When Robert Mugabe announced his resignation as president of Zimbabwe on Tuesday, after 37 years of increasingly authoritarian and erratic rule, a euphoric citizenry took to the streets to unleash decades of reprimanding hopes for the future of his country.
That public demonstration of merriment and unity – unheard of during Mugabe's reign – masked a deep anxiety about the man who installed himself as his successor: Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former intelligence director and architect of Mugabe's most brutal repression against the dissent.
Mnangagwa (pronounced um-nan-GA-gwa) is better known by its war name, "Garwe" or "The Crocodile". In a radio interview two years ago, Mnangagwa explained that a crocodile never leaves the water to look for food. Instead, he waits patiently for his prey to approach. "Hit at the appropriate time," he said.
That long-awaited time has arrived for Mnangagwa, 75.
Zimbabwe's Parliament Speaker is expected to confirm that former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa will take office as the leader of the African nation on November 24, three days after Robert Mugabe announced his resignation. (Reuters)
He spent his early years immersed in the fight against the British colonial government and the government of the white minority. After receiving combat training in China and Egypt, he became a guerrilla commander in the liberation war that brought Mugabe to power in 1980. Since then, he has been at Mugabe's side, charged with imposing loyalty to the party.
Mugabe granted Mnangagwa numerous ministerial posts over the years, including justice, defense, rural housing and finance, but his most influential role was as director of the Central Intelligence Organization in the 1980s, when he consolidated the relations with the leaders of the all-powerful security forces of Zimbabwe. 19659003] In that role, many, including the United Nations, accuse Mnangagwa of orchestrating a fierce depravity by the political opposition in the Matabeleland region of the country. Up to 20,000 were killed, mostly belonging to the Ndebele ethnic minority. The operation was omnipresently known as Gukurahundi, or "the early rain that washes the straw before spring." There have been few reconciliations in subsequent decades, and Mugabe's party has never fully recognized the findings of independent researchers. Both Mugabe and Mnangagwa belong to the majority of the Shona ethnic group.
The repression, carried out by the trained army in North Korea of Zimbabwe, was notable for its almost unimaginable brutality. The children were made to rape and kill their parents; The belly of the pregnant women was split, their families were made to crush the fetuses in a mortar; the men were made to dig their own graves at gunpoint.
Mnangagwa " perfected Zimbabwe's ever vigilant Central Intelligence Organization into an elite team of dirty tricks feared throughout the country, "wrote Wilf Mbanga, editor of Zimbabwe, a weekly newspaper, in The Guardian. "Over the years, like his teacher Mugabe, he has been accused of planning acts of electoral violence, kidnappings, extortion, looting of national resources and other crimes."
The State Department said in 2000 that Mnangagwa was "widely feared and despised throughout the country" and "could be an even more repressive leader" than Mugabe.
In the 2000s, Mnangagwa designed radical new raids. In 2005, Operation Murambatsvina swept large urban slums that were hotbeds of opposition to Mugabe, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. And in 2008, after Mugabe lost the first round of the presidential election, Zimbabwean civil rights activists accuse Mnangagwa of coordinating a campaign of intimidation in which at least 200 people were killed and thousands wounded, including the main rival candidate of Mugabe. Mnangagwa denies any role.
Government repression, along with years of economic mismanagement and corruption, has reduced Zimbabwe's economy to a shadow of its former power, and an estimated fourth of Zimbabweans live in self-imposed exile, mainly in South Africa.
People walk past a wall with graffiti that says "We want Garwe", referring to Emmerson Mnangagwa, on November 15, in Harare, Zimbabwe. (AFP / Getty Images)
Mnangagwa lost Mugabe's trust at several points, but he always managed to ingratiate himself. Mugabe appointed Mnangagwa as vice president at the end of 2014. But it was a final breach that opened this year and laid the groundwork for "The Crocodile" to make its long-awaited attack.
The rupture was the culmination of the internal struggles in Mugabe's ruling party, facing a faction led by Mnangagwa and supported by the military establishment called "Lacoste" against a younger group called Generation 40 or "G40". The latter was led by Mugabe's wife, Grace Mugabe, 52, who is known for her fiery speeches and spending on luxury items.
As Mugabe grew weaker and weaker, the avenues for the G40 faction to take power narrowed. If Mugabe died, Mnangagwa would legally inherit the presidency. A power game by Grace Mugabe became her strongest choice. She and her allies began to attack Mnangagwa whenever they had. In speeches, Grace Mugabe called it "coup plot". After Mnangagwa fell ill last summer, Grace Mugabe had to deny that she had tried to poison him with ice cream from a dairy farm she owned.
In early November, Mnangagwa Supporters booed Grace Mugabe in a meeting attended by her husband. Both Mugabes denounced Mnangagwa from a stage.
"The snake must be hit on the head," said Grace Mugabe, giving Mnangagwa a new reptilian identity. A day later, Mnangagwa was unceremoniously fired and forced into exile.
The dismissal was a big miscalculation. Mnangagwa had not been lurking alone. He had spent decades cultivating close ties with the most powerful members of Zimbabwe's security establishment. They had refrained from removing Mugabe from his position before, perhaps preferring not to intervene so openly. But the prospect of a takeover by Grace Mugabe was unacceptable to them. Generals, influential war veterans, regional governments and Mnangagwa himself worked behind the scenes to organize what might be called a "soft coup".
Robert Mugabe, first president of Zimbabwe, resigns. Max Bearak of The Washington Post reflects on Mugabe's time in power. (Sarah Parnbad, Max Bearak / The Washington Post)
At a meeting of the ruling party on Sunday, Mugabe was abandoned without much debate. Mnangagwa's enemies were roundly denounced, and many were expelled from the party for life, including Grace Mugabe. The consolidation of control under Mnangagwa is already underway.
Mnangagwa, like his predecessor, was not elected. Like Mugabe, he is also being hailed by power, if only because what came before each of them was so terrible. Zimbabweans are now eagerly waiting to hear how Mnangagwa will tackle crucial issues such as agricultural policy, freedom of expression, his country's relationship with global lenders and next year's presidential elections.
He will take oath as president on Friday. 19659003] Read more:
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