Mnangagwa: An enigma of Zimbabwean politics

Once regarded as the heir apparent to Mugabe’s throne prior to 2004, Mnangagwa has deftly manoeuvred the booby-trapped ZANU PF terrain and could be headed for the top again.

Just five years ago, most observers would have written Mnangagwa off as a political force in Zimbabwe after a misjudgement by a ZANU PF faction he leads resulted in his demotion from the third most powerful position in the party.

The reason: he had led a group of ZANU PF officials in 2004 opposed to the appointment of Joice Mujuru as Zimbabwe’s first female vice president.

He denied involvement in the plot which led to the suspension of several ZANU PF officials.

Although he survived the debacle, Mnangagwa subsequently lost his position as ZANU PF’s administration secretary and was demoted to the less powerful role of legal secretary.

The demotion may have been just the right tonic for a political rebirth for the crafty politician, considered by his ZANU PF colleagues as a ruthless man which has earned him the nickname “The Crocodile”.

His enemies may have underestimated that as legal secretary they were actually bringing Mnangagwa closer to Mugabe.

He was responsible for formulating ZANU PF’s strategy in power-sharing talks with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

As legal secretary he oversaw the work of the party’s negotiators at the talks mediated by South Africa and, together with Mugabe, was responsible for overall strategy.

Mnangagwa was aptly rewarded for his loyalty to Mugabe by being appointed defence minister in the unity government formed last week – and with that a real chance of taking over the reigns at ZANU PF once the veteran Zimbabwean leader retires.

He was Mugabe’s chief election agent during the 2008 presidential election, and it was reported that he headed Mugabe’s campaign behind the scenes.

Born on 15 September 1946, Mnangagwa has been a member of Mugabe’s cabinet since independence in 1980, save for a brief stint as speaker of parliament between 2000 and 2005.

He was previously Minister of State for Security from 1982 to 1988, then Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs until 2000 and Minister of Rural Housing and Social Amenities from April 2005 to February 2009.

He is a trained lawyer educated in Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Mnangagwa is also regarded as the wealthiest individual in Zimbabwe, with business interests in Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo.