key members are conscious of the possibility of elimination in one way or another.”
“It’s a sign of the tough times ahead. We can’t rule out the possibility of elimination and violent succession struggles. We should brace for the worst including physical elimination ahead of next year’s elections,” Masunungure warned.
Another political analyst, Maxwell Saungweme, said the Zanu PF succession wars have turned deadly, adding that what is happening now is proof that Mugabe must have dealt with the issue of succession in his party long back.
“One major lesson from the whole thing is that Zanu PF succession is deadly business. Mugabe is deeply regretting not having developed a succession plan for his party. His legacy is in tatters, it’s disappearing with Zanu PF implosion.
“Now the whole foundation of Zanu PF is mixed up and shaky. The role of First Lady has been elevated to have more political power than the vice presidents. Charlatan ministers such as (Jonathan) Moyo go home insulting vice presidents,” Saungweme said.
Political commentator, Rashweat Mukundu, said if a whole vice president could feel threatened, the question is what happens to ordinary citizens?
“The leadership must engender calm and dispense with the climate of fear that now pervades this country,” he said.
With a history of resolving its internal contradictions through brutal purges that predate the country’s independence in 1980, protagonists in Zanu PF trudge their political paths with their backs firmly against the wall.
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