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Special Report: Behind the scenes, Zimbabwe politicians plot post-Mugabe reforms

Special Report: Behind the scenes, Zimbabwe politicians plot post-Mugabe reforms
From Reuters - September 5, 2017

HARARE/JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - In January, a photograph appeared in Zimbabwes media showing Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa enjoying drinks with a friend. In his hand was a large novelty mug emblazoned with the words: IM THE BOSS.

To supporters of President Robert Mugabe, the inscription bordered on treason. They suspected that Mnangagwa, nicknamed The Crocodile, already saw himself in the shoes of Mugabe, 93 years old, increasingly frail and the only leader the southern African nation has known since it gained independence from Britain in 1980. Those Mugabe supporters are not alone.

According to politicians, diplomats and a trove of hundreds of documents from inside Zimbabwes Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) reviewed by Reuters, Mnangagwa and other political players have been positioning themselves for the day Mugabe either steps down or dies.

Officially, Mugabe is not relinquishing power any time soon. He and his ruling ZANU-PF party are due to contest an election next year against a loose coalition led by his long-time foe, Morgan Tsvangirai.

But the intelligence reports, which date from 2009 to this year, say a group of powerful people is already planning to reshape the country in the post-Mugabe era. Key aspects of the transition planning described in the documents were corroborated by interviews with political, diplomatic and intelligence sources in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

The documents and sources say Mnangagwa, a 73-year-old lawyer and long-standing ally of Mugabe, envisages cooperating with Tsvangirai to lead a transitional government for five years with the tacit backing of some of Zimbabwes military and Britain. These sources leave open the possibility that the government could be unelected. The aim would be to avoid the chaos that has followed some previous elections.

This unity government would pursue a new relationship with thousands of white farmers who were chased off in violent seizures of land approved by Mugabe in the early 2000s. The farmers would be compensated and reintegrated, according to senior politicians, farmers and diplomats. The aim would be to revive the agricultural sector, a linchpin of the nations economy that collapsed catastrophically after the land seizures.

Mnangagwa feels that reviving the commercial agriculture sector is vital, according to the documents. Mnangagwa realizes he needs the white farmers on the land when he gets into powerhe will use the white farmers to resuscitate the agricultural industry, which he reckons is the backbone of the economy, a Jan. 6, 2016 report reads.

Mnangagwa did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the intelligence documents or the photograph of him holding the mug. An aide in his office said questions should be sent to the Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services. The ministry did not respond to questions.

Tsvangirai, a 65-year-old former union leader who enjoys broad popular support, told Reuters in an interview in June he would not rule out a coalition with political opponents, such as Mnangagwa, and wanted white farmers to come back into a positive role.

Asked about reports in the intelligence documents that potential coalition partners or their intermediaries had held secret meetings, Tsvangirai told Reuters in August: Ive never met with Mnangagwas people to discuss cooperation or coalition. There was an intention expressed by Mnangagwas people for us to meet to discuss various issues, but that meeting never took place.

According to the intelligence reports, Mugabe got wind of Mnangagwas ideas about white farmers earlier this year. Mugabe is totally against the idea of Mnangagwa being too friendly to the whites, a report dated Feb. 27 says. He fears that Mnangagwa will reverse the land reform by giving farms back to the whites.

Mugabes office did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokesman for the British embassy in Zimbabwes capital, Harare, said the UK was not involved in any plan for a coalition to succeed Mugabe. The UK does not back any party, candidate, faction or coalition in Zimbabwe. It is up to Zimbabweans to choose who they want to govern them through a free and fair election. The embassy said rumors and leaked intelligence documents were promoting disinformation.

The documents cover the gamut of Zimbabwean politics and contain material derogatory of all its major players, including Mugabe. A June 13 report said Mugabe was in extremely poor health and had told his wife, Grace, that his days on earth are fast becoming less and less.

Reuters has not been able to determine the intended recipients of the documents or their exact origin within the CIO. The intelligence agency officially reports to Mugabe but has splintered as opposition to his rule, which has lasted 37 years, has grown, according to two Zimbabwean intelligence agents interviewed by Reuters. The CIO did not respond to requests for comment sent to it through Mugabes office.

The intelligence reports say that some of Mugabes army generals are starting to swallow their disdain for Tsvangirai, who, as a former union leader rather than liberation veteran, has never commanded the respect of the military. The majority of senior military officers are saying that it is better to clandestinely rally behind Tsvangirai for a change, and have secretly rubbed shoulders with Tsvangirai and cannot see anything wrong with him, a report dated June 2 this year says.

A report dated June 13 this year says: Top security force officials have been clandestinely meeting with Mnangagwa for the past few days to discuss Mugabe. They all agree that Mugabe is now a security threat due to his ill health.

An army spokesman did not respond to written and telephone requests for comment.

ZIMBABWES DECLINE

When Mugabe took power after colonial rule ended in 1980, he inherited an economy flush with natural resources, modern commercial farms and a well-educated labor force. Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere told him at the time: You have inherited a jewel. Keep it that way.

In his early years, Mugabe, a former Marxist guerrilla, won plaudits for improving healthcare and education, promoting economic growth and reconciling with Zimbabwes white minority, including farmers. But in 1998 Tsvangirais Movement for Democratic Change emerged as a serious threat to ZANU-PF, and Mugabe changed tack.

The tipping point came in 2000 when Mugabe approved radical land reforms that encouraged veterans from the fight for liberation to occupy some 4,000 white-owned commercial farms. At least 12 farmers were murdered. Most fled with their title deeds to countries such as South Africa, Britain or Australia. A few remained in Zimbabwe, where they became active in opposition politics.

After Mugabe loyalists and inexperienced black farmers took over the land, the economy went into freefall. Before 2000, farming accounted for 40 percent of all exports; a decade later the figure was just 3 percent.

GDP almost halved from 1998 to 2008. The central bank began printing money to compensate and hyperinflation took hold. At its height Zimbabweans were buying loaves of bread with Z$100 trillion notes.

Mugabe was forced to cede some control in 2009 to a unity government that scrapped the worthless Zimbabwe dollar in favor of the U.S. dollar. Economic growth resumed. But since Mugabe regained outright control in a 2013 election, growth has faded and the central bank has begun issuing bond notes, a domestic quasi-currency that is already depreciating.

It was against this dismal economic backdrop that potential successors to Mugabe began planning for his departure.

THE CROCODILE STIRS

According to the intelligence files, Mnangagwas overtures to Tsvangirai and white farmers became apparent in early 2015 amid bitter strife within the ZANU-PF party. On one side is Mnangagwas factiondubbed Team Lacoste after the crocodile-branded French fashion chain. On the other is G40, a group of young ZANU-PF members who have coalesced around Mugabes 52-year-old wife, Grace.

In March 2015, the intelligence documents make the first mention of Mnangagwa meeting white farmers, including Charles Taffs, a former president of the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), the farmers professional association. Some of the gatherings were boozy affairs, according to the intelligence reports.

Mnangagwa had a slip of the tongue this week that angered Mugabe and Grace, when he told people who were around that ZANU-PF rigged the elections in 2013, this being said while under the influence of liquor, a March 19, 2015 report reads.

His drinking problem is worsening these days, being put down to the fact that certain white people, who include Taffs ... have become friendly with Mnangagwa and have spoiled him with gifts of whisky. It is now party after party for Mnangagwa and his friends because he is provided with free whisky, supplied without any hitches and in great quantity.

MASSACRES

MILITARY MIDDLEMAN

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