The firing of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa could open a path to the presidency for Mugabe’s wife Grace, who has made her political ambitions known over the past three years.
The government announced Monday that Mnangagwa was removed from his post “with immediate effect.”
An explanation for the move came from Minister of Information Simon Khaya Moyo, who told VOA’s Zimbabwe Service that “the vice president has consistently and persistently exhibited traits of disloyalty, disrespect, deceitfulness and unreliability.”
Signs of Mnangagwa’s pending ouster have been around for some time, but escalated over the weekend, during a youth rally for the ruling ZANU-PF party in the city of Bulawayo.
There, President Mugabe denounced those who criticize him in the name of Mnangagwa. In a tone of anger, he asked, “Did I fail in making Mnangagwa as my deputy? If I failed, I will drop him, even tomorrow.”
This is the second time in three years the 93-year-old Mugabe has unceremoniously fired one of his vice presidents following allegations of factionalism and disloyalty. In 2014, he dismissed Joice Mujuru after she was harshly criticized by Grace Mugabe.
Many anticipated that Mnangagwa’s ouster would come at ZANU-PF's hastily-called party congress in December, so news of the dismissal caught many by surprise.
Constitutional experts said the move was legal because vice presidents in Zimbabwe are appointed by the president, not elected as a running mate.
“From the time they organized their (party) constitution, they chose one center of power. Whatever Mugabe does is what works. So there is no need for a meeting. Mugabe simply does whatever he wants in that party,” said Lovemore Madhuku, leader of the opposition National Constitutional Assembly party.
“These vice presidents were appointed. And because they were appointed, they can as the president wishes, be dis-appointed,” said Mugabe's own lawyer, Terence Hussein.
The ruling Zanu PF party has two rival factions — Team Lacoste said to be led by Mnangagwa and Generation 40 allegedly led by Grace Mugabe, fighting to succeed the president. Robert Mugabe has been in power since Zimbabwe attained independence from Britain in 1980.