A (Not So) Lighter Look at Mugabe’s Reshuffled Cabinet
Alex T. Magaisa
So yesterday, President Mugabe finally announced the much-anticipated Cabinet reshuffle. It is not the first time that he has dropped ministers in reshuffles but this occasion stands out because of the mass cull that took place, which was unprecedented. It was a mass cull of the Mujuru faction, not based on meritocracy but rather, on the fact that they were in the ‘wrong basket’ in the factional fights that affected Zanu PF.
Therefore, while some people have been expecting replacements to be based on merit, these expectations have been wildly misplaced. The equation was only ever going to be balanced by introducing replacements that were politically correct as defined mostly by the winning faction.
Apart from Mujuru, who lost her Vice Presidency, the other big loser was Simon Khaya Moyo, who not only fell from the lofty heights of National Chairman to be appointed National Spokesperson for the party, but found his hopes of landing the co-Vice Presidency floundering in a spectacular manner.
When he was appointed Senior Minister by President Mugabe in August 2013, after the elections, most people thought this was merely a warm-up for the Vice Presidency, which was his to lose. Maybe then we should have seen that Mugabe was in fact hesitant. He was buying time to execute his plan, while selling everyone a dummy. As it happened, Khaya Moyo’s dream collapsed and he has now been shunted to the newly-created Ministry of Economic Planning. It is hard to see what he will spend his time doing there when Chinamasa is in charge of the more powerful Finance portfolio, which invariably handles economic issues.
The fact of the matter is that Khaya Moyo has been demoted, both in the politburo and in Cabinet, probably paying the price of alleged association with Mujuru and her allies. It is possible he may have begged for forgiveness and shown remorse at the last minute. Grown men have been known to cry before the leader, pleading for a moratorium; begging for the proverbial second chance. These things happen – when it gets hot, some people run for cover operating under the principle of self-preservation, even if it means leaving their allies in the lurch.
But even this may be scant consolation for Khaya Moyo. He is the marathon runner who sprinted ahead of the pack, far ahead of the crowd, only to tire and stumble at the very end, just when the finishing line was in sight. Indeed, only to see a hitherto unfancied rival pipping him at the end. Few people remember Vice Presidents but no one remembers ministers of economic planning. For a man who once sat at the high table popping champagne and fine wine, it is a lot harder returning to the boys’ table to imbibe waters of a coarser character.
Phelekezela Mphoko is the dark horse who came in at the last minute and snatched Khaya Moyo’s cookie, just as he was about to take a bite. Now, the man about whom little is publicly known, is the co-Vice President. It has been a remarkable rise from political obscurity. Those who know him vouch for his liberation credentials – as one of the leading men who fought under Zipra, the old Zapu’s military wing. I imagine Zapu veteran Dumiso Dabengwa, now out of favour in Zanu PF, must have been watching the drama and thinking it could have been him. A highly respected veteran of the war, Dabengwa became disaffected and left Zanu PF, after serving in government in senior roles for many years.
Notable about Mphoko’s new role is that it has become a pattern for Mugabe to place on the shoulders former Zapu cadres, the burden of national healing and reconciliation. It is largely former Zapu supporters in the Mdlands and the Matabeleland regions who bear the scars of Gukurahundi, the sordid episode which Mugabe himself has described as “a moment of madness”, when thousands of civilians were senselessly massacred by state-backed troops. During the Inclusive Government, it was John Nkomo who co-chaired the portfolio that carried that responsibility, in a tri-partite arrangement with the MDCs. Now, another former Zapu leader has been asked to do the same. It will be interesting to see how he approaches that issue, if he ever does at all.
Chris Mushohwe’s is an intriguing case. A former senior functionary in the Office of the President, it is plain that Mugabe has a soft spot for him. He was appointed Minister of State in charge of Manicaland last year and he has now been elevated to Minister of Youth and Indigenisation, probably to the disappointment of many Zanu PF youths who were expecting a peer to be given such a portfolio. They were at the forefront of the recent purge and they might have expected some reward. But once again, they have been snubbed. That should teach them a few lessons – that they can be used but they can be ignored too. But Mushohwe’s case has weightier issues than the disappointments of excitable Zanu PF youths.
It’s a curious case because not very long ago, Mushohwe was in the news over youths and indigenisation but for all the wrong reasons. When he stood before a Parliamentary Committee on Youth, Empowerment and Indigenisation earlier this year, Mushohwe had great difficulty in explaining large payments that had allegedly been made to communities in Manicaland by diamond companies operating in Marange.
