The stone-faced 75-year-old securocrat who has pulled the rug from under Robert and Grace Mugabe’s feet to emerge as the next leader of Zimbabwe, is feared because of his long links with the country’s infamous security apparatus, but at the same time has also become venerated among the Zimbabwean population who endured nearly four decades Robert Mugabe rule.
Zimbabwean nationals who have spoken to international media houses in the wake of Robert Mugabe’s resignation are making it clear that Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, or simply ED, or the Crocodile as they affectionately refer to the sacked former vice president president, might be the devil. But they see him as a lesser devil than the ousted Mugabe.
Mnangagwa is set to be sworn in as President of Zimbabwe soon following Mugabe’s resignation which was announced to the world by Parliament of Zimbabwe Speaker Jacob Mudenda on Tuesday.
Mnangagwa was expected back in the capital Harare on Wednesday evening after a self-imposed exile in neighbouring South Africa after his November 6 axing.
By lunchtime on Wednesday thousands of jubilant Zimbabweans had gathered at Manyame Airbase on the outskirts of the capital to await the returning hero.
Most were simply thankful to the man credited with loosening Mugabe’s octopus-like grip on power. Mugabe resigned as president with immediate effect on Tuesday, after 37 years as first prime minister and then president, moments after the Zimbabwean parliament began impeachment proceedings against him.
On Harare’s heavily potholed streets, and probably beyond the borders of Zimbabwe, very little is known and spoken about Mnangagwa, or Ngwena [Shona for crocodile].
Mnangagwa is largely an enigmatic character, a man of few words, but chiefly dreaded amongst the Zimbabwean population due to his strong military links, decades of close proximity to Mugabe, and his role in the 1980s Gukurahundi genocide which will forever be a blemish on his legacy.
Around 20 000 Zimbabweans are believed to have died in the Gukurahundi massacres, as the military moved with a heavy hand to crush perceived dissidents in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions.
“Gukurahundi” is Shona for “the first rains which washes away the chaff (from the last harvest), before the spring rains”.
Mnangagwa joined the military at a very tender age, after he had been recruited into the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) in 1962. He received military training in countries including China and Egypt. He earned the nickname “Ngwena” in his heydays as a political activist due to his crocodile style in sabotage activities against the colonial government.
At Zimbabwe’s independence from British white minority rule in 1980, Mnangagwa was appointed Minister of State Security, a role he held until 1988 when he was appointed Minister of Justice.
Relations between Mugabe and Mnangagwa later became frosty, with 93-year old Mugabe sacking his deputy this month following weeks of harsh criticism and ridicule directed at Mnangagwa from Mugabe’s wife, Grace – as factional fights to succeed Mugabe turned into a nasty and very public catfight.
Mnangagwa became Zimbabwe’s vice president in 2014, taking over from Joice Mujuru who had served in the position for more than 10 years. Mujuru was dismissed from Zanu PF and the Zimbabwean government – a similar fate which later befell Mnangagwa and which banished him into self-imposed exile.