WASHINGTON DC —
The succession debate for Zanu PF will certainly take a new direction following the appointment of Emmerson Mnangagwa as the ruling party’s first deputy secretary and Zimbabwe’s first Vice President.
To many Ngwena, 'The Crocodile', a moniker he earned for his alleged ruthlessness, cunning behavior and cruelty, remains an enigma.
That he is a man of few words, gives all sorts of speculative theories about him to fill conversations everywhere.
Mnangagwa is a trained lawyer and that explains his careful choice of words always. One sure fact is that the man the general public knows is not the same person known to Mr. Mugabe.
Their relationship goes back five decades. Over the years after Zimbabwe’s independence Mr. Mugabe has trusted 68-year-old Mnangagwa with highly sensitive assignments both in Zimbabwe and to shuttle around the globe.
At home he has been minister of Defense, State Security, Justice, where he has spent most of his time.
“It has been apparent over the years that Mnangagwa was in Mugabe’s inner circle,” a Zanu PF insider said.
“Even when it looked like he had fallen out of favor with Mugabe when he demoted him to the seemingly insignificant ministry to oversee rural areas, it was obvious Mugabe could not let his former personal assistant out of site totally.”
This week Mr. Mugabe dismissed his deputy Joyce Mujuru, relegating her to an ordinary card-carrying member “something he could not afford with Mnangagwa.”
Mrs. Mujuru, who served as Mr. Mugabe’s deputy for the last 10 years, was seen as the most likely successor to Mr. Mugabe but she fell out of favor following a blistering campaign fronted by the First Lady, Grace Mugabe, on state media suggesting she was plotting to unseat Mr. Mugabe, accusations she denies.
Because he is touted as Mr. Mugabe’s heir apparent, Mnangagwa has an insurmountable task to convince the general populace that he is a different person.
He was State Security Minister during the Gukurahundi massacres of the 1980s in the Midlands and Matabeleland Provinces. Most believe that is when he got his nickname.
“I think this (Ngwena nickname) came about in 1964 during the Crocodile Group,” he said. “I was among that group and am the last surviving member. I think it came from there but other people may have their own interpretations.”
He served time in jail for working with the Crocodile Group to bomb a locomotive in Masvingo during the liberation struggle.
Describing himself as “a villager from Zvishavane,” Mnangagwa said he was “a child of the revolution and continues to serve his country as a revolutionary.”
Thursday the widowed and remarried Mnangagwa, who has adult children, told the VOA: “I believe those who fear me are not honest people. They are afraid of relating to an honest person.”
He added: “And those who love me know that my life is a straight one – an open book.”
He has been with Mr. Mugabe for over 50 years, at some stage as his personal assistant throughout the 1970s guerrilla war and as a cabinet minister holding different portfolio’s since independence from Britain in 1980.
Mnangagwa said he accepted his appointment with humbleness.
“The task is onerous and I have to fulfil the aspirations of our people and the expectations of my party.”
Even before he was sworn in as vice president, Mr. Mugabe told his followers Wednesday that there had been an attempt on his party’s co-deputy.
But Mnangagwa downplayed the attempt on his life: “Threats to my life are normal,” he says. “I have had these throughout my 52 years of political life so it has become a part of my life.”
Mnangagwa also dismissed reports of animosity between him and former Vice President Mujuru, whose political future remains uncertain following allegations that she was plotting to overthrow Mr. Mugabe, as a creation of the media.
“Comrade Mujuru and I are really colleagues; armed struggle colleagues and comrades and have nothing of any animosity between me and her. You can also interview her; she will tell you the same.”
Mr. Mngangwa says he stands ready to serve President Mugabe where-ever necessary, to help improve the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans.
“Governance is a collective effort. I’ll continue to contribute that that collective effort… and assist my President in the implementation of ZimAsset because that addresses the needs and aspirations of the people across the board,” said Mnangagwa, who’s viewed by many as a hardline in Zanu PF.
ZimAsset is Zimbabwe’s five-year economic blue-print.
Mnangagwa, it seems, is now best suited to succeed Mr. Mugabe, who turns 91 in February.
But in Zanu PF, things are never certain as Mrs. Mujuru has had to learn the hard way. Some say she cannot be completely written off either and warn Mnangagwa should not see himself as shoo-in yet.