The elevation of Emmerson Mnangagwa to the presidency of Zimbabwe would amount to an act of political survival matched only by the man he’d replace, Robert Mugabe.
Until Mugabe fired him as Vice President last week, Mnangagwa’s entire political career had been hitched to Zimbabwe’s 93-year-old leader.
Now, with the military in control in Harare and Mugabe confined to his residency, Mnangagwa is believed to be at the center of moves to install himself at the head of a transitional government.
“From one Tyrant to another”
This wouldn’t be the first time Mnangagwa has been in line to lead Zimbabwe.
A core member of Mugabe’s ruling circle and a combat-hardened veteran of the struggle for liberation from white minority rule, Mnangagwa, now 75, was mooted as a potential presidential successor in leaked US diplomatic cables as far back as 2000.
Those cables, part of a huge cache leaked to whistleblowing website Wikileaks by US army soldier Chelsea Manning, paint a picture of a canny political operative, who has surfed the waves of Zimbabwean politics, navigating periods both in and outside of Mugabe’s trusted inner circle.
They also hint at Mnangagwa’s dark past. In late 2000, a cable written by Earl Irving, then a US diplomat in Harare, described Mnangagwa as “widely feared and despised throughout the country,” warning he could be “an even more repressive leader” than Mugabe if he were to succeed him.
Fear of Mnangagwa stems from his position as Mugabe’s enforcer and head of the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), or secret police, and his alleged role in the 1983-84 massacres of the Ndebele ethnic group in Matabeleland, a region in Zimbabwe’s southwest that was a center of political opposition to Mugabe’s regime.
The International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), an international non-partisan organization, estimate at least 20,000 civilians were killed by the CIO and the armed forces.
“Most of the dead were shot in public executions, often after being forced to dig their own graves in front of their family and fellow villagers,” IAGS said in a 2011 report.