The Committee heard that funds from diamond companies meant for the Marange-Zimunya Community Share Ownership Trust were paid into an account that was allegedly controlled by Mushohwe. Asked to account for what had happened, Mushohwe stuttered and stumbled, giving inconsistent and implausible statements that were unconvincing even to the most sympathetic listener. At one point, he claimed that he had “forgotten” that he had written letters that he had written to the diamond companies, demanding payments to his account. “I had forgotten that I wrote the letter, this is my signature”, he sheepishly admitted when eventually shown one of the letters by the Committee.
But after a few weeks, the matter went cold. The media has done no follow-ups. And the police have certainly shown no interest in the matter. The matter seems to have been smothered by some large hands, and has not been heard of since. The Chair who gave him a torrid time, Justice Wadyajena, the young Zanu PF MP has since become a loud praise-singer for Mnangagwa during the purge of Mujuru and her allies. He probably realised the error of his ways, as his enquiries were touching on sensitive areas, and he quickly repented.
Still, it is odd that President Mugabe, who fired his former VP, Joice Mujuru on the basis that she was engaging in corrupt activities, has now appointed Mushohwe to head the same portfolio in which his conduct was mired in controversy of which there has been no satisfactory resolution. It would be interesting to know what the Committee made of those allegations and whether they cleared Mushohwe of wrong-doing. If true, it makes a mockery of the claims that this new cabinet is designed to do things differently especially where corruption and impropriety is concerned. Nothing has been said about those diamond funds and whether the poor communities of Marange and Zimunya ever got anything in the end.
Oppah Muchinguri could be regarded as one of the big winners of the reshuffle. She committed an act of political sacrifice when she made way for First Lady Grace Mugabe, as head of Zanu PF’s Women’s League. But to be sure, she never had a choice, did she? If the Big Mother says she wants it, you have to give her. Grace wanted to be head of the Women’s League and Oppah was not going to stand in her way. Oppah simply followed the character of water, which pursues the line of least resistance. Her pragmatic approach in the face of adversity ensured handsome rewards with the move from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to the Ministry of Higher Education.
I have said before in these pages that there was a strong possibility that Grace Mugabe could end up in cabinet as Minister of Women’s Affairs and this is still a significant possibility given that it is the one Ministry that was left vacant during the reshuffle when previous holder Muchinguri was moved. Muchinguri who was head of the Women’s League was also Minister for Women’s Affairs so it would not be unusual if Grace Mugabe as new head of the Women’s League were to be given the women’s portfolio in cabinet. Why he did not announce it was probably tactical. They may have figured out that it would be the big news that would overshadow the Vice Presidency, which is supposed to be the big news of the week.
Few figures played a more prominent role in the purging of the Mujuru faction than Chris Mutsvangwa. He was the Rottweiler that attacked relentlessly from the very beginning, casting serious doubt on the narratives ascribed to Mujuru’s war heroics and questioning her leadership qualities. Grace later took it up a higher notch but it was Mutsvangwa who had led the assault. Later, he landed the powerful post of War Veterans chair, taking over from the ousted Jabulani Sibanda, seen as a Mujuru ally.
When he was not picked for the Politburo last, some thought this was a snub against a man who had given his all for the faction’s cause. But he has earned his reward, with the elevation to full Minister, graduating from the Deputy Minister’s role he held in Foreign Affairs. There, he was plainly uncomfortable and had, on more than one occasion, clashed significantly and in a most public manner, with his boss, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi. Mugabe seems to have a soft spot for Mumbengegwi, who despite having been discarded in Masvingo, was rescued by Mugabe and appointed to the Central Committee last week.
Mutsvangwa’s ministry is a curious one – he will be responsible for the welfare of war veterans. This is the first time that war veterans have got an entire ministry dedicated to their needs and interests. Politically, this is a very serious matter because it recognises war veterans as a critical department and constituency of government. War veterans have always played a key part in Zanu PF political life, particularly in elections campaign. Now, however, it means this key arm of Zanu PF will be resourced and financed directly by the State and in the process not only disadvantaging other political players but also potentially contravening the political parties’ financing legislation. Through this ministry, Zanu PF has effectively opened a legal channel of securing financing from the State.
For Mutsvangwa, it is also a sweet family affair, with his wife Monica Mutsvangwa being given the Deputy Minister’s role in the Information Ministry, where she will work with Jonathan Moyo. Monica Mutsvangwa had suffered badly in the previous two years. She had been appointed a deputy minister towards the tail-end of the Inclusive Government but had not been reappointed after elections last year. Then, when she contested for the Chair of Manicaland, she had lost in controversial circumstances. She claimed that there had been massive rigging and blamed Didymus Mutasa for it.
