AFRICA - Zimbabwe's vice president, once seen as Robert Mugabe's heir apparent, has been fired along with eight cabinet allies, the government said Tuesday as the veteran leader purged his foes.
As the elderly head of state sought to quell infighting over his successor, the chief secretary to the cabinet, Misheck Sibanda, said in a terse statement that Joice Mujuru had been fired.
Also sacked were her allies in the ministries of energy, public service, and half a dozen other departments, he said.
The move caps a long campaign by Mugabe and his closest lieutenants to isolate the 59-year-old Mujuru, a former guerrilla fighter, and her supporters.
She has come more and more under attack, notably from 90-year-old Mugabe's increasingly powerful wife Grace.
Critics have accused Mujuru of plotting to assassinate the president and of dodgy business dealings.
"It has become evident that her conduct in the discharge of her duties had become inconsistent with the expected standard," Sibanda said in the statement.
He also blamed Mujuru for "conflict between official responsibilities and private interests".
Mujuru furiously rejected the allegations, saying she had become "the fly in the web of lies" and adding "no iota of evidence" had been produced against her.
The public battle with Mujuru has put 68-year-old Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa firmly in top position to replace Mugabe.
Mnangagwa is seen as a hardliner who in the past controlled the secret police and military.
Some cite another possible candidate as Grace Mugabe, who has also been called "Gucci Grace" and "First Shopper".
The reports came after the ruling ZANU-PF party last week met for a closely-watched congress to elect its officials, finally endorsing Mugabe as president and the 49-year-old Grace as head of the party's women's wing.
After her surprise nomination for the powerful post in August, Grace immediately launched a sustained campaign against Mujuru, accusing her of corruption and plotting to topple her husband.
Mujuru's ouster shook Zimbabwean politics.
"This will leave ZANU-PF severely weakened," said Charles Mangogera of Porterhill Research.
"Those who have been sacked are people with a significant social base. They are no pushovers. They are people with a significant following." "If elections were called today you would be 100 per cent guaranteed that ZANU-PF would lose."