President Robert Mugabe said on Wednesday that he fired his deputy and longtime ally, Emmerson Mnangagwa, because he was scheming to take power, even by witchcraft.
Mugabe spoke publicly for the first time since dismissing Mnangagwa, who had been seen as Mugabe’s potential successor. Now Mugabe’s wife appears poised for the role.
The 93-year-old Mugabe told thousands of cheering supporters that the ousted deputy had plotted to take over since becoming a vice president in 2014.
Mnangagwa replaced Joice Mujuru, who had been ousted and accused by Mugabe of using witchcraft to take power.
“We have kicked him out for the same reasons that saw us chasing away Mujuru,” Mugabe said of Mnangagwa. The president added: “People were told that I will retire in March but I did not. Upon realizing that I wasn’t, he started consulting traditional healers on when I was going to die.”
First lady Grace Mugabe has been endorsed by ruling party groups to take over from Mnangagwa as vice president at a party congress next month, placing her in prime position to succeed her husband.
“No one will remove the president except God,” the first lady told the crowd on Wednesday, without directly addressing her ambitions. “God grant me the serenity to accept things I can’t change. I love my president. I will help him to make the country prosper.” On Sunday, she said at a rally that she was ready to take over from her husband.
It was reported that Mnangagwa had left Zimbabwe. Senior officials who spoke before Mugabe and his wife aimed jibes at Mnangagwa, describing him a “border jumper.”
An ally of Mnangagwa, Chris Mutsvangwa, speaking to reporters in Johannesburg, described Mugabe as a “dictator” hoping to cling to power until his death and his wife as a “mad woman.”
“They want to seize power ahead of the election,” knowing they have lost popularity, Mutsvangwa said. Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state, is already running for next year’s election.
Frustration has been growing in the once-prosperous southern African nation as the economy has deteriorated under Mugabe, who has been in power since independence from white minority rule in 1980.
Mnangagwa was the more prominent of the country’s two vice presidents and had been part of Mugabe’s cabinet since independence. He is said to have enjoyed the support of military generals and war veterans; his critics view him as ruthless because he was in charge of state security when Mugabe unleashed a North Korean-trained brigade to crush dissent in western Zimbabwe in the 1980s.