HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, 90, said his justice minister will be the senior of two new vice presidents, a move that puts him in position to succeed the longtime leader.
Mugabe on Wednesday told a ruling party meeting that Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and another appointee, Phelekezela Mphoko, will "automatically" become vice presidents. The law provides for two vice presidents; Mnangagwa has been designated as the senior of the two deputies.
Mnangagwa, a close ally of Mugabe since the 1970s independence war, replaces Joice Mujuru, who was fired from her ruling party position and removed from her government seat following allegations that she plotted to oust Mugabe. Mujuru denied the allegations.
Mnangagwa, 68, has been long been viewed as Mujuru's main political rival to succeed Mugabe. Mujuru appeared to be ahead of Mnangagwa when she was promoted to vice president in 2004. Mnangagwa was then accused by Mugabe of plotting a coup and was relegated to a junior cabinet post and his allies in the ruling party, Zanu-PF, were purged from the party leadership, similar to what has just happened to Mujuru.
Mnangagwa remained loyal to Mugabe and slowly regained his trust. He served as Mugabe's chief election agent in last year's polls.
Dubbed "the crocodile" for his heavy-lidded visage and ruthless political maneuvering, Mnangagwa reputed to have close ties with the military and the state intelligence network. Since Zimbabwe's independence in 1980 he has held several cabinet posts including defence, intelligence and justice.
The second vice president, Phekezela Mphoko, is also a liberation war veteran and is not very well known in Zimbabwe as he spent many years as a diplomat.