HARARE, Zimbabwe – The often nasty battle to succeed Zimbabwe's aging president has turned into a tempest in a tea cup — literally.
On the face of it, nothing was wrong with Facebook photos of one of the country's vice presidents holding a mug with friends during the recent holidays.
Problem is, the mug featured the words "I Am the Boss."
Emmerson Mnangagwa's opponents within the fractured ruling ZANU-PF party pounced on the opportunity to accuse him of harboring ambitions to take over from 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe.
Mnangagwa, who is acting president while Mugabe holidays abroad, has issued a statement denying any such ambitions.
Mugabe does not take kindly to suggestions of anyone taking over from him. He fired his deputy of 10 years, Joice Mujuru, in 2014 on accusations she was using witchcraft to oust him. In April, four members of the once-loyal war veterans' leadership were axed from the party for calling on Mugabe to step down.
Mugabe has declared he wants to live until 100 and rule for life.
Meanwhile, two factions, one associated with Mnangagwa and another with first lady Grace Mugabe, are fighting to position themselves for eventual takeover once Mugabe leaves the scene.
The mug photos only heightened the jostling.
"When pictures not only tell more than a thousand words, but also deepen the power grab narrative!" posted higher and tertiary education minister Jonathan Moyo on Twitter.
Moyo, an outspoken minister once critical of Mugabe, is associated with a youth faction linked to the first lady. He often takes to Twitter to attack Mnangagwa.
Mugabe in December warned his officials against using Twitter to fight succession wars.
"Everybody knows that the Boss is Gushungo. One Boss at a time, please," Moyo tweeted, calling the drama "Mug-saga." Gushungo is one of Mugabe's family names.
In defense of the mug, Energy Mutodi, a businessman who appeared with Mnangagwa in one of the photos, responded: "Everybody is a boss in his or her own house. Every woman who is happily married calls her husband boss, and it doesn't follow that by so doing, women are telling their husbands to overthrow Mugabe."
The state-run Herald newspaper on Thursday said the mug was "part of the numerous gifts the Acting President received for Christmas and took to his rural home unopened." According to the newspaper, a guest arrived uninvited just as Mnangagwa was opening the presents and took a photo.
For his part, Mnangagwa did not mention the mug in a statement released Wednesday but criticized "some elements" for trying to turn Mugabe against him.
"Those who are bent on drawing a wedge between me and my leader ... are sure to fail," he said.