Zimbabwe’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa was recently sworn into office, replacing former president Robert Mugabe. Few people know the man dubbed Ngwenya (Crocodile) aside from a reputation of political cunning and loyalty.
The nickname Ngwenya (crocodile) emanates from his involvement in sabotaging railway and other related infrastructure during the Ian Smith and Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) era. Other members of this group were the late Edison Shirihuru who died in office as Deputy Director of Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation. Mnangagwa has risen over the past 37 years to become the most powerful man in ZANU-PF.
Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa was born on the 15th of September 1946. Zimbabwe, which was known as Rhodesia at the time, experienced tumult as liberation groups organized against British colonial rule, and Mnangagwa was sentenced to death in 1965 for blowing up trains and killing a white farmer. Though his sentence was later overturned, Mnangagwa was reportedly tortured during his time in prison.
He completed his early education up to Standard 4 at Lundi Primary School in Mnangagwa Village, Zvishavane, but the repressive political situation of the time forced his family to relocate to Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia) in 1955 where he completed Standard 4. He successfully completed his standard 5 and 6 at Mumbwa Boarding School from 1956–1957 and enrolled at Kafue Trade School for a Building course. Although it was a three-year course, he was selected to enter Hodgson Technical College. Since the college only accepted applicants with “O” Levels, he sat for an entry examination, and achieved a first class result. This enabled him to enroll for a four-year City and Guilds Industrial Building Course.
With others, he was expelled from the college in 1960 for political activism which led to the burning of some property. In the wake of this incident, he and three others and started a construction company at Nampala which lasted for three months. He was asked by Zambia’s United National Independence Party (UNIP) to help organise the party at Chililabombwe (Bancroft) until the end of 1961. He had joined the UNIP student movement at the college and had been elected into its executive. Naturally when he returned to Lusaka he became Secretary for the UNIP Youth League while working for a private company.
In 1962 Mnangagwa was recruited into Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) by Willie Musarurwa. After joining ZAPU, he left for Tanzania and stayed in Mbeya for quite some time with the likes of James Chikerema, Clement Muchachi and Danha. He then left for Dar es Salaam in April 1963 and, together with 12 other cadres, proceeded to Egypt for military training at the Heliopolis Training School.
In August of that year, he and 10 of the 13 cadres decided to join the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), which had just been formed back in Zimbabwe. This led to their detention by Egyptian authorities who recognised ZAPU. During the detention period, he communicated with Robert Mugabe who was in Tanzania at the time and told him that 11 students had broken away from ZAPU, stopped training and were now detained. Mugabe sent Trynos Makombe who was travelling from China to come to Egypt to secure their release. After getting released, they were given tickets to fly to Tanganyika.
On arrival in Tanganyika (Tanzania), six of the eleven came back to Rhodesia while Mnangagwa and the remaining five joined the first Frelimo Camp at Bagamoyo in late August 1963. He then left for China with other Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) cadres, where they spent the first two months at the School of Ideology in Beijing. Combat training was conducted in Nanking for the next three months; Mnangagwa subsequently remained at another school for military engineering.
The group consisted of Felix Santana, Robert Garachani, Lloyd Gundu, Phebion Shonhiwa, and John Chigaba. After completing military training in May 1964, they went back to Tanganyika, where they found that John Mataure and Noel Mukono who were responsible for defence at the time, had not organised any weapons for them to operate in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).
The group hastily returned to Zimbabwe to attend the ZANU Congress in Mkoba, Gweru, sometime in May 1964, arriving a day before the Congress. The results of the election were as follows: Rev Ndabaningi Sithole was elected President. His Vice President was Leopold Takawira. Herbert Chitepo and Robert Mugabe were elected to National Chairman and Secretary General respectively.
Following the ZANU Congress, three of his colleagues, (Shoniwa, Jameson Mudavanhu and Edison Shirihuru) were captured and arrested. He sent Lawrence Svosve to go back to Lusaka with some messages but never saw him again. Despite this setback, Mnangagwa remained in operation and joined up with Matthew Malowa who had trained in Egypt and had joined ZANU. They carried out daring operations in the country. Their major task was to recruit supporters from Salisbury (Harare), Fort Victoria (Masvingo), Mberengwa, and Macheke and smuggle them through to the Mutoko border so that they could go to Tanzania through Malawi.
It was during these operations that he and Malowa sabotaged a train in Fort Victoria. The leadership at Sikombela had sent the pair a message exhorting them to take some action so that the papers would report that it was the ZANU Military High Command which had carried it out. The cuttings would then be shown to the OAU Liberation Committee which was meeting in Dar es Salaam so that it would see that ZANU was actually active in the country. The operations also involved traversing the country on foot from Mberengwa to Mutoko.
It was at this stage that William Ndangana came from Lusaka for a meeting at Reverend Sithole’s house in Highfield. It organised a group which included Mnangagwa, William Ndangana, Victor Mlambo, James Dhlamini and Master Tresha to mount some roadblocks. The group, which is often referred to as the ‘Crocodile Gang’, killed a white farmer known as Peter Obeholzar at Nyanyadzi in Chimanimani. The incident resulted in the capture and subsequent hanging of James Dhlamini and Victor Mlambo. Ndangana was able to escape to Zambia. Upon Ndangana’s capture he was sentenced to life imprisonment because he it later emerged he was underage (under 21).
