Former South African leader Thabo Mbeki attended Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting before holding a meeting with the country’s security chiefs and President Robert Mugabe amid growing concerns in the southern African region over worsening Zanu-PF succession wars, the Daily News reported.
Mbeki flew into the country with a group of investors at the invitation of Mugabe on Monday, at least according to the South African embassy, although official sources insisted that the former African National Congress president’s visit was more than just introducing investors.
He met with police commissioner general Augustine Chihuri, Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander, Constantino Chiwenga and Central Intelligence Organisation director general, Happyton Bonyongwe, together with Mugabe.
The rare meeting came as Mugabe had last Thursday fiercely and publicly expressed his irritation with the military chiefs for meddling in Zanu-PF politics before he warned them to stay out of his party’s business.
Cabinet ministers canvassed by the Daily News yesterday said details of the meeting between Mbeki, his host (Mugabe) and the generals were being kept a closely guarded secret.
Whatever the case, they said the fact that the military was part of the discussions points to either a transition that could take place in the not too distant future, or the potentiality for a security threat that might destabilise the sub region if “things are not handled properly”.
Mbeki enjoys excellent relations with Mugabe and played a crucial role in persuading the 93 year-old to sign the 2008 Global Political Agreement, which led to the formation of a unity government in February 2009 between Zanu-PF and the two MDC formations.
This was after Zimbabwe had been thrown into a crisis following Mugabe’s decision to stage a one-man election in the 2008 June run-off in which MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of days before polling, citing massive violence against his supporters.
Mugabe had lost to Tsvangirai in the first round of the poll whose results were withheld for six weeks but survived because the MDC president had failed to get the outright majority.
Attempts to get a comment from Mugabe’s spokesperson, George Charamba, or Christopher Mushohwe – the Information, Media and Broadcasting Services minister – were futile.
A highly-placed source confirmed, however, that the generals were at cabinet and even Mbeki was there too. He also confirmed Mbeki and Mugabe’s separate meetings with the generals.
“What was discussed in the meeting was private but it was quite clear that Cde Mbeki had a few words to share with the generals and the President. But I cannot reveal much because of the Official Secrets Act,” said the official.
“The generals were invited to cabinet where someone who wants to start a Bank for Central Africa was making a presentation,” added the source.
Political analysts yesterday told the Daily News that the presence of Mbeki in Cabinet and his subsequent meeting with the security chiefs was telling and symbolic.
Constitutional law expert and former Tsvangirai advisor, Alex Magaisa, said Mbeki’s meeting with the generals was a sign that things were no longer normal in the high echelons of power.
Magaisa said it was unprecedented that a former foreign head of state would sit in Cabinet or to even engage the generals in a meeting.
It demonstrates that there is a problem, which has reached crisis proportions. Mbeki has always been a friend of Zanu-PF and he probably came in to be a mediator between the squabbling factions,” Magaisa told the Daily News.
“I have warned before that Sadc (the Southern African Development Community) and other stakeholders must not sit idly while Zimbabwe implodes because the succession issue has more potential for devastating implosion than anything else.
“It would be interesting to know whether this was Mbeki’s own initiative or he was sent or indeed who in Zanu-PF sent out a word for him. But that Mugabe has allowed him in shows that he has high regard for Mbeki and considers him an ally,” added Magaisa.
Another political analyst, Maxwell Saungweme, claimed Zanu-PF has reached a level where it is failing to resolve its internal problems and now wants a mediator.
“It is clear Mbeki of “African solutions to African problems” philosophy was certainly brought in to mediate between Zanu-PF and itself.
“Things are not rosy and what is happening can throw us into civil war. It should not surprise us that generals sat in cabinet because Zimbabwe is a conflated State. It is the Zanu-PF conflation of roles coming back to haunt us,” said Saungweme.
Zanu-PF has been torn apart by factional wars which analysts say are a result of Mugabe’s failure to anoint a successor.
Mugabe, on his part, has been consistent that he cannot name a successor as doing so would be violating the Zanu-PF constitution which empowers the party to do so either at a congress or an extra ordinary congress.
But last week, his influential wife, Grace, threw the cat among the pigeons when she implored on him to name a successor, hardly weeks after he had shot down the same call by War Veterans’ minister Tshinga Dube.
While addressing Zanu-PF’s Women League national assembly members at the party’s headquarters in Harare last Thursday, Grace said Mugabe’s word on his successor would be final.
“There is no succession without Mugabe and I have told him that you have a role to play even if I know that he has said that the people will decide but his word will be final, mark my word
“I am asking him now in front of you and don’t be afraid, tiudzei bhiza ramuri kuda timhanye naro muone henyu (we will rally behind your anointed horse). We will stand up and support that candidate and those whose names that have been thrown around under the cover of darkness are not the candidates. Listen to me when I speak,” Grace said then.
And Mugabe, speaking at the same meeting belted the military chiefs for meddling in Zanu-PF successions wars.
“There are secret manoeuvres going on. The military has no right to be interfering with the political processes. Theirs is to support; they can give their own views within the constitution and according, also, to the principle that politics shall always lead the gun – and not the gun leading politics. That would be a coup,” Mugabe said.
Mugabe made the same statement at the 2015 Zanu-PF conference in Victoria Falls.
His deputy and long time aide, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is touted as his possible successor, as he enjoys the support of the military.
Recently, reports indicated that Mugabe’s Defence minister, Sydney Sekeramayi, could also be in the running as a possible dark horse.