Mugabe’s ‘frailty’ opens succession door as war vets turn allegiances. Grace or Emmerson.

The battle for Zimbabwe’s President-for-Life position is starting to heat up, as the change agents turn the screws. #ThisFlag pastor Evan Mawarire got the ball rolling with his social media campaign that ignited a renewed sense of belief among the country’s people. And while Mawarire carries the flag, Robert Mugabe’s government took another blow as the war veterans went on a tirade at the 92 year old leader. It’s opened the succession door, as Mugabe shows frailty, with the veterans calling on Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa to take over, while the state run newspapers are pushing for Mugabe’s wife Grace to take the reins. The wheels of change are slow to get into motion but just like bankruptcy, once they get rolling, it’s hard to stop. – Stuart Lowman

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE, July 23 (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s government denounced leading independence war veterans as traitors on Saturday for an unprecedented attack on ageing President Robert Mugabe and vowed to identify its unnamed authors and put them on trial.

Veterans who fought against white minority rule in the former British colony turned on their long-time ally and commander on Thursday, calling him a dictator in a jolting rebuke highlighting political manoeuvring over his succession and mounting anger over economic woes.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe attends the burial of National Hero Charles Utete at the Heroes Acre in Harare, Zimbabwe, July 19, 2016. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe attends the burial of National Hero Charles Utete at the Heroes Acre in Harare, Zimbabwe, July 19, 2016. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Mugabe abruptly cancelled a hastily arranged news conference on Friday evening meant to respond to the veterans.

State-owned newspapers reflected the power struggle on Saturday with a highly unusual 12-page supplement praising his wife Grace on her 51st birthday. War veterans have accused her of having too much influence over her 92-year-old husband.

“Government … dismisses the said traitorous so-called communique, which is treasonable in the constitutional democracy that Zimbabwe is,” Retired Brigadier-General Asher Tapfumaneyi, the most senior civil servant in the veterans ministry, said in a statement on Saturday.

“Multi-agency investigations are underway to establish its origins, authorship, ownership and purpose,” he said, adding the government would “bring all associated with it to justice”.

The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) issued its allegations of corruption and economic mismanagement by Mugabe in its own name, without individual signatures, after a seven-hour leadership meeting.

Tapfumaneyi expressed dismay at the statement and said the government was working to address most of their grievances by April 2017, a year before the next presidential election. Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980.

“Any agitation or activism outside this very constructive process in the manner of this purported communique would therefore be misguided, treacherous and outright counterproductive,” he said, adding that some former fighters were distancing themselves from the ZNLWVA statement.

Gushing Praise

As Mugabe shows signs of frailty, senior members of the ruling ZANU-PF party are positioning themselves for the post-Mugabe era. Two factions have emerged, one linked to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and one to Mugabe’s wife.

Veterans want Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe, but the president warned them last month against trying to influence the choice.

Read also: Zimbabwe history being re-written. A flag for, not against, ordinary citizens.

The newspaper supplements hailing Grace Mugabe, which were the first in Zimbabwean state media for anyone’s birthday but the president’s, ran gushing messages of praise from government ministries, including defence, and loss-making state companies.

“Dr Grace Mugabe: A woman who conquered Africa,” read a headline in the Herald newspaper, reflecting the growing political influence of the First Lady since her appointment to the top leadership of ZANU-PF in 2014.

“A loving mother, compassionate philanthropist, astute businesswoman, perceptive politician, remarkable patriot,” the state-owned daily wrote.

The political infighting has been exacerbated by an economic crisis, widely blamed on mismanagement and, more recently, the effects of a scorching drought in the region.

Read also: Reader: Reviewing ‘A Handful of Hard Men’ – The day Zim’s spine snapped.

Public anger over inflation, unemployment and other hardships has poured out into the streets in a nation-wide protest movement.

“(Mugabe’s) leadership has presided over unbridled corruption and downright mismanagement of the economy, leading to national economic ruin for which the effects are now felt throughout the land,” the ZNLWVA statement said.

“The President and his cohorts … have slowly devoured the values of the liberation struggle,” it said.