But he now stands on the brink of succeeding President Robert Mugabe, following his naming as first Vice President on Wednesday, December 10.
The move – expected since the vilification campaign against former Vice President Joice Mujuru began some two months ago and her dismissal earlier this week – elevates Mr Mnangagwa to the brink of the presidency, a position he feels he deserves and has earned after decades of service to Mr Mugabe.
His ascension to the presidency is not automatic, not even in the event of Mr Mugabe’s death in office, but he has consolidated his power base inside and outside of ZANU-PF to such an extent that he is unlikely to be challenged.
Section 101 of Zimbabwe’s new constitution (enacted last year) provides that if the president dies, resigns or is removed from office then the first VP takes over until the expiry of that term of office. The second VP becomes the first VP and the new president must appoint a new person as the second VP.
But these provisions were subsequently suspended for the first 10 years – mainly due to the influence of Mr Mnangagwa, who was the second VP at the time. As things stand and until the year 2023, Section 14 (4)(b) of the Sixth Schedule (of the new constitution) provides that if the president dies, resigns or is removed from office, the vacancy is filled by a nominee of the political party which was represented by the president when he stood for election.
So until the provisions of Section 101 kick in, ZANU-PF will nominate a successor to complete the presidential term and the first VP would not have an automatic promotion.
Given the above it is clear why Mr Mnangagwa and his support crew – including First ‘Lady’ Grace Mugabe and political hit man Jonathan Moyo – had to remove any vestige of support for former VP Mujuru.
Now, as first Vice President, Mr Mnangagwa remains the proverbial heartbeat away from the presidency and would face no serious challenge. This Mr Mugabe made sure of when he dismissed eight cabinet members on December 9, including state security minister and long-time ally, Didymus Mutasa.
Minister of Youth, Indigenisation and Empowerment Francis Nhema was amongst those sacked. This has implications for Zimbabwe’s performance under the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Staff-Monitored Programme (SMP). This scheme is an important step towards obtaining external debt relief and questions need to be raised about what the new cabinet will do with the undertaking.
One of the benchmarks set by the Fund for mid-2015 is the publication in the Government Gazette of a clarification on the country’s indigenisation and economic empowerment policies. The firing of Mr Nthema and a move late in November to remove indigenisation compliance monitoring from his former ministry is of great concern from an SMP perspective.
Broadly, power in ZANU-PF has shifted decisively in favour of the hard-line Mnangagwa faction, and this cements the indigenisation, nationalisation, and empowerment policies championed by The Crocodile and his supporters in ZANU-PF.
The Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim Asset) has, according to Mnangagwa supporters, been “taken back” from the clutches of Ms Mujuru and her allies in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and Western governments. Taken back to what?
Given those sentiments, the continuing view of Zimbabwe’s opposition parties as the enemy and Western governments as conspirators, and uncertainty over success under the SMP, economic recovery prospects look bleak.
The only positive news during December regarding the landlocked economy was the introduction of so-called bond coins into the multi-currency system in order to boost the availability of small change. The name is derived from the $50m bond sold earlier this year to fund the minting of special coins.
Circulation of $20m worth of 1c, 5c, 10c and 25c coins will start on December 18 through normal banking channels, with 50c denominations available from March next year. A further $30m worth of South African rand coins will also be introduced sometime in the near future.
The value of the special coins will be on par with that of the US dollar equivalents. Greenbacks are the dominant currency within Zimbabwe’s multi-currency regime (representing 80% of transactions), but their lowest denomination is $1.
Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) Governor John Mangudya signalled that a return of the Zimbabwean dollar – some have suggested that the bond coins are a start to this process – is out of the question.
“There are no fundamentals to bring back the local currency. We have no appetite to do so, and we can’t be careless to do so and we won’t do that,” commented the governor. The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ), business organisations and financial institutions have signalled their support for the release of these coins.
*Gary van Staden (Senior Political Analyst) and Christie Viljoen (Senior Economist) at NKC Independent Economists