Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. (File Picture)
Harare - President Robert Mugabe has shifted members of his cabinet around, mostly taking powerful ministries from those in a faction supporting vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa and giving those posts and new ones, to those backing his wife, Grace Mugabe and her supporters in the G40 faction.

He has reassigned 10 ministers and replaced eight members of his cabinet who he appointed after the last elections in 2013.

The ruling Zanu PF is divided over who should succeed Mugabe when he dies. He fights his last elections next year, when he is 94, and will retire five years later. But many believe that in the last years his health, already frail, will force him to retire.

If he leaves office, before the next polls, the senior vice president will run the country for 90 days before fresh presidential elections. Mnangagwa, 75, has never made it a secret that he wants to be president after Mugabe has gone.

The most significant change via the cabinet reshuffle is that finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, who had made good contacts with international financial institutions since he was appointed in 2013, is replaced by Ignatius Chombo, arguably the least trusted of Mugabe’s henchmen, who has himself been exposed repeatedly for unexplained wealth.

Chinamasa, a lawyer by training, now heads up a new ministry of cyber security, since the panic buying of last month, and sparks of inflation which Mugabe claims was engineered by Zimbabwe’s enemies.

The new foreign affairs minister is Walter Mzembi, who has, in the past, been critical of some aspects of the present government when he was in charge of tourism and was seen as approachable, but clearly not in the Mnangagwa camp of Zanu PF.

Mnangagwa, appointed justice minister in 2013, was appointed vice president the following year but unexpectedly kept on running the ministry which has now been awarded to a former securocrat and retired general, Happyton Bonyongwe, former boss of the vast Central Intelligence Organisation.

Ahead of the reshuffle, the two factions were releasing ever more vulgar tweets with G40 suggesting that Mnangagwa’s recent illness and stay in a South African hospital - he claims he was poisoned - could have been caused by taking anti retrovirals, implying the VP has HIV/AIDS, which is still seen as shameful in Zimbabwe.

Others loyal to Mnangagwa then sent out a tweet on Monday implying that G40’s main propagandist, higher education minister Jonathan Moyo is gay and homosexual activities are illegal in Zimbabwe. Another tweet later in the day suggested that one of Moyo’s adult children had recently been seen collecting ARV’s from an HIV/AIDS clinic in Harare.

The G40 faction has a team of journalists creating crude tweets and accusatory videos which are streamed into the social media world. Mnangagwa issued a crude and lengthy anti G40 statement late last week.

Many journalists expected to be told of the expected cabinet reshuffle via a press conference at state house but they were turned away and the new appointments were released by cabinet secretary, Mesheck Sibanda.

Independent Foreign Service