Zimbabwe leaders bicker amid Cyclone Idai disaster
Zimbabwe's main political rivals, President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), descended on Manicaland province this week in the wake of Cyclone Idai.
At face value, their visits were meant to provide them with an on-the-ground opportunity to get a first-hand view of the impact of the cyclone that claimed more than 100 lives in the constituency, and to interact with survivors.
But much deeper was the battle under way for political supremacy between Mnangagwa and Chamisa.
The unspoken contest between the two men on show in Manicaland this week has its roots in the disputed outcome of the July 2018 election, in which Mnangagwa was declared the winner by the Constitutional Court.
Chamisa's star shone first as he mobilised donations for victims at the MDC's headquarters and arrived at the affected areas ahead of Mnangagwa, who was still in the capital city, Harare, to preside over the swearing-in of a new minister for Harare province.
"Chamisa works hard, using time and resources to help victims of Cyclone Idai," said his spokesperson, Nkululeko Sibanda.
When a journalist asked Chamisa to comment on what he thought of the president jetting off to a foreign land at a time of crisis, Chamisa replied: "I am here, which president are you talking about?"
Last weekend, Mnangagwa cut short a trip to the United Arab Emirates and returned home in the wake of the cyclone's destruction.
Mnangagwa spent two days in Manicaland, accompanied by his deputy, Constantino Chiwenga, and top ministers on visits to the affected areas.
Funding of $50m was released by the Treasury to assist victims.
State media went into overdrive all week, running front-page headlines such as "Idai: President leads from the front" and "Cyclone Idai: ED on the ground."
But a low point in Mnangagwa's offensive came when members of the community jeered and booed the constituency's Zanu-PF MP, Joshua Sacco.
Mnangagwa threw his weight behind Sacco, saying that he, the ruler of the country, liked Sacco very much.
Some Zanu-PF members said they felt Mnangagwa was making it too easy for Chamisa to compete with him for the spotlight.
"At times, former president Robert Mugabe's hard politics paid. He would have never allowed Morgan Tsvangirai to get near the site ahead of him or even get there. There would be excuses to do with state security, but all the same Mugabe's opponent would not get leverage," a party member said.
Professor Philani Moyo, the director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at SA's University of Fort Hare, said natural disasters provided a platform for political contestation.
"The victims become a social group advancing grievances and demands to those in power. In the case of Zimbabwe right now, the crisis has opened up a powerful factor that the opposition is riding on."