Saturday 24 March 2018

'The Crocodile' is now tipped to lead Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa. Photo: AP
Zimbabwe vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa. Photo: AP

Caroline Mortimer

For those who spent decades fighting the dictatorship of Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, the news of his downfall is bittersweet as his likely successor could potentially be just as brutal. Known as "the Crocodile", Emmerson Mnangagwa is likely to replace the 93-year-old Mugabe.

The military takeover came within days of Mr Mugabe's decision to fire Mr Mnangagwa as the southern African nation's vice president earlier this month. The government said he was showing "traits of disloyalty, disrespect, deceitfulness and unreliability".

In reality, his removal was more likely to have been a bid to clear a path for Mr Mugabe's wife Grace to succeed him. The rivalry between Mrs Mugabe and Mr Mnangagwa is well known. He claimed she had tried to poison him during a youth rally in August after he took ill, an allegation denied by Mrs Mugabe,

Mr Mugabe made his first appearance in public since the coup at a graduation ceremony on the outskirts of the capital. He has so far resisted pressure to resign, but the leader of Zimbabwe's influential group of war veterans said he would not be allowed to remain in power. He said the military had targeted the "rot that was led by Grace Mugabe and her husband".

But who is Mr Mnangagwa? The 75-year-old is a veteran of the brutal struggle to end white minority rule in Zimbabwe which saw the rise of a new ruling elite with Mr Mugabe as its leader. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in the early 1960s for bombing a train and spent many years in exile where he trained as a lawyer.

In the later stages of the fight against white minority rule, which came to an end in 1980, Mr Mnangagwa served as Mr Mugabe's personal assistant and bodyguard.

Before then the country, along with Zambia to the north, had been known as Rhodesia which had declared independence from the UK in 1965 but it was not recognised until Mr Mugabe came to power.

After independence Mr Mnangagwa served as the country's first security minister and its chief spymaster.

He is widely believed to have orchestrated the Gukurahundi massacre where the Zimbabwean Fifth Brigade massacred rebels, many from the ethnic Ndebele tribe, in Matabeleland during the 1980s. Estimates for the death toll vary but it is believed to be anywhere between 4,000 and 20,000.

Mr Mnangagwa has always said army officers were responsible, but later referred to the supporters of rival party Zapu as "cockroaches" the Fifth Brigade would eradicate.

Over the next two decades he served in a variety of different roles in the cabinet such as justice minister, finance minister and for a time foreign minister before becoming vice president in 2014.

He is known as "the crocodile" for his resilience and ability to survive the turbulence of Zimbabwean politics. Others point to the "crocodile gang" he was part of as a young man which led to his arrest. One unnamed Zimbabwean businessman said it was because "he never says a word but suddenly he bites".

Mr Mnangagwa's Zanu-PF faction - known as "Lacoste" after the clothing brand which has a crocodile as its logo - included members of the army and veterans from his time as security chief.

His main rival in the succession was Joice Mujuru who was his predecessor as vice president. After she was denounced in 2014, she went on to found an opposition party, Zimbabwe People First - and with Ms Mujuru out of the way, Mrs Mugabe rose as a new potential successor.

Known for her violent temper and excessive shopping habits, 52-year-old Grace had largely stayed out of the public eye because of her unpopularity with the public. A former secretary from South Africa, she has been compared unfavourably to Mugabe's first wife Sally, is regarded as the "Mother of the Nation" and who died in 1992.

She was appointed by her husband as the head of the women's league which gave her a seat on the Politburo - the central committee which controls Zanu-PF.

Opponents in the military and among war veterans began to feel they may lose their wealth - acquired after land seizures from white farmers during the 1990s - and power to her after Mugabe's death.

The country once known as the breadbasket of Africa was forced to impose a ban on the import of fruit and vegetables last month to save its foreign currency reserves. Overall food production has tumbled over the years - wheat production fell from 320,000 tonnes in 1990 to just 20,000 last year.

Zimbabwe had to abandon its own currency and use US dollars after hyperinflation made it worthless in 2008 and the latest estimate of GDP per capita is just $2,276 (€1,930). One in four children lives in chronic poverty.

Although the Mugabes are the poster children for this obscene wealth and corruption, Mr Mnangagwa and his cronies are just as culpable.

A UN report accused him of plundering diamonds when Zimbabwean troops intervened in the civil wars of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In 2002 he seized the farm of a white man, Koos Burger, who was forced to claim political asylum in the US due to death threats.

Mr Mnangagwa is no democrat, having masterminded stealing the 2008 election, with widespread vote rigging and political violence against supporters of opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai.

The World Bank reported this year that Zimbabwe's economy has stabilised over the past 10 years through a thriving informal economy and private sector. It said the country had "enormous potential" if its "political fragility" could be healed along with investment and fiscal reforms.

A reformist government could rely on Zimbabwe's ample natural resources - as well as arable land, the country has large supplies of diamonds, gold and platinum - and support from China, a key ally, to use government funds to improve its infrastructure and skills base.

But although Mr Mnangagwa's accession may provide Zimbabwe with some much need political stability after years of plots and denouncements, he is unlikely to be the reformist its people crave.

Sunday Independent

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