Former president Thabo Mbeki was called in to mediate between Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, after fears that the latter was planning to forcibly unseat the 93-year-old head of state.
According to a source who was briefed about the meeting, Mugabe apparently fears that Mnangagwa was planning to pull off a coup d’etat.
“He has the backing of the military and he wants to challenge the Uncle [Mugabe] for the leadership position,” the source said.
This version was corroborated by another source in the know.
Mbeki, who advocated “silent diplomacy” – or a policy of no public criticism – in relation to Zimbabwe during his time as president, is trusted by Mugabe.
Mnangagwa, a former defence minister, has been publicly endorsed by Mugabe as his successor ahead of next year’s elections, but Mugabe seems to have changed his mind.
His wife, Grace, who is also said to have her eye on the presidency, last week challenged Mugabe publicly to name a successor, something she said he has been refusing to do.
“You, president, don’t be afraid,” she said. “Tell us your choice, which horse should we back.”
Soldiers and police officers clashed this week in Harare’s city centre, apparently coinciding with Mbeki’s visit.
The fight was reportedly sparked by traffic police on Tuesday, who spiked the tyres of an army truck. Soldiers in uniform then stormed through the city centre and beat up police officers as well as civilians in retaliation.
Mbeki’s mediation appears to have been successful because police spokesperson Charity Charamba in a statement later in the week said both the police and defence force condemned the attack, which was being investigated.
The 74-year-old Mnangagwa is also said to have the support of some Western countries, such as the UK, the US and Canada, who see him as someone who will bring stability to the country.
The Zimbabwe Independent this week reported that Mugabe had separate meetings with Mnangagwa and defence force commander Constantino Chiwenga.
Mnangagwa has reportedly asked Mugabe for assurances about his fate after an attack on him by Grace Mugabe over the weekend.
She told the rally, mostly in Shona, she wasn’t sure if she and the vice-president were still friends, and she also said she had been approached by unnamed people who wanted to take to the streets to remove him from office.
Former vice-president Joice Mujuru was sacked by Mugabe in 2014 after she was considered to be too ambitious to succeed Mugabe and after Grace Mugabe denounced her in a speech.
Mnangagwa apparently feared the same could happen to him.
Mbeki, who arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, on Friday as head of the AU Elections Observer Mission, declined to give any interviews or respond to questions.
City Press was referred to the Thabo Mbeki Foundation communications chief Thami Ntenteni, who failed to respond to messages on the matter.
Mnangagwa is currently acting as president after Mugabe left for a visit to Iran on Thursday.
Zimbabwe has two vice-presidents, and should anything happen to Mugabe, the vice-president that last acted steps up into his position.
Mnangagwa has downplayed Grace Mugabe’s remarks, this week assuring Parliament that these would have no effect on the stability of the government.