In January 1965, Mnangagwa was arrested by British South Africa Police inspectors at Michael Mawema’s house in Highfield. It later transpired that Mawema had betrayed him to the Rhodesian police. One of Mnangagwa’s other associates, John Chigaba, was later detained for making an attempt on Mawema’s life. Under duress Mnangagwa confessed to blowing up the train in Masvingo and was convicted under the Law and Order Maintenance Act. He was defended by J. J. Horn of Scanlen and Holderness who pleaded that he was underage and could not be executed. He was taken to hospital where doctors confirmed that he was under 21 and as a result, he was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. He served the first year at Salisbury Prison and then went to Grey Prison following which he was sent to Khami Prison where he spent 6 years and 8 months.
While in prison Mnangagwa completed his ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels through correspondence after which he enrolled for a law degree. He wanted to register for a BSc degree in Economics but was instead, allowed to do the law degree. He successfully completed Part One of the Intermediate Exams at Khami prison and passed at his first seating. He sat for the final exams and passed. In 1972 he sat for his final LLB examinations with the University of London.
After serving his 10-year sentence, he was further detained at Khami and then at Harare Prison together with other nationalists like Robert Mugabe, Enos Nkala, Maurice Nyagumbo, Edgar Tekere and Didymus Mutasa. He was then deported to Zambia where his parents were. Mnangagwa was received by the Party at the Livingstone Border post and handed over to the Zambian police. A Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) representative; Baya, came to receive him at the Victoria Falls Bridge and proceeded with him to Lusaka. Josiah Magama Tongogara was Commander of ZANLA at the time. The Party resolved that he should complete his Law Degree first and so he enrolled at the University of Zambia where he remained from 1973 to 1974.
In 1975, he did his post-graduate LLB degree and another post programme in Advocacy. After successfully completing his law studies, he was admitted to the Bar of the High Court of Zambia in 1976. While in jail, Mnangagwa met Mugabe, whom he linked up with after his release in the early 1970s. “That’s where the bond between the two developed. He looked up to Mugabe as his father,” ZANU-PF MP Joram Gumbo told BBC correspondents. Mnangagwa was elected by the party to be Mugabe’s special assistant in 1977, which gave him enormous power in the fledgling party that would later become Zimbabwe’s main political force.
On the completion of his studies at the University of Zambia, he practised law with Enoch Dumbutshena and doubled up as Secretary for ZANU for the Zambia Division in Lusaka. He was also in the student board for politics at the university. At the Chimoio Congress in 1977, he was elected Special Assistant to the President and member of the National Executive for ZANU. He then left practice and joined the President around October 1977 in Chimoio. The post of Special Assistant meant that he was head of both the civil and military divisions of the Party. His number 2 was Gava (now Retired General Zvinavashe) who was Head of Security in the Military High Command but was his deputy in the Central Committee in the Department of Security.
He participated in the Lancaster House Conference and in January 1980, led the first group of civilian leaders which included Didymus Mutasa and Edson Zvobgo from Maputo to Zimbabwe. Rex Nhongo (the now late Retired General Solomon Mujuru) also led the first group of commanders numbering 28 from Maputo to the ceasefire. Rex Nhongo assumed the leadership of ZANLA forces after the untimely death of General Tongogara; who died on his way to the ZANLA camps in Mozambique to meet with ex-combatants to educate them about the success of the Lancaster House conference and impending cease-fire.
At the appointment of the new Mugabe cabinet after Zimbabwe’s independence, Emmerson Mnangagwa in addition to being Minister of State for Security; presided over the integration of the 3 armies ZIPRA, ZANLA and the Rhodesian army. This further cemented his authority over the security forces of the newly independent state. His relationship with Mugabe grew stronger as the 3 dominant successive commanders of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces worked with him as closely allies. They were; General Solomon Mujuru, Air Marshal Josiah Tungamirai and General Vitalis Zvinavashe (who formerly was appointed the Commander of the Defence Forces when he assumed control of the defence forces from Solomon Mujuru.
At the ZANU-PF congress of 2004. Mnangagwa lost the influential post of Secretary for Administration in the politburo, instead being appointed to Secretary for Legal Affairs which in party circles was viewed as a demotion. This congress also witnessed the introduction of a female deputy president – Joice Teurairopa Mujuru; to the surprise of many since Mnangagwa had the support of the majority of elective provinces to secure that position of Vice President. In 2008 Emmerson Mnangagwa emerged as the senior party official who masterminded Mugabe’s presidential campaign; thereby re-establishment of his close relationship with President Mugabe.
Despite that minor setback in 2004, by December 2014 ZANU-PF Congress (where the party decides upon their nomination for president), Mnangagwa was still considered a potential successor to Robert Mugabe. He has a strong image in Zimbabwe as a cultivator of stability, and also has support from the Southern African Development Community. Emmerson Mnangagwa has, since the early 1990s, played a key role in implementing the Indigenization & Black Economic Empowerment initiative, as advised by prominent Indigenous businessmen such as Ben Mucheche, John Mapondera & Paul Tangi Mhova Mkondo, Think Tank & Lobby Group IBDC, how to propel the policy from Local policy, Ministerial Policy, Government Policy & Development of a ministry specific to Indigenization & Black Economic Empowerment, such as Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Bill. Mnangagwa believes that the national resources should be protected by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.
Here is a list of offices he has held:
- Minister of State Security (1980–1988)
- Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs (1989–2000)
- Acting Minister of Finance (1995–1996)
- Speaker of the House of Assembly (2000–2005)
- Minister of Rural Housing and Social Amenities (2005–2009)
- Minister of Defence (2009–2013)
- Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs (2013–2017)
- First Vice President of Zimbabwe (2014–2017)
- President of Zimbabwe (2017-present)
Author: Staff Writer