Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has entered the squabble between his two deputies, Phelekezela Mphoko and Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The two are currently involved in a public spat, with Mnangagwa having told Zimbabweans he was poisoned a few months ago when he attended a rally addressed by Mugabe.
Mnangagwa, 75, was flown to South Africa for emergency treatment after falling ill at the Zanu-PF party rally in the southern town of Gwanda on August 12. Some supporters claimed he had been given poisoned ice cream in an attempt to kill him.
The Independent Media’s Peta Thornycroft reports when Mugabe encountered Mnangagwa at an airport in Harare yesterday, he attacked his potential successor.
Mnangagwa is a frontrunner in a tight race to succeed him as Zanu-PF president.
Mugabe is said to have given his deputy, whose only strong opponent is the ‘G-40’ group led by Mugabe’s wife, Grace, a public dressing down over comments he made at a memorial service suggesting that his illness was caused by poisoning.
A witness to the alleged verbal altercation, which lasted about 10 minutes, said Mnangangwa tried in vain to explain to the elderly statesman that his words had been deliberately twisted. The feisty Mugabe was apparently having none of it, and chastised him in full view of aides and airport officials.
Mngangagwa is alleged to have tried to clarify to Mugabe that what he said was: “What happened to [Minister Shuvail] Mahofa in Victoria Falls is what happened to me,” to which Mugabe retorted: “Did you do a postmortem on her?”
Speculation is rife in the landlocked southern African country that Mahofa died from being fed poisoned food.
Many analysts in Zimbabwe believe this latest spat is directly linked to the question of who will succeed Mugabe, who, in terms of constitutional amendments, is only able to serve for two terms. Mnangagwa’s version to Mugabe appears to differ vastly from reports in the local media over the past two weeks about his strange illness.
Later during the day, TimesLIVE reported Mphoko himself shot back at Mnangagwa, accusing him of “using lies” over allegations of poisoning and fuelling political tensions ahead of next year’s elections.
Although he has so far not made his political ambitions clear, he said Mnangagwa’s claims had undermined Mugabe.
Mphoko accused Mnangagwa of making a “calculated” challenge to the president’s account of the incident.
“There appears to be an agenda to undermine the authority of President Mugabe and to destabilise the country by using lies,” Mphoko said in a statement. “This must stop.”
The rare public rift came as Mphoko served as acting president during a visit by Mugabe to South Africa. During a rally three works ago, Grace Mugabe publicly ordered Mnangagwa’s wife at a rally she was addressing to beat up Zanu-PF youth members if they come to her house because their presence showed her and her husband were factionalists.