Incidentally, Emmerson Mnangagwa had overseen those elections. He declared that they were no problems but clearly, he would have noted what had happened and reported to Mugabe. The remarkable reversal of fortunes for Mutasa this year suggests that his actions had not been forgotten. Mnangagwa and his group were simply biding their time. Now Monica Mutsvangwa is back as Deputy Minister and Mutasa is in political oblivion – battered and bruised after the political whirlwind of late 2014.
The Mzenda Dynasty
The family affair goes further. Tsitsi Muzenda, whom I believe is the daughter of former Voce President Simon Muzenda is now the Deputy Minister of Energy. This must hurt Dzikamai Mavhaire, the erstwhile Energy Minister sacked a few days earlier. He was a key lieutenant of Eddison Zvobgo, who led a Masvingo faction that rivalled Muzenda’s godfather role in the province. Apart from Tsitsi another of Muzenda’s progeny, Tongai Muzenda is the Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce. It looks like a family affair, and one might add, perhaps less generously, a family of deputies.
One key woman who most have overlooked is Auxillia Mnangagwa, who although she has not made it to cabinet yet, has already landed a spot in the Politburo as one of the deputies. One thing that Grace Mugabe will have to get used to is that one day, the country will have another first lady and that person might well be Auxillia Mnangagwa. She is already a politician and I suspect it won’t be long before she lands a spot in government. What we are slowly observing in Zimbabwean politics is the dominance of a few families and this will increase over time. This feature is not unusual even in Western democracies, too, where political families tend to dominate the political landscape.
Samuel Undenge has been handed the Energy portfolio. Undenge is one of those understated characters who is always there and thereabouts. He is the boy who hangs around a notorious gang – he does not do much to attract individual notoriety – but he finds himself tainted by the same brush, by virtue of association. Perhaps because he has always deputised, he has always been overshadowed by larger characters. Now, however, that he has a full portfolio and one that attracts public criticism every day and night, he will be forced to come out of the shadows and to take more responsibility.
Supa Mandiwanzira is the boy who read news brilliantly on national television, ventured into the corporate world and did well, used his political networks to establish a radio station, became an MP, then a deputy minister and now he is a full minister, in charge of ICT. All very remarkable, indeed. He has kept his head low and chewed quietly. For a young, urbane and technologically-savvy young man, it might be said that the portfolio suits him well. Supa does not talk much and when he does he does not sound unreasonable.
But I always had questions about him being deputy minister in the information ministry when he was also the beneficial owner of a radio station that is supposed to be privately-owned. I thought this placed him a situation of conflict of interest, contrary to s. 106 of the Constitution, which ironically has recently been used to fire VP Mujuru. One day, I will write about the origins of that provision, because I know exactly where it came from and how – I have observed with a sense of irony that it has been used in these circumstances and have not been sure whether to celebrate or to be sad. But anyway, ICT certainly looks better with Supa than it did with the more elderly and less technologically-savvy Webster Shamhu.
JB Matiza, Mandi Chimene and others
JB Matiza’s is another interesting case. He was given the proverbial boot in the Mashonaland East Central Committee elections. This was thought to be his end. But Mugabe has rescued him and he is now the Mashonaland East provincial affairs minister, taking over from the ousted Simabaneuta Mudarikwa.
Three other appointments do little to shake the earth. Not much is yet known publicly of Prisca Mupfumira who is now Minister of Labour. Mandi Chimene has been in and out of the news for some years – she gave a spirited interview to the Manica Post recently, hitting out at Mujuru and elevating her own war credentials. The appointment is clearly a reward for her loyalty to the faction in ascendancy. The only other time we read about her recently was when she organised a shopping trip to China for her fellow parliamentarians, some of whom got stranded. It was a hilarious incident and some MPs blamed her for misleading and abandoning them in a foreign land, far away from home. Now, she is in charge of Manicaland Province, taking over from Mushohwe.
Much Ado …
… about nothing, indeed. I must conclude with one last observation. I saw a list which included Mama Victoria Chitepo, although her name had since been cancelled. I was surprised that she had ever been considered for a post in this reshuffle, assuming it was true. I like Mama Chitepo. I think she is a gracious grandmother and she did well to retain her dignity even after the tragic death of her husband, the revered Herbert Wiltshire Chitepo in 1975. She served her country well but her time and that of others in that age bracket is long gone. Every generation must at some point pass on the baton to another. That she was even considered for a post is an indictment on the character of the leadership.
So after all is said and done, what can one say of the cabinet reshuffle? Not a great deal, I’m afraid. It is the same old story. There is nothing new, nothing that will shake the earth. The worst thing about politics this whole year is that there has been no single big idea that has come from the political parties. It has all been about positions and power but nothing from the school of ideas. That is the sad state of our politics – the politics of positions but no ideas.