HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has fired his deputy, Joice Mujuru, and seven government ministers, his cabinet secretary said on Tuesday, in the latest twist in a power struggle over the choice of his successor.
The move took place days after Mugabe, 90, publicly rebuked Mujuru, who was seen just months ago as the most likely to take his place when he dies or retires.
The chief secretary to the cabinet, Misheck Sibanda, said in a staement that Mujuru had been dismissed because of conflicts of interest and conduct “inconsistent with the expected standard”.
Two government sources said Mujuru and several ministers aligned to her received dismissal letters on Monday night.
State security minister and long-time Mugabe ally Didymus Mutasa was also sacked, along with Francis Nhema, who heads the indigenisation ministry in charge of a black economic drive that forces foreign firms to sell majority stakes to locals.
Mugabe did not immediately name their replacements.
The news appeared to seal the political fate of Mujuru, seen by some in the Zimbabwean business community as a common-sense leader who could have helped restore ties with the West that fell apart during the latter half of Mugabe’s 34 years in power.
Mujuru, who was also dismissed as Mugabe’s deputy in the party last week, gave statements to the Tuesday editions of two private daily newspapers dismissing the accusations against her.
“The allegations that I, alone, or together with various distinguished comrades have sought to remove His Excellency R G Mugabe from office are ridiculous,” Mujuru said.
Mujuru, the 59-year-old former guerrilla leader known as “Spill Blood” during the liberation war, was not immediately available to comment on the report of her dismissal.
Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, has not indicated a preferred political heir, but his advanced age and rumours of ill health have escalated succession fights in the ruling ZANU-PF party.
The race has been shaken up in recent weeks by first lady Grace Mugabe, 49, who has emerged as a potential successor. She has also launched withering attacks on Mujuru.
Mujuru’s fall could also clear the path for Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, a hardline Mugabe loyalist known as ‘The Crocodile’, to position himself to take over when Africa’s oldest head of state dies or retires.
The current political infighting comes against a backdrop of slowing economic growth and high unemployment.