PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has been out of the country since January on three occasions and in all instances has left Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa in charge, ahead of his counterpart Phelekezela Mpoko, probably an indication of who he favours.
Constitutionally the two vice-presidents are supposed to be equal, but Mugabe is given the power to choose who he wants to act as president in his absence.
Section 14(3)(b) of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution governs the appointment of vice-presidents. It states: “The president may from time to time nominate one of them to act as president whenever he or she is absent from Zimbabwe or is unable to exercise his or her official functions through illness or any other cause.”
Mugabe, who has been on annual leave, left Mnangagwa holding the reins during his lengthy absence. He again left him in charge when he went to Zambia and recently to the African Union meeting.
Not once since his appointment as vice-president in December 2014 has Mphoko been trusted with the presidency.
Constitutional law expert Alex Magaisa, who played a technical advisory role in the crafting of the new Constitution, said this pattern of appointing acting presidents should not be taken lightly.
“It might seem irrelevant to talk about the acting presidency, but actually it is critical in the context of our politics and the age and health circumstances of the president,” he said.
“It is vitally important with regard to succession politics.
“Section 14(4)(a) of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, which governs what happens when the president dies, resigns or is removed from office, provides that should any of this happen, it is the vice-president who was last nominated as acting president, who assumes the presidency for a temporary period of up to three months while the ruling party is selecting the permanent replacement.
“All this means, that whenever a vice-president is appointed acting president, that temporary position carries far more weight and meaning for the future of the country, than in ordinary circumstances.
“And so far, it seems the man trusted to hold that role is VP Mnangagwa.”
Magaisa said maybe the thinking was that Mphoko was still new in matters of statecraft and was being given time to learn the ropes.
“Or perhaps, he was just fulfilling the role of page boy at the wedding of a favoured senior cousin,” he said.
Legal expert Chris Mhike said: “In the case of Zimbabwe, there is no first VP and second VP.
“The natural and logical thing is that they should alternate the role of acting president.”
Political analyst Takura Zhangazha said it was Mugabe’s prerogative to choose who he wanted to act.
“This means these are uncertain times in Zanu PF in terms of factionalism and succession.
“The decision to keep Mnangagwa continuously acting may be to make sure that he stamps his authority until he eventually takes over from Mugabe.”
Speaking during a rally in Kwekwe last October before the December congress, Mnanagagwa told supporters that he was Mugabe’s most trusted lieutenant in dealing with issues affecting the country.
“Even after we were hit by sanctions and our dollar was hit by the whites to the point that it became useless, the president appointed a five-member committee, which was led by me so that we could craft our way out of the mess,” he said triumphantly.