Mnangagwa third term bid will bring strife—Observers

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8 mins read

Brenna Matendere

Harare—President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s reported bid for a third term will offset “vicious factionalism” and a far-reaching crisis, political analysts have warned.

The current Zimbabwean constitution that was adopted in May 2013 limits presidential tenure to two five-year terms served consecutively or intermittently.

While the provisions relating to presidential terms of offices still allow for an extension beyond two years, the legal charter is explicit that the incumbent cannot benefit from the amendments and the constitutional changes must be subjected to national referenda.

Public debate around the alleged third term bid was re-ignited recently when the Zanu PF provincial chairman for Masvingo, Robson Mavhenyengwa, introduced a new slogan—Mnangagwa will be there in 2030—that was endorsed by the president’s co-vice president, Kembo Mohadi and repeated by attendants at the National Youth Day commemorations to mark late former president Robert Mugabe’s 21 February birthday.

Mnangagwa also seemed to subtly endorse the slogan when he jokingly remarked that only God knew when he would go.

Speculation was already rife that Mnangagwa wanted to extend his rule beyond 2028 when his second term expires and fresh national elections held after, in 2021, the constitution was amended to allow him to have direct influence in the appointment of judges, considered crucial in shaping political dynamics in Zimbabwe.

Mnangagwa also did away with the running mate clause in the constitution, thereby giving him greater leeway in deciding who deputises him, in addition to stuffing cabinet and the public bureaucracy with his relatives and cronies.

In separate interviews, political analysts told NewsHub that the push for an extended presidential term would intensify factionalism in Zanu PF, similar to the one that almost split the party before Mugabe was pushed out of power with the assistance of the army in November 2017.

At that time, a faction called Lacoste that included Mnangagwa and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga—then commander of the Defence Forces—fiercely fought another one, G40 that supported Mugabe’s continued rule and had support from the police and central intelligence.

Mnangagwa with the late Mugabe

University of Zimbabwe professor of politics, Eldred Masunungure, said the reported term bid by Mnangagwa has opened floodgates of internal party divisions.

“I think the ‘third termist’ movement is likely to throw a big cat among the Zanu PF pigeons, sowing vicious factionalist struggles in the party analogous to those from 2014 to 2017 that culminated in the military-assisted exit of (Mugabe). In short, I foresee a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth, going forward. The floodgates of factionalism have been opened and it will be a Herculean task to close them,” he said.

Eldred Massunungure

Chiwenga, seen as the mastermind and executor of the 2017 coup, seems to be leading a rival faction that is gunning for a takeover from Mnangagwa, who had reportedly been given the reigns as the civilian face of the purge.

Mnangagwa was reportedly supposed to serve only one term and hand over to Chiwenga, but he successfully moblised the party to give him another reign of power from 2023 to 2028.

Mnangagwa has invested much into his extended term bid and neutralised Chiwenga’s influence in the military, added Masunungure.

“As I see it, only the hand of God can frustrate ED’s (Mnangagwa’s) quest for a third term. He has invested a lot in that outcome and he would like to harvest from that investment. Of course, the hand of man can also be at play in the form of another November 2017 but ED appears to have heavily fortified himself against such an eventuality,” he said.

Professor Stephen Chan who teaches world politics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (OAS) also warned that Mnangagwa would face intense factionalism and legal hurdles.

He, however, insisted that Chiwenga, who resigned from the military to enter full blown politics with high ambitions, will be a major impediment for Mnangagwa.

“Chiwenga has lost none of his ambition, so these are battle lines being drawn between the supporters of Mnangagwa and Chiwenga. The whole vexed question of succession will indeed loom again.

“However, the constitutional change to allow anybody to have a third term, not just Mnangagwa, requires not only a 2/3 majority in the legislature; it must be put to national referendum.  Whether a disunited opposition can oppose it successfully is one question. If not, that is the moment when the fissures in Zanu PF will come to the fore,” he said.

University of Cape Town-based constitutional expert, Alfred Mavedzenge, said Mnangagwa could overcome the constitutional barriers he faces because of his incumbency and influence.

“People talk of the constitution as an impediment but I don’t think Mnangagwa can be stopped by that. He has the lawyers and the courts on his side. What can only stop his third bid are people in Zanu PF with the position that that a third term will betray their founding principles of democracy in the country as a revolutionary party. So people who do not want to see Mnangagwa going for a third term must speak to people in Zanu PF and open their eyes to this point,” he said.

Vivid Gwede, another political analyst, said a third term bid would be “a very big gamble” for Mnangagwa.

“The third term debate in Zanu PF will probably intensify succession politics and dynamics,” Gwede told NewsHub.

Rashweat Mukundu, a media development expert and analyst, said Mnangagwa’s third term bid would torch a political crisis.

“It is like setting an inferno that cannot be stopped. People are tired of misrule, mis-governance. People are tired about this power mongering. Let the old man finish his second term and go. This country is struggling in many ways, people are out of jobs, inflation is high and there is lack of respect for human rights. There is, therefore, nothing for him to anchor any third term on,” he said.