VICE-President Emmerson Mnangagwa is clearly the biggest winner from the just-ended Zanu PF congress which saw President Robert Mugabe appoint him as co-vice-president alongside former Zipra commander Phelekezela Mphoko.
With his appointment — which is being challenged in the courts by Professor Lovemore Madhuku as unconstitutional — Mnangagwa, a former Mugabe personal aide and security cluster minister, is well set to be the eventual successor, particularly given reports that China, Zimbabwe’s international benefactor, has endorsed him, barring unforeseen changes in Zanu PF’s convoluted succession politics whose vicissitudes have proved unpredictable.
Mnangagwa, a lawyer by training and a minister for almost 30 years, has worked with Mugabe for a long time since the early years of African nationalism in the 1960s, through decades of arrests, prison life, liberation war and Independence.
In the intervening years, he trained as a guerrilla fighter, survived a death penalty as a young activist, went to school to study and practice law in Zambia, and rejoined the active struggle in Mozambique to become Mugabe’s aide after Zanu’s 1977 Chimoio congress which confirmed his boss as the party’s substantive leader following a turbulent interregnum characterised by internal strife, arrests, detentions, torture and killings.
After 1980, Mnangagwa closely helped Mugabe to construct the current state architecture which has securocratic underpinnings, as state security and defence minister over the years, meaning he is a deep insider in the system.
Before First Lady Grace Mugabe stormed the political scene in August, the faction led by sacked vice-president Joice Mujuru seemed to be unstoppable after seizing control of most Zanu PF organs, including provincial structures, the central committee and the politburo, while Mnangagwa appeared doomed to become a has-been.
However, Grace helped Mnangagwa indirectly as she went on a warpath against Mujuru and demolished her faction within two months of venomous sabre-rattling, ruthless purges and mass removals from office.
The First Lady, accompanied by Mnangagwa’s loyalists led by Oppah Muchinguri, crushed the Mujuru faction leading to the removal of such party stalwarts as Didymus Mutasa, Nicholas Goche, Webster Shamu, Rugare Gumbo, Dzikamai Mavhaire, and Mujuru herself, among others.
The purges were extended to government this week where Mujuru and eight ministers were fired, leaving the party and government firmly under Mnangagwa and his faction which now dominates the Zanu PF central committee, politburo and cabinet after yesterday’s reshuffle.
The Mnangagwa faction’s candidate for the second vice-presidency slot, Phelekezela Mphoko, also came in.
Mnangagwa has been in cabinet since 1980, holding key ministries such as security, justice and defence, except for a brief period when he was Speaker of Parliament. He was Zimbabwe’s first security minister, a position he held between 1980 and 1988. He was also defence minister between 2009 and 2013, having been justice minister prior to that.
As vice-presidents, Mnangagwa and Mphoko will alternate to chair Zanu PF, giving him an opportunity to consolidate his grip on the party and government.
Mnangagwa finally landed the position he found so near yet so far from securing in 2004 after he had managed to get overwhelming support before Mugabe stopped him in his tracks.
Mnangagwa’s appointment, 10 years after his spectacular downfall, also coincided with the return of dozens of his allies who had also fallen by the wayside. He is largely viewed as an efficient administrator, strategist and shrewd operator. The experience he has will come in handy as he tries to navigate Zanu PF’s treacherous succession waters to the top in the aftermath of Mujuru’s dramatic demise.
On the down side, Mnangagwa has a lot of PR work to do to change his unflattering image as a ruthless strongman lacking in charisma and popular support.
The most controversial chapter in his record is that he stands accused by human rights groups of having been in charge of internal security in the mid-1980s when Mugabe deployed a crack North Korean-trained brigade to crush his bitter political rival, Joshua Nkomo and the opposition PF Zapu under the pretext of suppressing dissidents.
In the process, rights groups say 20 000 civilians, most of them from the minority ethnics groups in the south-western region, were killed in grisly atrocities.
Former Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) officer Kevin Woods says in his book, The Kevin Woods Story: In the Shadows of Mugabe’s Gallows, senior government officials involved in the security cluster at the time, including Mnangagwa and Mugabe, were the Gukurahundi architects.
From being Mugabe’s confidant who reported directly to him on the Gukurahundi operation to a condemned prisoner, he recounts his life on the edge, as a double agent. Woods tells of his arrest, trial and imprisonment for almost 20 years, five of them on death row, and his sudden release and deportation to South Africa.
Mugabe has, however, denied he launched a campaign of genocide in Matabeleland and parts of Midlands, although he has described the atrocities as a “moment of madness”. Mnangagwa has also denied culpability, saying he only provided intelligence and did not carry a gun to kill people. However, the two of them have refused to release an official report into the killings.
Woods, a senior CIO officer, was sentenced to death in Zimbabwe and later jailed for life for being a double agent and for politically motivated crimes on behalf of apartheid South Africa and against the ANC in Zimbabwe.
For more than five years of his detention, he was held in the “shadow of Mugabe’s gallows”, cut off from the world, naked and in solitary confinement. Besides, Mnangagwa is also seen as the face of Zanu PF hardliners and has been fingered as the brains behind alleged election rigging plots which have helped Mugabe to remain in power.
He is Mugabe’s chief election agent and is seen symbolising the status quo. It is not clear what his policy preferences are.
Unlike Mugabe, Mnangagwa does not have good oratory skills and charisma.
Born on September 15, 1946, Mnangagwa has a long history in the liberation struggle.
He attended Zanu’s first congress in Gweru in May 1964 and later the Chimoio one in 1977 where he was elected
special assistant to Mugabe before Independence in 1980.