HARARE, November 23 (The Source) – After 40 years in Robert Mugabe’s shadow, Emmerson Mnangagwa is finally stepping out on his own.
But there is more than one Emmerson Mnangagwa, and we don’t know yet which one we are getting.
There is the ruthless and cunning Mnangagwa. There is also the witty and humourous Mnangagwa. Then there is also the third Mnangagwa; the one whose efforts to reform the economy were thwarted at every turn by Robert Mugabe.
Mnangagwa is taking over just months away from an election in which he will be the ZANU-PF candidate. Over the next few months, and perhaps even weeks, Mnangagwa will begin his bid to win that election. How he approaches that election will tell us which Mnangagwa we have.
The Crocodile emerges
With the economy in crisis, marked by empty banks and silent factories, many will be hoping for the reformist Mnangagwa. But now that he is the one with all the power he once gave Mugabe, there is also the possibility of the “crocodile” emerging as he tries to stamp his authority over a divided party while also winning a crucial election.
Mnangagwa’s “Crocodile” nickname came from the Crocodile Gang, a special sabotage unit that he says he was part of in the liberation struggle. The moniker has since come to mark his image as the cunning and ruthless operator.
His former boss, Mugabe, recognised both Mnangagwas and deployed them accordingly. When he was Security Minister in the 1980s, he was accused of being involved in the massacre of thousands of innocent people. In 2008, Mnangagwa led Mugabe’s election campaign, and some critics believe he was involved in the violence.
When Mugabe briefly flirted with the idea of economic reform and reengaging international financiers, he gave Mnangagwa the job. With the likes of allies such as then Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa, they laid out an economic reform plan in 2013 that involved cutting spending at home, refining damaging empowerment laws, and restructuring foreign debt.
Mnangagwa took control of measures such as the ease of doing business reforms, resulting in Zimbabwe climbing just a few notches up the global ease of doing business index. He was the Government point man for meetings with big business, where he has gained the respect of many executives. His team also put together proposals for parastatal reforms, among them a new code of conduct that seeks to improve how state enterprises are run and led.
Most of these proposals came to naught, as Mugabe preferred to listen to things that made more political sense than economic. When Prisca Mupfumira, another Mnangagwa ally, fired thousands of ZANU-PF youths who are feeding off the Government payroll, Mugabe’s nephew, then Youth Minister Patrick Zhuwao, went to his uncle and whispered to him the move would lose him votes. Mugabe reversed it at the next rally.
The spending cuts approved by Cabinet in 2015 were swiftly reversed.
Which is why it was the political, ruthless Mnangagwa that Mugabe found more useful. Mnangagwa suffered a setback in 2004, when Mugabe barred his path to the Vice Presidency, but he regained Mugabe’s trust by engineering ZANU-PF’s controversial electoral victories.
“Outside of President Mugabe, there is no better strategist in ZANU-PF than Mnangagwa,” Owen Ncube, a ZANU-PF MP and Mnangagwa’s long-time aide, has said.
Ncube is accused of running a militia on Mnangagwa’s behalf, a group dubbed “Al Shabaab” that violently runs gold fields in the Midlands. Ncube denies that either he or Mnangagwa have anything to do with the gangs.
Bureaucrats who have worked with him paint different pictures.
“He gets things done, one way or the other,” said a senior official at the Ministry of Justice, which Mnangagwa led until Mugabe reshuffled him and his allies out of ministries. “Either he charms his way through things with his humour, or he just rams right through. Either way, he gets things done.”
Mnangagwa has a sharp sense of humour, belying his persona as a feared securocrat. At one time, asked about his reputation as a hard man, he told an interviewer that he was, in fact, “soft as wool”.
Among the locals in his home town, he is known for humourous church sermons. He is a lay preacher in the Methodist Church, and a massive Chelsea fan.
But there is a ruthlessness about him that is unsettling and hard to ignore. His people try to spin it, to make it sound like a good thing.
One member of Mnangagwa’s team tells The Source that Mnangagwa’s toughness is what will be needed to fight corruption. But Mnangagwa himself is not clean. A 2002 UN report implicated him in the looting of resources in the DRC, calling Mnangagwa “the key strategist for the Zimbabwean branch of the elite network”.
But while the popular view is that he is business-friendly, he has no known successful business interests. His farm in Sherwood, near Kwekwe, is well run, but there is little else known.
Still, he is seen as more open to investment than Mugabe was.
He has boasted about how he protected white dairy farms in the Midlands during land reform, which resulted in the province becoming the country’s biggest dairy producer.
In 2015, he told Chinese TV that Zimbabwe needed to change its approach to investment if it was to recover. He showed impressive command of economic data, reeling off power stats and industrial output figures.
“We must know that investment can only go where it makes a return so we must make sure we create an environment where investors are happy to put their money because there is a return,” Mnangagwa said.
He wanted Zimbabwe to go the way of China, which hoisted itself from a small economy in 1980 to a global superpower. His comments offended Mugabe, who saw them as a jibe at his leadership.
Mnangagwa’s supporters like to cast him as their own version of China’s Deng. Tshinga Dube, an ally of Mnangagwa, has said in an interview that Zimbabwe needed a leader that would bring the country out of poverty and into prosperity as China did.
Under Mugabe, especially in his final years, the Government drifted along with zero leadership. Corruption is rampant because Mugabe excused it, many times publicly. It cannot be hard for Mnangagwa to do better.
This week, Mnangagwa released a statement couched in all the right spiel about the need to build consensus across parties. His people say this is the sort of Government he plans to run. But he hasn’t been tested yet.
Once he gets power and has to use it, and defend it, we will know which Mnangagwa comes out; the Emmerson who will try to win by reforming the economy, or the crocodile who will again use muscle to subdue opponents.
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