Zimbabwe military officials given key jobs in post-Mugabe cabinet
Zimbabwe’s new president has announced a fresh cabinet with key roles given to veterans of the ruling Zanu-PF party and senior soldiers, and no posts for the opposition.
Emmerson Mnangagwa took power after a military takeover and popular protests ousted Robert Mugabe last week.
Many hoped the 75-year-old would give leading opposition politicians significant roles in an “inclusive” government in line with his promises to reach out to all “patriotic Zimbabweans”.
Analysts said the decision was “a negative pointer”, while opposition figures and activists reacted strongly to the announcement overnight.
Tendai Biti, a former finance minister and opposition politician, called the move a “betrayal”.
“We are now dealing with a junta. We have the answer to if the coup was done to give Zimbabwe a chance or to protect the private interests of certain individuals and the ruling party,” Biti said.
“Now we the citizens have to regroup and [fight] for a normal elected political authority.”
Doug Coltart, a human rights activist, said the new cabinet “does not represent a new Zimbabwe but the entrenchment of the old failed political elite”
“It’s very concerning. It’s a very hardline … government. Very little changes for the struggle that is ongoing to open up political space,” he said.
“A lot of people feel a lot more concerned this morning than they ever felt under the Mugabe regime.”
Mnangagwa’s appointment of party loyalists and the military – as well as leaders of the powerful war veterans – will concern international observers hoping for democratic reform after 37 years of Mugabe’s autocratic rule.
It will also complicate negotiations for the massive financial aid Zimbabwe needs to repair the damage done to the once-thriving economy over recent decades.
The British government, which wants to engage in southern Africa through its former colony, will be particularly disappointed.
Hours before the cabinet announcement, the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said the UK could take steps to stabilise Zimbabwe’s currency system and extend a loan to help it clear World Bank and African Development Bank debts, but such support depended on “democratic progress”.
Zimbabwe is due to hold elections next year.
The new cabinet includes controversial figures such as Obert Mpofu, a wealthy Zanu-PF veteran, and Patrick Chinamasa, a former finance minister who has been reappointed to his former post.
Chinamasa made dismissive remarks about the opposition during the eight-day crisis that led to Mugabe’s downfall.
Piers Pigou, a Johannesburg-based analyst at International Crisis Group, said: “It does not bode well, certainly. Those who were drinking the cool aid that this was a new broom will have to temper their enthusiasm for the moment. We will have to wait and see what the [new ministers] actually do but it does not bode well.”
The new cabinet underlines how the end of Mugabe’s rule was driven by a redistribution of power and patronage within the party and its allies within the military, not by popular calls for reform and economic regeneration.
The trigger for the move against Mugabe by the armed forces was the firing of Mnangagwa on 6 November at the behest of the 93-year-old dictator’s wife, Grace, and her supporters within Zanu-PF.
The party was split by a bitter battle over the succession to Mugabe. With Mnangagwa forced to flee overseas, Grace Mugabe, 52, appeared to have a firm grasp on power. She is now under house arrest in the sprawling residence she shares with her husband in Borrowdale, an upscale neighbourhood of Harare, but is covered by an immunity deal negotiated with military authorities.
Mnangagwa’s allies outside the party have been rewarded for their support. Maj Gen Sibusiso Moyo, who read a statement announcing the military takeover on national television on the night the armed forces took power, becomes foreign minister. A senior air force officer will be minister of land.
Chris Mutsvangwa, who leads the war veterans and played a key role in mobilising protests against Mugabe, takes charge of the information ministry.
The announcement comes after a series of court judgments sent mixed signals. Former associates of Mugabe have been hit with fraud charges and are in custody, but one well-known democracy activist was acquitted on Thursday of charges of subversion.
Evan Mawarire’s #ThisFlag movement last year organised the biggest demonstrations in a decade against Mugabe over a deteriorating economy, cash shortages and accusations of government corruption.
He was arrested in September and faced up to 20 years in jail if convicted.
But on Thursday a high court judge upheld the confiscation of computers taken by police from a satirical news programme’s Harare headquarters on the day of the military takeover.
A legal bid by Magamba TV to challenge the constitutional validity of the search and seizure was rejected.
An employee of the network, which produces an immensely popular weekly online political comedy show, has been accused of subversion and will face a court hearing next week.
Samm Farai Monro, the network’s creative director and one of Zimbabwe’s best known comedians, said: “That these baseless and trumped-up charges are still sticking is a very worrying sign about how the new government views freedom of expression.
“We hope it does not signify the beginning of a clampdown on freedom of expression and social media users ahead of elections next year.”