“Mugabe unveils heir,” screamed one local newspaper on its front page the morning after President Robert Mugabe named the then Justice minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa as one of his two deputies in December 2014.
Many believed that by appointing Mnangagwa vice president, Mugabe had all but solved the bewildering succession question; yet only days afterwards, it downed that if anything, the mystery had only but further deepened.
Mnangagwa was at the time high-spirited as he traversed the length and breadth of the country, speaking in a newfound proficient tone, like someone who had the grasp of power and authority within his veritable reach.
People have not forgotten how he would address crowds in that gratified voice, billowing into the transducers: “sembwa inovukura zhou ichiramba ichingofamba, vamwe vanongoramba vachitaura, vachingotaura, isu tichingotonga, tichingotonga.”
This analogy, which he appears to have now discarded, likens those who do not like Zanu-PF to dogs that hopelessly bark at an unperturbed elephant, which continues on its proud strides as if the dog does not even exist.
It, however, took a rude arousal to wake him from his musings as he soon discovered that where he thought he was now in the comfort zone having partaken in the outfoxing of his long-time rival, Joice Mujuru, he was about to engage in by far the deadliest political fight of his life.
There is one incident which might have helped bring Mnangagwa’s attention to the new highly formidable threat to his perceived presidential ambitions.
It happened that at some meeting in January 2015, Zanu-PF politburo member Josiah Hungwe who is one of Mnangagwa’s ardent supporters, introduced him as ‘the son of man’.
This jolted some party underlings into action, most notably Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo – with whom Mnangagwa had ganged up to depose Mujuru – who told the State press which he controlled at the time that Hungwe’s behaviour was intolerable as it could potentially create other centres of power besides Mugabe.
The party had adopted the one centre of power concept, bestowing all powers on Mugabe, at the December 2014 congress.
From that time, daggers were drawn against him.
First, they started just as undercurrent plots and schemes, eventually degenerating into humiliating public retributions by Zanu-PF officials of much smaller political stature such as Mandi Chimene, Sarah Mahoka and, lately, even relative political greenhorns like one Mubuso Chinguno of Mutare.
Mnangagwa has seen his support base being mercilessly decimated, beginning with the demise of his storm troopers; seven provincial youth chairpersons namely Godwin Gomwe, Godfrey Tsenengamu, Vengai Musengi, Washington Nkomo, Tamuka Nyoni, Edmore Samambwa and Kumbulani Mpofu who played a key role in propping him up ahead of the last congress.
Soon afterwards, Zanu-PF booted out Mnangagwa’s most loyal comrades; leaders of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (Znlwva), including its chair, Chris Mutsvangwa, secretary-general Victor Matemadanda, spokesperson Douglas Mahiya and commissar, Francis Nhando, after they openly rebelled against the current order in the ruling party, agitating for Mnangagwa to immediately take over as president.
In all key party structures, he has lost key pillars; his opponents control the youth and women’s leagues, they control the majority of the provinces and dominate Parliament.
The situation is such that it is very difficult to see how the man can pull a shocker and emerge one day with all the State power at his disposal, especially now that the party itself has, in unison, publicly declared that there will not be a different head of State and leader of Zanu-PF during Mugabe’s lifetime.
Mugabe has himself further dampened spirits when he recently said he has no plans to retire anytime soon despite turning 93 and proceeding to declare that among his lieutenants, he did not see anyone suitable to inherit his throne, regardless of how long they have served.
It would, however, be imprudent jump from the admiration of such sentiments into concluding that Mnangagwa is finished, according to analysts.
What should not be lost on anyone is the fact that Mnangagwa is one man who has graduated from the Zanu-PF school of hard knocks with flying colours, little wonder they have nicknamed him Ngwena, the crocodile after the ferocious yet inconspicuous reptile.
An interesting observation would be that Mnangagwa has endured the longest possible period of humiliation and frustration in terms of his reported presidential ambitions and he has somehow managed to remain very much within the compass.
He first emerged a presidential hopeful as far back as 1999 when he was serving as acting Finance minister in the absence of the late Bernard Chidzero when the latter was on a long-term layoff due to terminal illness.
Curiously, one newspaper article published in November 1999 ahead of Zanu-PF’s congress in December of that year even suggested that steps were underway to promote Mnangagwa to be party national chairperson to prepare him for the eventual throne.
It further speculated that Mugabe was to retire ahead of the 2002 presidential election, which of course, did not happen.
The chairmanship, however, went to John Nkomo while Mnangagwa had to settle for the position of secretary for administration, from which he was demoted to be secretary for legal affairs at the 2004 congress when he would actually have been promoted to be vice president and second secretary.
What has happened since then is too tired a story to be retold, but he has ended up where he is today, his very position now, once again under serious threat – never mind the one he is reported to be eyeing.
The coming 2018 general election, in which Mugabe has said he will be the Zanu F candidate, is one big thing which shall help shape or scar Mnangagwa’s presidential bid forever.
Critical events are bound to happen between now and then, and careful calculation is a pre-requisite for both Mnangagwa’s camp and the rival Generation 40 camp.
There is no margin for error, not forgetting a seemingly resurgent Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change who could take advantage of the catfights to talon the coveted crown.
Political scientist Ibbo Mandaza thinks that there is no end to the brawling in Zanu-PF.
“What Mnangagwa has done is to let other people fight for his cause while he deceptively publicly disowns them.
“This seems to be working well for him in terms of gaining public sympathy and shielding him from possible Zanu-PF sanction,” said Mandaza.
“However, there is a hell lot more that still needs to be done in this very complex succession race.
“This Mr Nice Guy posture is certainly not sufficient when the war really explodes,” he further reasoned.
Political commentator Rashweat Mukundu said: “He (Mnangagwa) would require the backing of the State machinery which can take care of other political questions if need arises if he is to succeed, otherwise, it’s a toll order.”