PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is reportedly angry with Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa over his trip to China last year in which his deputy came out of high-level meetings acting like someone who has embraced Beijing’s push for leadership renewal in Harare and trying to sound like renowned reformist Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.
At the invitation of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Mnangagwa visited Beijing from July 6 to 10 2015. During his five-day visit, he met business leaders as well as a number of senior ruling party and government officials, including Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao.
Mnangagwa and Yuanchao held closed-door meetings together with CPC officials. The visit, which followed Mugabe’s trip to Beijing in August 2014, was officially said to be designed to “promote political trust and pragmatic co-operation”.
However, diplomatic sources say it ended up generating further political distrust for Mnangagwa from Mugabe who was not happy with what transpired and his deputy’s Deng-like posture afterwards. The late Deng, who took over after Mao Zedong in 1978 until his retirement in 1992, is the architect of China’s far-reaching market economy reforms and prosperity.
Straight-talking Chinese leaders reportedly gave Mnangagwa a sobering reality check when he was in Beijing by raising several critical issues that Mugabe and his government usually feel uncomfortable dealing with.
While moving to ring-fence their growing investment portfolios and future prospects by inviting and engaging the establishment’s preferred successor to Mugabe — Mnangagwa — the Chinese raised a number of concerns on Zimbabwe.
Some of the issues were later expressed by the vice-president in an interview with China’s CCTV.
In the interview with CCTV, Mnangawga said Zimbabwe had fallen far behind other countries in development. He said the government needed to swallow its pride and literally “bite the bullet” by reviewing some controversial economic policies to attract foreign investment.
He also said there was need for reforms “to bring Zimbabwe back to the table of nations”.
“We have to see how we can create an investment environment which will attract the flow of capital. These are the tasks we face and we have to look at even legislation and our social systems need to be reformed in order to catch up with current global trends,” Mnangagwa said.
“So we are looking at the reform measures that China has gone through to help us move forward…
“You cannot say there are areas of our economy which we are happy with, infrastructure we are behind by 15-16 years, agricultural development the same, manufacturing; in fact capacity utilisation in some areas of our industry is down to 20%, so again, we have to retool by acquiring new machinery, technology and machinery so that we are competitive.”
While Mnangagwa’s assertions were viewed as progressive by many Zimbabweans, diplomats and government officials say Mugabe and his close courtiers, especially Zanu PF leaders grouped around his wife Grace, saw them as an attempt to push for leadership renewal using the Chinese while also projecting himself as a viable successor in the Deng mould.
Mugabe, government officials say, also saw Mnangagwa’s remarks as an attack on his leadership and policies, particularly the Look East policy.
“The President was not happy with what Mnangagwa said while he was in China last year,” a senior government official said. “This was also clear during the visit to Harare by (Chinese leader Xi) Jinping last December. So many things were discussed during Xi’s visit. That is why the President said what he said in Bindura last Friday.”
Addressing a rally in Bindura last Friday, Mugabe said some Zanu PF leaders were trying to influence the Chinese to help them in their succession bids, in remarks widely seen as targeted at Mnangagwa.
“Saka ndipo patava kusiyana navamwe ipapa vanobva vaenda mberi mberi nekumaChina kuti takuda president mutsva (That is the main cause of our differences, as some are pushing further to the extent of approaching the Chinese telling them they now want a new leader),” he said.
Mugabe said such plots and agendas were being driven by ambitious party bigwigs who were eyeing senior positions, including the presidency — adding that he was willing to step down if voted out procedurally at congress.
Mugabe made the remarks after Mashonaland Central chairman Dickson Mafios had complained the Chinese were meddling in Zanu PF succession politics in the province.
“Tichavadzvanya mukaona vakuchema chema (We are going to deal with them),” he said.
A top government official said Mugabe exchanged notes with Xi over Mnangagwa’s succession manoeuvres last December, fuelling his long-standing suspicions and hostility towards his ambitious deputy.
The official said Xi, who prefers the Chinese-speaking Grace, is sympathetic to Mugabe, although he believes in leadership renewal and the need for change in Zimbabwe, while Mnangagwa was associated with Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao. Xi succeeded Hu in 2012.
Hu’s good relationship with Mnangagwa was partly because the VP received military training in China in the 1960s and also as a result of the role played Zimbabwe’s former ambassador to China between 2002 and 2006, Christopher Mutsvangwa. Mutsvangwa is a close Mnangagwa ally.
Sources say the Chinese no longer want Mnangagwa, but whoever Mugabe prefers.
High-ranking Zimbabwean officials, from Mnangagwa to Zanu PF provincial leaders, have been to China on various exchange programmes during which they were openly advised to embrace leadership renewal and change.
In 2012, Zanu PF provincial chairpersons visited China for ideological orientation and mass mobilisation training from the CPC ahead of the 2013 general elections.
Chinese officials told them Zanu PF should embrace change or die, something Mnangagwa seems amenable to while Mugabe is hostile to it.
In an interview to mark his 92nd birthday, Mugabe angrily took a swipe at those plotting to succeed him.
“In a democratic party you don’t want leaders appointed that way to lead the party. Saka vaye vanoti pinda iwe ndogozopindawo, kuzvinyepera (those — apparently Mnangagwa and Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantine Chiwenga) who say rule then I will rule after you are misleading each other). It doesn’t matter who.”