Zimbabwe‘s information minister has announced the dismissal of Emmerson Mnangagwa as vice president for showing “traits of disloyalty”.
The expulsion on Monday removed a potential successor to Robert Mugabe, the 93-year-old president and leader of the ruling ZANU-PF party.
It also cleared the decks for Mugabe’s wife, Grace Mugabe, to succeed her husband.
Explaining the reasons for Mnangagwa’s removal, Simon Khaya Moyo, the information minister, said: “The vice president has consistently and persistently exhibited traits of disloyalty, disrespect, deceitfulness and unreliability.
“It had become evident that his conduct in his discharge of his duties had become inconsistent with his official responsibilities.”
Christopher Gwatidzo, Mnangagwa’s top aide, said he had not seen the statement by Khaya Moyo and declined to say whether the vice president had been at his office on Monday.
On Sunday Grace Mugabe called Mnangagwa a “coup plotter” and a “coward” in a speech that ruffled more than a few feathers in ZANU-PF.
The speech came after one by Mugabe at a rally on Saturday, where he criticised Mnangagwa for the first time.
Some powerful army generals backed Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe and have publicly said they will not allow someone who did not fight in the 1970s independence war to rule. Grace Mugabe, 52, did not fight in that war.
Reacting to Monday’s development, ZANU-PF’s youth league said Grace Mugabe should replace Mnangagwa.
“We need someone who is acceptable and with unquestionable loyalty to the party and its principal, the President Comrade RG Mugabe,” said Kudzai Chipanga, ZANU-PF youth league leader. “The only person possessing such qualities is … the first lady.”
With Mnangagwa ‘s exit, Mugabe has ousted one of his last remaining associates from the liberation war, who have stood by him since independence from Britain in 1980.
Mnangagwa’s Achilles’ heel may well have been his supporters, who kept calling on Mugabe to step down.
Relations soured between the two men in August after hints by Mnangagwa’s allies that he had been poisoned by ice cream from a dairy owned by the Mugabes.
The fact that Mnangagwa’s removal was announced by a government minister and not the chief secretary to the president and cabinet highlighted the deterioration in their relationship.
Phelekezela Mphoko, another close Mugabe comrade, continues to serve as Zimbabwe’s second vice president.
Mugabe intends to contest elections due next year and does not face a united opposition.
Morgan Tsvangirai, Mugabe’s main rival, has been in and out of a South African hospital after revealing that he had colon cancer in 2016.