Is Mugabe losing control of Zimbabwe?
Court documents show two ministers are defying President Robert Mugabe in a power struggle over control of a mining company.
Johannesburg, South Africa
As leader of Zimbabwe since liberation in 1980, President Robert Mugabe has ruled with an iron fist, using a North-Korean trained brigade to put down a rebellion; eliminating rivals through show trials or allegedly via mysterious car crashes; and, during elections, intimidating opposition supporters, journalists, and human rights advocates with state-sponsored violence.Skip to next paragraph
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But is Mr. Mugabe actually still in charge?
A civil court case, launched by a Zimbabwean businessman to get back assets that were nationalized under Mugabe's government, raises serious questions about who really controls the levers of power in Zimbabwe today and whether any promises made by Mugabe would be honored by the ministers and generals in his own government.
Documents – including private cellphone text messages from senior Mugabe ministers – obtained by the Monitor from public court records in the case brought by businessman Mutumwa Mawere in the Zimbabwe Supreme Court in Harare, indicate that the authority of the 85-year-old Mugabe is being directly undermined by two of his closest confidants, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mr. Chinamasa is the chief respondent in the Mawere case, which opens Friday Sept. 4, and Mr. Mnangagwa – a former intelligence chief – is a front-runner in the bid to replace Mugabe.
"The question is, 'who is really in charge of the ZANU-PF [Mugabe's party]?' " says Takawira Musavengana, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Tshwane (Pretoria) and knowledgeable about the Mawere case. "When we focus on Mugabe, we're missing the ball. Who are the people behind Mugabe? What do they want? What interests do they have to protect? These power brokers will stop at nothing to make sure that Mugabe or someone who sings from the same hymn sheet is in charge."
The Mugabe succession battle
Like Kremlinologists watching senior communists at a Red Square parade, Zimbabwe watchers have been following rumors of the Mugabe succession battle for nearly a decade, but rarely have the private exchanges between Zimbabwe's sparring ministers come out into the public. The implications of this succession battle could come to a climax in December, when ZANU-PF holds a congress to elect its party leaders. Depending on which faction wins, the choice of Mugabe's successor could have wide-reaching effects, potentially undermining the current fragile coalition government with ZANU-PF's chief opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, and threaten a return of intimidation and violence by security agencies aiming to retain control.
The only thing that is certain, for now, is that ZANU-PF's key players are not playing nicely, among themselves or with others.
A tycoon spurned
Mr. Mawere, a multimillionaire businessman who once had close ties with the ZANU-PF government, and particularly with members of his own Karanga tribal group, owns a massive business empire with interests across Southern Africa. But Mawere was accused of "externalizing" – taking out of the country – some $80 million in assets from his Zimbabwe-based asbestos mine, Shabanie Mashaba Mine Holdings (SMMH), and the Zimbabwean government moved to nationalize his company in 2004.