HARARE – Former Cabinet minister David Coltart, in remarks set to increase temperatures in warring Zanu PF, has claimed that Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s long-standing relationship with President Robert Mugabe — and knowledge of his secrets which includes his health status — make him a favourite to succeed the long-serving 93-year-old.
The former Education minister in the inclusive government is perceived to be one of Mnangagwa’s strident critics.
Coltart said Mnangagwa’s intelligence on Mugabe gives him an upper hand, as compared to the likes of Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, whose name was recently thrown into the succession debate by Zanu PF politburo member and Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo.
His remarks come as the battle to succeed Mugabe reaches boiling temperatures, with War Veterans minister Tshinga Dube recently backing former liberation fighters on their demands to have a successor named.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily News On Sunday, Coltart said he was convinced that “Mnangagwa is the only serious candidate likely to take over from Mugabe within Zanu PF”.
“There is little evidence that his closest rival in the succession matrix…Sekeramayi has the same driving ambition to be president as him.
“I think though that so long as Mugabe is alive and vaguely able to perform some of the duties expected of a head of State, he will be their (Zanu PF’s) preferred candidate because even Mnangagwa understands that it will be easier for him to be elected within Zanu PF than it will ever be for him to win a national election. I think he is prepared to bide his time and wait until after 2018,” Coltart said.
“However, the one rider to this is that of course we do not have accurate information about Mugabe’s health, which someone like Mnangagwa is privy to and that will inform the political moves he takes in the months ahead,” he added.
Zanu PF is deeply divided over Mugabe’s succession with a faction led by young Turks – Generation 40 (G40) –locked in a life-and-death tussle with Mnangagwa’s backers, Team Lacoste.
G40 is said to be backing First Lady Grace Mugabe to succeed her husband although last month it threw the name of Sekeramayi into the ring.
Observers have consistently said Mugabe’s failure to groom and name a successor is fuelling the ugly fights in Zanu PF.
Mugabe has so far refused to name a successor arguing that the Zanu PF constitution does not allow him as it leaves that role to the party to decide who succeeds him via a congress.
Coltart has previously told respected British magazine, the New Statesman, that Mnangagwa was the likely candidate in Zanu PF to succeed Mugabe.
He is not alone.
War veterans have repeatedly said Mnagagwa is the most senior person in Zanu PF to take over from Mugabe if he either resigns or retires – at one time warning ominously that blood could be shed if the Midlands godfather does not succeed the veteran leader.
Last week, presidential aspirant and former Cabinet minister, Nkosana Moyo said Mnangagwa was likely to run Zimbabwe differently from Mugabe if he assumed the presidency.
Early this year, professor of international relations at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, Stephen Chan said Mnangagwa was charging ahead in the race to succeed Mugabe.
The Chinese, long to be considered Mugabe’s friends, have been also warming up to Mnangagwa ever since he made an official visit to Beijing in July 2015.
Follow the link to read Coltart’s full interview.
Mnangagwa himself has refuted claims that he is angling to take over from Mugabe and last year gave a rare interview to the State media in which he re-affirmed his loyalty to the 93- year-old.
“It is a relationship (with Mugabe) I cherish and regard dearly that I will not allow anyone to malign or soil. To that end, as I have done for the better part of my life, I re-affirm and pledge as in the past, to defend and stand by the person and legacy of his excellency, the president and first secretary of our tried and tested revolutionary party.
“I have in no way, either by acts of commission or omission, sought to arrogate power and authority to myself, away from his excellency the president and first secretary, Cde RG Mugabe,” said Mnangagwa.
Mugabe and Mnangagwa share a very close relationship that dates back to the days of the liberation struggle when the latter was the former’s aide.
Mugabe first met Mnangagwa,74, when he was working as a teacher in Mapanzure, a remote rural village in Zvishavane from where his deputy hails.
It is believed that the two’s relationship blossomed when Mugabe came back from Ghana where he was teaching to join the liberation struggle.
Towards the end of the liberation war, Mnangagwa who was studying in Zambia, was incorporated, at Mugabe’s behest, into Zanu PF structures as his special assistant.
The move was seen as a thank you to the Mnangagwa family who had acted as young Mugabe’s guardians when he was teaching in Zvishavane.
Early this year, when there was frenzied speculation within Zanu PF that Mnangagwa’s mooted presidential aspirations were dead in the water, after Mugabe’s birthday interview with the ZBC, in which he said there was no one fit to succeed him, former ruling party spokesperson and Cabinet minister, Rugare Gumbo, said the Midlands godfather had been by the nonagenarian’s side for too long to be written off.
Gumbo — who worked with both Mugabe and Mnangagwa for many decades, before and after Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980 — also said it was “folly” to assume that Mugabe had shut the door on his deputy succeeding him.
He also said it could not be ruled out that Mnangagwa himself was “playing a game of hide-and-seek” with the nonagenarian, adding that the two men had a strong bond and long-standing relationship which was “only fully understood by them”.
“Mugabe has always been a slippery character because of all things he always wanted power the most. While many other liberation movements had a succession plan, Mugabe long decided against coming up with one.
“Still, I wouldn’t say Mnangagwa has been blocked out. However, what I know is that Mugabe and Mnangagwa vakateyanirana mariva (the have set traps for each other). They are playing each other and only time will tell who will win,” he said.
Speaking in his annual interview with the ZBC in February, ahead of his 93rd birthday, Mugabe appeared to rule out the chances of Mnangagwa succeeding him when he said he would soldier on in power — notwithstanding his advanced age and declining health — and that he would only step down if Zanu PF asked him to do so.
“The call to step down must come from my party, my party at congress, my party at central committee … I will step down.
“But then what do you see? It’s the opposite. They want me to stand for elections. They want me to stand for elections everywhere in the party.
“Of course, if I feel that I can’t do it anymore, I will say so to my party so that they relieve me. But for now I think I can’t say so … The majority of the people feel that there is no replacement, a successor who to them is acceptable, as acceptable as I am,” Mugabe said.
Meanwhile, Coltart has expressed his disquiet over the manner in which the opposition is tackling the issue of forming a grand coalition.
“It is time for everyone vying for the presidency to publicly state that they are prepared to stand down in favour of the person most likely to attract the most support,” Coltart said.
“To establish who that person is, we need some independent polling to be done to establish who objectively commands the most support”.
While Tsvangirai’s name seems to have gotten traction with many, there are others who feel that the former prime minister in the inclusive government should step aside for either former vice president Joice Mujuru or former Finance minister Tendai Biti.
“I am not sure the question of who should lead is necessary at this stage. What we primarily need is agreement regarding the policies that will be implemented in the event of the coalition winning.
“At present, all that seems to bind the coalition together is the goal of removing President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF, and that is not enough.
“The electorate wants to know what specific policies will be implemented. Accordingly, I think our focus should shift from who will be our presidential candidate to what policies do we all agree a coalition government will pursue,” Coltart told the Daily News On Sunday.