HARARE, Zimbabwe’s veteran president Robert Mugabe on Wednesday named the country’s hardline justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, nicknamed “the crocodile”, the country’s first vice president and the vice president of the ruling ZANU PF party to replace Joice Mujuru, who Mugabe sacked this week over assassination allegations.
Mnangagwa, 68, has been serving in Mugabe’s cabinet since Zimbabwe gained its independence from Britain in 1980. He was previously Minister of State Security from 1980 to 1988, Minister of Justice from 1988 to 2000, Speaker of Parliament from 2000 to 2005, Minister of Rural Housing from 2005 to 2009, and Minister of Defense from 2009 to 2013.
Mnangagwa is widely believed to be leading a faction, competing with the other faction led by former Vice President Joice Mujuru, to succeed Mugabe, who will turn 91 in February next year.
The ruling ZANU PF’s elective congress last week saw Mujuru’s camp collapsing as she and her eight allies in the cabinet were eliminated from the ruling core and subsequently removed from the cabinet.
Mugabe on Wednesday also named seasoned diplomat Phekezela Mphoko second vice president of the ruling party and of the state. Mphoko was the former Zimbabwean ambassador to South Africa.
The president abolished the post of party national chairman and said the two vice presidents will rotate the chairmanship. The presidium of the ruling party will now be composed of three members — Mugabe, Mnangagwa, and Mphoko.
The two vice presidents are expected to be sworn in on Friday.
An analyst said it was in Mugabe’s best interests to appoint Mnangagwa as one of his deputies because he knew him well.
“Mugabe is turning 91 in February. So he needs to appoint someone he trusts to look after his interests when he finally retires,” said the analyst who declined to be named.
But he said perceived as one of the hardliners in Zanu-PF, Mnangagwa will still have to work hard to widen grassroots support. In the 2000 general elections, he was rejected in his own home town of Kwekwe.
Mphoko, on the other hand, is a former commander in the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army, the armed wing of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union during the struggle for independence.
He became second in command at the Demobilization Directorate established in 1981 to oversee the demobilization of former freedom fighters and is understood to have worked in the President’s Office thereafter.
Mphoko was in the diplomatic service from 1987 until his retirement early this year and is understood to have stayed out of political structures until recently.
Analyst Takura Zhangazha said it was difficult to argue that the two new vice presidents would improve government policy.
“I think the major challenge the new deputy presidents face is that they will operate at the pleasure of the President and cannot differ or bring in policy propositions that he may not like. So it’s difficult to argue that they will improve government policy,” he said.
Zimbabwe’s economic growth has slipped to annually 3.1 percent in 2014 and is forecast to only marginally rise to 3.2 percent next year, compared to annually 7 percent growth achieved during 2009 – 2012 period. Political instability, a slower inflow of foreign capital, and depleting alluvial diamond mines are cited as reasons behind the growth decline.
Many business leaders and analysts blame the controversial indigenization law, which requires foreign companies to cede majority share-holding to locals, for scaring off potential foreign investors.
There were speculations earlier this year that the law would be amended, but as factional fights in the ruling party took center stage, no policy adjustments had been made.