HARARE – Like one at the end of a bungee rope, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa always springs back while those who love the nerve-wrecking sport talk of their experiences.
By Fungi Kwaramba
After falling sick in Gwanda last month, his allies were holding their breath.
The more daring ones kept claiming he was poisoned by political rivals in the high-stakes succession race that has broken out in Zanu PF.
Government insists he probably ate stale-food hence his vomiting and running stomach at an interface rally held in Gwanda where President Robert Mugabe was meeting party youths.
But poison or no poisoning, theories fly, and in a party where scores have been rumoured to have been settled through accidents, contrived or just accidents, everything is possible.
Mnangagwa is linked to the Team Lacoste faction and is tipped by his supporters to succeed Mugabe who turns 94 in February next year.
Standing in his way is the Generation 40 (G40) faction which deems him unfit for the top office.
Mnangagwa, who is 74 (some records say he is 70), is now apparently out of danger after the Gwanda incident but his political life continues to hang by the thread.
It is not unfair to therefore ask if he is about to exhaust his proverbial nine lives, an apt question, after all his life is full of near death escapes.
Like a pendulum, Mnangagwa has had his ups and downs.
He has lost elections, lost political battles, lost close friends and in 1965 nearly lost his life.
But somehow he has always emerged to fight another day like the ancient reptile, the crocodile, from which he derives his moniker — Ngwena.
In 1965 — as part of the crocodile gang that specialised in sabotage and terrorising white Rhodesians — Mnangagwa was arrested and convicted of taking part in the killing of a Chimanimani farmer and police reservist, Petrus Oberholtzer, at Nyanyadzi; as well as sabotaging a locomotive train in Fort Victoria — now Masvingo.
This resulted in the hanging of his accomplices, James Dhlamini and Victor Mlambo.
But he escaped because he was under age.
With a history wrapped in mystery, some like former minister of State Security Didymus Mutasa dismiss such theories.
“Mnangagwa was released because he was Zambian, I am not sure about his age but then we were told that he was released because he was under age,” said Mutasa.
Fast forward to contemporary times and Mnangagwa can claim the title of ultimate survivor.
According to permanent secretary in the ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services George Charamba, there have been six break-ins into Mnangagwa’s offices and last year some daring people used the ceiling to gain access into the offices of the feared politician.
In 2014, his offices at Zanu PF headquarters were broken into and the burglars sprinkled cyanide which harmed his secretary, while on another occasion a leather sofa in the office was tampered with; death seemed to always follow the feared politician.
Two years ago State media reported that Mnangagwa had been involved in a car accident with a bus in Harare, in a case that his supporters claimed was an attempt on his life.
Although the police have not nailed anyone for it, Mnangagwa’s allies are convinced it is someone who wants to stop his ascendancy to the throne in the Zanu PF game of thrones where hunters can become the hunted.
And as recent as a fortnight ago, Mnangagwa had his back against the wall — he helplessly watched as his allies — Energy Mutodi and Mable Chinomona were hauled over the coals.
Apart from losing the outspoken Mutodi who was fired from Zanu PF, Mnangagwa also helplessly watched as most of his sympathisers were kicked out while those who are opposed to him and had been on suspension were brought back.
According to sources in Zanu PF, the idea is to isolate Mnangagwa so that he is left with no supporters going forward.
But even as the odds are seemingly staked against him, his supporters still believe.
The support of the army has Mnangagwa purring, after all nothing in Zanu PF happens without the involvement of the military and even academics such as Eldred Masunungure are convinced that when cometh the hour the gun will lead the bullet and as sure as day follows night the crocodile will get its meal.
Masunungure, in a recent interview with the Daily News, reasoned that in Zimbabwe the genesis of leadership transitions goes back to the liberation struggle where you had two wings, the political wing headed by a political figure and the military, the commanders of Zanla.
He said there existed a symbiotic relationship between the military and the politicians and it outlived the country’s independence.
“The party and the military are still there, and that is what we still have. I am not talking about the foot soldiers but the security chiefs they have historical experiences with the political establishment and it is an imperative, it is compelling for them to be actively involved in the affairs of the party and that includes a determination of who will succeed Mugabe. I have absolutely no doubt that the military will be a decisive force in determining the president’s successor,” said Masunungure.
Mnangagwa is friend to Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander Constantino Chiwenga.
He has, since independence, been trusted with crucial ministries such as Defence and State Security, and headed these at crucial junctures in the history of the country.
According to political analyst Dewa Mavhinga all things are hazy until the rise of the sun.
“Where Zanu PF is concerned, it is difficult to know for sure what happens inside the party and therefore almost impossible to say whether Mnangagwa is the ultimate survivor or not. Even the alleged poisoning of Mnangagwa is difficult to verify in the absence of a police report and of medical records,” he said.
“But what is clear is that over the last 40 years a lot has depended on Mugabe within Zanu PF. In fact, when Mnangagwa lost elections for Member of Parliament in Kwekwe, it was Mugabe who rescued him and appointed him a non-constituency MP, so Mnangagwa’s power should not be exaggerated but seen in the context of Mugabe’s tactical manoeuvres,” said Mavhinga.
But Maxwell Saungweme, an Afghanistan-based political scientist, said there is more at stake and a collapse of the centre that certainly no longer holds.
“In an intransigent, perfidious, duplicitous and shifty political aura Zimbabwe is under, a lot of conspiracy theories follow any action by perceived thespians in the country’s political comedy…there is no longer one Zanu PF, no more one centre of power, but two main factions of the party and multiple centres of power. The centres of power include Mugabe, Grace, the military, Ngwena and sneaky characters such as (Higher and Tertiary Education minister) Jonathan Moyo,” said Saungweme.
Whatever the situation is, Mnangagwa’s loyalists believe that if no one can stop the rain then no one could stop their main man’s march to State House, and the camp has adopted a popular song to spice it up.
Mudhara Achauya, a popular track by contemporary musician Jah Prayzah is often played by the faction, which believes Mnangagwa is about to become the country’s next president and no amount of hurly-burly (from the G40 faction) will stop something whose time has come.
While he may be down for now, they are sure he will rise again after all some prophets of doom had written him off in 2004 when he was involved in the infamous Tsholotsho Declaration only for him to rise again 10 years later as Mugabe’s deputy.
For Mnangagwa, the squabbles in Zanu PF are nothing but a constant irritation, an aberration, part of the “new normal in Zanu PF” — a party that is not peculiar to chilling killings of rivals since the liberation struggle.
Like one who has gone through the mill, Mnangagwa certainly knows what happens to the likes of Nhari who rebelled against the party leadership in 1974 or the likes of Rugare Gumbo and police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri who were thrown into pits with only heads showing during the liberation war.
“I have been in the party since 1962, I can’t remember a year when there were no squabbles since 1962, but we are still going. The squabbles make us stronger and more sharpened to deal with issues. If everything dies and there are no squabbles, and there is nothing, I would be very worried. When these things happen, you now know what people are thinking and you know what to do to resolve the misthinking,” he was once quoted saying.
Perhaps he knows, perhaps he doesn’t; only time will tell. – Daily News