NEARLY half of Cabinet members are living in suspense, unsure of what the future holds for them, amid indications that President Robert Mugabe, who turns 91 on Saturday, might wield the axe on certain elements he still suspects of working with former vice president Joice Mujuru, and her allies.The veteran politician, who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, the year the country attained its independence from Britain, has kept the nation guessing as to who will fill vacant ministerial posts and when it will occur, two months after he dismissed a total of 16 bigwigs from their ministerial positions.
After the eventful ZANU-PF conference last December, the incumbent swung the axe on his widowed deputy, Mujuru, along with eight ministers, including his long-time ally, Didymus Mutasa, on allegations of plotting against him.
He followed that up with the dismissal of seven more ministers, two weeks later, of which the biggest casualties were Sylvester Nguni and Flora Buka, former ministers of State.
But even after rooting out the 16 bureaucrats, ZANU-PF insiders say the veteran nationalist is still not happy with the majority of the current serving ministers in terms of their performance and, more importantly, their allegiance.
There are several ministers who are still being said to be sympathetic to Mujuru and are expected to be kicked to the kerb. These include Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Lazarus Dokora; Minister of State for Provincial Affairs for Masvingo, Kudakwashe Bhasikiti — whom the President himself told last year that he was in the wrong basket, and Minister of State for Provincial Affairs for Midlands, Jason Machaya, against whom fellow party members in the province are pushing for his ouster.Regarding performance, none of the serving Cabinet ministers, especially those in economic- related ministries, seem to be carrying their weight.
The country’s economy is currently on its knees, weighed down by lack of investment and loss of competitiveness, among a myriad of other factors.
Treasury recently forecast that the country’s economic growth would be at 3,2 percent this year, almost at the same level as last year’s 3,1 percent.
Growth last year had initially been forecast at 6,1 percent but had to be later revised downwards owing to low business and investment confidence, tight liquidity and subdued international prices for major exports.
Following the shake-up of Cabinet in December, certain positions have not been filled making it imperative for President Mugabe to close the gaps. These are Minister for Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development; Deputy Minister for Justice and Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs.
There are also new ministerial portfolios which were introduced towards the end of last year, the War Veterans Ministry as well as the Ministry of Economic Planning for which deputy ministers are yet to be appointed.
While the President, as is his usual modus operandi, played his cards close to his chest, some names are already being bandied about for the various positions.
Speculation is linking the First Lady, Grace Mugabe, who is the secretary of women in the ruling ZANU-PF to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
Joram Gumbo is tipped to take over from Dokora as Education Minister; while July Moyo is likely to be Minister of State for Midlands; and Makhosini Hlongwane, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Gumbo, Moyo and Hlongwane are said to be aligned to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is seen as President Mugabe’s heir apparent.
Presidential spokesperson, George Charamba, told the Financial Gazette this week that he had no idea when the veteran leader would make the appointments.
“It is the prerogative of the President whom he appoints to ministerial positions and when,” Charamba said. “If it was as much as much a priority to him as you imply he would have made the appointments already.”
Asked about the possibility of the First Lady earning her first cap in Cabinet, Charamba had this to say: “Why are you people so pre-occupied by the First Lady as if she is an officer of government?”
No comment could be obtained from the chief secretary to the President and Cabinet, Misheck Sibanda, as he was said to have travelled.