While Robert Mugabe is abroad for his annual holiday, Emmerson Mnangagwa – “The Crocodile” – is the man in charge of Zimbabwe. This month named Zimbabwe’s first vice president by Mugabe, Mnangagwa is a former justice minister who has long been a prominent leader in the ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front) party. His name has come up as a possible Mugabe successor. Here are 12 things you didn’t know about Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Sources: BBC.com, IBTimes.com, Africa-Confidential.com, AllAfrica.com, News.Yahoo.com, NehandaRadio.com
Mnangagwa earned the nickname “ngwena,” meaning crocodile, for his political cunning, stern demeanor, and darting eyes. Many are fearful of Mnangagwa due to his reputation for ruthlessness, both on and off the political field.
Upon returning to Zimbabwe after receiving military training in China, Mnangagwa led a group of fighters in the struggle for independence. During the fighting, his group blew up trains, killing a white farmer. When he was caught in 1965, he was sentenced to death, but escaped the penalty because he was less than 21 years old. Reports suggest he was tortured and beaten while in detention.
Mnangagwa and President Robert Mugabe met while serving time in prison at Harare Central for their parts in the independence struggle. During that time, Mugabe helped teach Mnangagwa law. Mnangagwa went on to finish his law studies in Zambia upon his release.
A long-time rival of Joice Mujuru, Mnangagwa has recently teamed up with first lady Grace Mugabe to help force Mujuru out. He helped mastermind the first lady’s political rise, and is thought to have been involved in rumors that surfaced in November about Mujuru’s alleged role in an assassination plot against Mugabe.
Following his appointment as vice president, Mnangagwa held a celebration at his rural home in Zvishavane. Party youth stood outside the entrance screening Mujuru allies, preventing them from entering. Fred Moyo, the deputy minister of mines and mining development, was initially allowed in, but was later asked to leave.
Mnangagwa’s home in Mapanzure village is a splashy and imposing building on a mountaintop overlooking the tiny village. It is in stark contrast to the huts that make up the rest of the village, making it clear that Mnangagwa enjoys a different financial and social level.
Unlike many of his fellow ZANU-PF officials, Mnangagwa often travels without security, preferring to drive himself.
Mnangagwa served as Zimbabwe’s spymaster in the early 1980s during the time of the Gukurahundi atrocities – a massacre committed by North Korean-trained forces in the south of the country as they responded to a supposed insurgency. Mnangagwa has since denied any role in the massacre, putting the blame squarely on the army. He has maintained close ties to the military and spy agencies to this day, utilizing a “hands-on” approach.
Mnangagwa’s oldest son, Emmerson Jr., has spoken publicly about his own political ambitions, saying he has every intention of surpassing his father’s achievements and claiming the presidency one day. Emmerson Jr. was recently elected to the Midlands provincial ZANU-PF youth league executive.
Earlier in 2014, Mnangagwa was faced with the task of signing death warrants for nearly 100 murder convicts in his post as justice minister. Mnangagwa refused, saying the sentences were too harsh, and “must be done away with.”
While seeking ZANU-PF support for the vice presidential position, Mnangagwa called an unofficial meeting with party provincial chairpersons. The move angered Mugabe, who stripped Mnangagwa of his senior government and party positions. It wasn’t until Mnangagwa helped mastermind Mugabe’s campaign that he resumed his status within the party.
On Dec. 15, 2014, Zimbabwe state radio announced that Mugabe had left Mnangagwa in charge when he traveled to the Far East for his annual holiday. Mugabe is scheduled to return in mid January, and Mnangagwa will act as president until then.