Some Zimbabweans are unaware the role of vice presidents, who are not allowed to perform some functions of the president when he is not on duty. Zimbabwe has two vice presidents, who earn thousands of dollars in a nation struggling to generate revenue for capital and recurrent expenditure.
One of the vice presidents has spent millions of dollars in hotel accommodation since his appointment a year ago.
Section 100 of Zimbabwe’s constitution clearly stipulates that whenever the president is absent from Zimbabwe or is unable to exercise his or her official functions through illness or any other cause, those functions must be assumed and exercised by vice presidents or a minister chosen by the president or cabinet.
The constitution further says the acting president is forbidden from exercising certain duties such as the deployment of deployment of defense forces and entering into any international convention or treaty.
The acting president, adds the country’s supreme law, cannot revoke the appointment of ministers, deputy ministers or assign functions to minister or deputy ministers.
Like what President Mugabe once said vice presidents Phelekezela Mphoko and Emmerson Mnangagwa have to play to his tune. One of them is currently an acting president at a time Mr. Mugabe is on holiday in the Far East.
Independent political commentator, Fortune Gwaze, says Zimbabwe would do well with only a single vice president instead of having two as they are mere figureheads.
“In accordance with Section 99 of the constitution, the role of the vice presidents is to assist the president in the execution of his or her duties. The roles are very necessary because the president is not an ever present person.”
Another political commentator and Media Centre director, Ernest Mudzengei, concurs.
“He or she who becomes acting president in this country does not have much in terms of real power. I think it’s more of a ceremonial post than anything else. We know for certain that an acting president cannot chair cabinet and from that perspective we can tell that nothing more can really be done by an acting president except to say that he will be the point person between issues and the actual president.”
Owen Dhliwayo, a local political activist, says the vice presidents, who act in his position when he is away, do not assist him but are merely told what to do.
“When you look at Zimbabwe, their interpretation is that you wait for Mugabe to tell you what to do, so that’s assisting in the Zimbabwean context.”
First Lady Grace Mugabe was once quoted in the local media as saying that the two, Mnangagwa and Mphoko, took notes on what to do from her and Mr. Mugabe.
Some Zimbabweans, who spoke to Studio 7, professed ignorance on the role of the vice presidents or acting president, while others like Clifford Hlatshwayo said their role was unclear.
“The role of the two vice presidents of Zimbabwe that is Emmerson Mnangagwa and comrade Mphoko is not clear and I don’t think they are necessary in terms of bringing change and development in Zimbabwe.”
Harare lawyer, Musindo Hungwe, said the vice presidents are just figureheads as they do not have powers to carry out executive functions of a president.
“Basically all the executive functions that are the epitome of the presidential power are taken away by that exception which is contained in Subsection 2 of Section 100. So if you are to ask me the long and short of my response would be the vice presidents are simply there as figure heads, they do not have any executive functions. They wait to be appointed functions and duties by the president as and when he deems fit.”
But for Zanu PF activist, Terence Tadzungaira, power or no power, it does not matter as what is important is that they gain experience when they act as president.
“They are learning. What we basically need them to do is to understand the vision of our president Robert Mugabe as of the party so we believe the two vice presidents are acting with the belief of Zanu PF’s ideology.”
According to the constitution, the functions of the vice president are to assist the president in the discharge of his or her functions and perform any such other functions such as the administration of any ministry, department or act of parliament that the president may assign to them.
For example, Mr. Mugabe has assigned Mnangagwa to be in charge of the Justice Ministry while Mphoko deals with peace, reconciliation and national issues, among other duties in government.