Thursday, 11 December 2014

‘The Crocodile’ surfaces in Zimbabwe's murky political waters

Emmerson Mnangagwa has been a strong supporter of Robert Mugabe's economic nationalism. HARARE - With his appointment as official deputy to 90-year-old Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, a secretive hardliner known as 'The Crocodile', is well set as the eventual successor to Africa's oldest head of state.

The 68-year-old is one of Mugabe's most trusted lieutenants, having served at his side through five decades of prison, guerrilla war and then post-liberation government.

Mnangagwa has been a strong supporter of Mugabe's economic nationalism, especially a drive to force foreign firms to cede majority stakes to local blacks, suggesting he may not be the pro-market pragmatist many investors were hoping for.
‘The Crocodile’ surfaces in Zimbabwe's murky political waters
He has been in every administration since the southern African nation's independence from Britain in 1980, holding posts as varied as minister of state security, defence and finance, as well as speaker of parliament.

Most controversially, the new vice-president of the ruling ZANU-PF party was in charge of internal security in the mid-1980s when Mugabe deployed a crack North Korean-trained brigade against rebels loyal to political rival Joshua Nkomo.

Rights groups say 20,000 civilians, most of them from the minority Ndebele tribe in western Zimbabwe, were killed.

Mugabe denies genocide or crimes against humanity but has admitted it was a “moment of madness”.

Mnangagwa's role remains shrouded in mystery, typical of a political operator trained as a communist guerrilla in China in the 1960s and remaining since his teens in the shadows behind Mugabe's shoulder.

Along the way, he earned the monicker 'Ngwena', Shona for 'Crocodile', an animal famed in Zimbabwean lore for its stealth and ruthlessness.

Secretive and insular, he prefers to operate under the radar, those in his inner political circle say, and when pushed into a corner, resorts to jokes and trivia to avoid serious discussion.

“I wouldn't say he is deceptive but it's fair to say his default position is to crack jokes and deflect uncomfortable questions by asking endless questions," one member of parliament close to him said.

“He is very conscious that his public image is that of a hard man but he is a much more complex personality - pleasant and an amazing story-teller,” the politician, also from Mnangagwa's province, told Reuters.

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