HARARE (Reuters) – As Zimbabwe braced for opposition protests after the controversial elections of this month, a heated argument broke out in the offices of President Emmerson Mnangagwa about who was responsible for national security, said two people with direct knowledge of the meeting.
At one point, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga Mnangagwa recalled that it was he who had put the president in power after last year's coup against Robert Mugabe.
Data obtained by Reuters about the gap after the election between Mnangagwa and Chiwenga shows the clearest picture of a power struggle that could determine the future of Zimbabwe.
As a result, Western governments and large companies fear that Zimbabwe will not be able to fulfill its economic potential, putting billions of dollars in aid and foreign investment at risk.
Zimbabweans had hoped that the elections on July 30 would become a page after decades of turmoil under Mugabe.
That optimism evaporated in the days after a military crackdown on demonstrators, when the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) was claimed by the opposition to have manipulated the vote and police and soldiers were accused of having abused opponents of the opposition.
Mnangagwa, the 75-year-old Mugabe ally who replaced his old friend, was declared the winner by the ZEC on 2 August, but the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Nelson Chamisa, 40, challenges the result in the constitutional court this week.
Analysts say that the court probably does not override the result.
President spokesman George Charamba said there were no dividing lines between Chiwenga and Mnangagwa, following the united front that the two publicly defended.
"The arrogant reality of harmony within the presidency will not change because of wishful scenario building," Charamba said in an e-mail response to questions. "You get an idea that some interests are threatened by the combination in the presidency."
After a more peaceful build-up of the elections compared to the violence of the Mugabe years, the nervousness grew when the ZEC was delayed in releasing the presidential result.
When it finally became clear that the ZEC was about to announce that Mnangagwa had won, Chamisa claimed victory on July 31 and accused ZEC president Priscilla Chigumba of co-operating with ZANU-PF, the ruling party, to hold the elections. steal. Chigumba has defended her independence.
While the tension rose that day, Mnangagwa, Chiwenga and Philip Babanda, the leader of the armed forces, held crisis trajectories at the presidency offices in Harare, according to the two sources, one of the army and another of ZANU-PF. Several other senior officials were present, they said.
Chiwenga, 61, said that because he had the defense portfolio, he had to manage security at demonstrations of the opposition expected the next day, according to the sources.
Mnangagwa and Sibanda wanted protests to be handled by the police.
"Chiwenga was unhappy, saying that the elections had been badly managed and that stability had to be restored, and that it was being heated up," said the military source.
"Chiwenga said no one would forget who deposed Mugabe."
Charamba, who speaks for the president and vice president, refused to comment further. Chiwenga did not answer a phone call to his phone. An army spokesman did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
A day after the meeting, when the riot police tried to disperse Protestants in Harare, unadulterated armored vehicles stormed into the streets. Soldiers shot live rounds and delivered supporters of the opposition. Six were killed.
Since then, human rights groups have reported more than 150 incidents of alleged abuse by security forces against opposition supporters, including illegal detention, assault, plunder and rape. Many in the MDC have fled.
Mnangagwa refused the reports of a crackdown by the opposition and said last week that human rights groups "have an agenda".
International election observers have called for more transparency on the hard action of the army on 1 August, which they say is threatening to undermine the credibility of Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa, who opened an investigation into violence, says the MDC is to blame for all the dead because it encouraged demonstrations. There is no explanation why soldiers have used circles against unarmed demonstrators.
The police said they asked for military help.
But two prominent Western diplomats said the Mnangagwa team told them that Chiwenga was responsible for ordering the army to be put on the street without providing any evidence.
Chiwenga, who spent four decades as a soldier before going to the government in December, did not openly comment on military intervention.
"If Mnangagwa orders the implementation, that's a concern, if he did not know it in a way, it's more worrying, you have to ask: who is in control?" One of the diplomats told Reuters.
"This internal struggle can paralyze any reform process and Zimbabwe will continue to go through from crisis to crisis."
Many analysts and diplomats in Harare believe Chiwenga's ultimate ambition to remove Mugabe was to take place, but he gave Mnangagwa power to give the military intervention the veil of legitimacy.
"Chiwenga should not be underestimated, he will dig," said Alex Magaisa, a London-based political analyst.
"If Mnangagwa survives the lawsuit, I still do not expect him to finish his term, I expect Chiwenga to take over for the next election."
The bitterness between the factions of Mnangagwa and Chiwenga has increased because of the failure to achieve the smooth election that Mnangagwa promised, say sources of security.
"They operate in parallel with governments," said Magaisa.
The split between Chiwenga and Mnangagwa makes it difficult for investors who say they do not know who to talk to. Many deals have fallen apart.
If Zimbabwe is to help the International Monetary Fund to revitalize the economy, Mnangagwa and Chamisa must find a way to implement painful reforms. They have a history of overcoming adversity together.
In 2003, Chiwenga, Mnangagwa and Mugabe were among the 77 Zimbabweans who had been sanctioned by the United States for allegedly undermining democratic processes & # 39; and causing politically motivated violence & # 39; in the elections of the previous year. The Mugabe government denied committing human rights violations.
Despite a decade alongside Mugabe, both men are trying to show that they are a break from the past.
Mnangagwa has made progress in improving relations with Western states since he is in power, while trying to portray his image as the right hand of Mugabe and accusations of involvement in a crackdown in the 1980s 20,000 people died. He denies wrongdoing.
But that charm offensive may already have been unraveled after spokesman Charamba – a close-knit Chiwenga ally – blamed "hostility" of Western states, especially the United States, to postpone investors.
Chiwenga, who has close ties with Russia and China, is struggling to change himself as a statesman rather than a soldier. He met officials from Great Britain and the European Union last week to discuss national security, but made a bad impression, a source said in the meeting.
When diplomats expressed their concern about human rights violations and the violence on August 1, Chiwenga rejected it as "fake news" and told them not to interfere, the source said.
Fears are growing that a divided presidency will not achieve the drastic overhaul of government services and the security services that Western states have demanded.
"This is a decisive moment for the credibility of this government." The time for rhetoric is over, "said Piers Pigou, a southern Africa consultant at the Crisis Group think tank.
The quarrels also defeated the Zimbabweans who, during the coup, took to the streets last year to embrace soldiers.
"We should have known that these generals would be the real ones," said Tonde, a street trader in Harare.
"They have exchanged camouflage for suits and ties, but they are the same men deep inside."
Reporting by Joe Brock; Edit by Giles Elgood
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