IF truth be told without fear or favour, President Emmerson Mnangagwa is a highly divisive figure.
Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya
Not that he is inherently divisive himself, but his history and unsavoury reputation for brutality divide public opinion. The best evidence to this was the July 30 presidential election which was almost like a referendum on him.
Whereas his party Zanu PF easily cruised to a two-thirds majority, he only managed to scrap through with a disputed wafer-thin 50,60% margin. The point is that he is not a popular and charismatic character.
Partly because of his political history, public personality profile and also lack of charisma.
Yet those who know him personally say he is “as soft as wool”, as he once told former Zimbabwe Independent journalist Brian Hungwe in an interview at the turn of the millennium.
I do not know about that.
I have no experience and evidence of it. I only have the public perception of him. Perception, especially in politics, sometime becomes reality unless bridged with facts. In fact, some say politics is always about perception.
There are two contending narratives of Mnangagwa’s public persona: one that he is a strongman, heavy-handed and cruel leader, and the other that he is a warm and easygoing person.
The former dominates in politics. The new dimension is that Mnangagwa is a strong character with rough edges but warmhearted. He was only used by former president Robert Mugabe to commit all sorts of grisly political excesses and crimes without realising that one day he was going to be personally held accountable for some of the things.
In other words, a good person willingly and unwillingly used by a bad guy. Part of the reason could have been his genuine but also blind admiration and loyalty Mugabe.
It could also have been political naivety at his formative stages.
Mugabe was very popular and influential that he could get most people to do his bidding; dirty work, sometimes against their will and conscience.
Only Mnangagwa knows why he became Mugabe’s loyalist and enforcer until the end. He remains loyal and reverential to him up to this day. That is puzzling, just like why dictators always have some followers.
Since the dawn of civilisation, the world has witnessed many dictators who led their countries and fiefdoms to ruin.
Most people hate, fear and wish dictators burn in hell, yet they often survive long enough to cause devastating physical, social and economic destruction.
Tragically, people create, support and sustain dictators in many ways.
Can we prevent menacing dictators from ascending to power?
Yes — we can.
History has shown that. But we do not always learn from history.
Whatever the case, that Mnangagwa, a dutiful enforcer of Mugabe’s disastrous rule, is better than Mugabe and wants to change the country for the better is now clear.
It seems he was used by Mugabe to do things he does not even believe in and after the Damascene moment he now wants to correct that. He appears to have his own vision and model to change society, and in the process bequeath the nation and future generations a good legacy. That is encouraging, but Mnangagwa must first accept his role and mistakes in the Mugabe era. And then correct that.
Then he can come up with his own plan, team of core believers, advocates of his vision and to exercise leadership to ensure execution. This means he also needs competent, skilled and hardworking people around him to implement his vision and programme.
But before all that he must coherently articulate the vision, have a clear plan and people to run with it.
Mnangagwa actually has a great opportunity, but then again to be a Deng he needs to go well beyond the rhetoric and symbolisms to substance.
The big question remains: will Mnangagwa shake his reputation for brutality, bite the bullet of reform and change things, or nothing much will change under his rule?