Zimbabwe’s Mnangagwa says committed to reforms

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangangwa

HARARE – Zimbabwe is committed to implementing political, economic and legislative reforms as part of efforts to escalate sustainable socio-economic development initiatives, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has said.

Officially opening the sixth Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development in Victoria Falls on Tuesday, President Mnangagwa said through the engagement and reengagement agenda, Zimbabwe is determined to see through the IMF Staff Monitored Program which supports the reform process, which is being done without the requisite external financial support as is the norm.

He said Zimbabwe vision 2030 directly addresses the aspirations highlighted by the SDGs and Agenda 2063.

Since taking the reigns Mnangagwa has pledged “radical economic reforms” as he was sworn in as Zimbabwe’s president following the southern African nation’s bitterly contested elections. Opposition supporters are still facing State brutalities and their meetings banned.

The 75-year-old former security chief first took power after the military forced the late dictator Robert Mugabe, the veteran leader, to resign.

Many had hoped the elections would mark the beginning of a new era for Zimbabwe after years of international isolation and economic malaise. But the vote was marred by a post-election crackdown in which soldiers shot at least six people and opposition allegations of fraud.

The violence has left Zimbabwe divided and has tarnished Mr Mnangagwa’s bid to attract much-needed foreign investment. The military crackdown drew condemnation from international election observers whose verdicts could be critical to whether western governments agree to help Zimbabwe clear debts and obtain an International Monetary Fund loan.

Harare needs to clear about $2bn in debt arrears to multilateral institutions, most of which is owed to the World Bank, to be able to borrow new loans. Negotiations over financing to tackle the debt have been in limbo for years, with the government cash-strapped and grappling with a dire shortage of US dollars.

Mr Mnangagwa’s challenge will be to convince donors he is serious about genuine reforms after the disputed election.

Mr Mnangagwa, a long time acolyte of Mr Mugabe, secured just under 51 per cent of the vote, meaning he narrowly managed to avoid a run-off.

The exact year of Mr Mnangagwa’s birth is not known – but he is thought to be 75, which would make him nearly 20 years younger than his predecessor who left power aged 93.

Born in the central region of Zvishavane, he is a Karanga – the largest clan of Zimbabwe’s majority Shona community.

Some Karangas felt it was their turn for power, following 37 years of domination by Mr Mugabe’s Zezuru clan, though Mr Mnangagwa was accused of profiting while under Mr Mugabe.

According to a United Nations report in 2001, he was seen as “the architect of the commercial activities of Zanu-PF”.

This largely related to the operations of the Zimbabwean army and businessmen in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Zimbabwean troops intervened in the DR Congo conflict on the side of the government and, like those of other countries, were accused of using the conflict to loot some of its rich natural resources such as diamonds, gold and other minerals.

‘Blood on his hands’

Despite his money-raising role, Mr Mnangagwa, a lawyer who grew up in Zambia, was not always well-loved by the rank and file of his own party.

The opposition candidate who defeated Mr Mnangagwa in the 2000 parliamentary campaign in Kwekwe Central, Blessing Chebundo, might agree.

During a bitter campaign, Mr Chebundo escaped death by a whisker when the Zanu-PF youths who had abducted him and doused him with petrol were unable to light a match.

Mr Mnangagwa’s fearsome reputation was made during the civil war which broke out in the 1980s between Mr Mugabe’s Zanu party and the Zapu party of Joshua Nkomo.

As national security minister, he was in charge of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), which worked hand in glove with the army to suppress Zapu.

Thousands of civilians – mainly ethnic Ndebeles, seen as Zapu supporters – were killed in a campaign known as Gukurahundi, before the two parties merged to form Zanu-PF.

Among countless other atrocities carried out by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade of the army, villagers were forced at gunpoint to dance on the freshly dug graves of their relatives and chant pro-Mugabe slogans.

Mr Mnangagwa has denied any role in the massacres, but the wounds are still painful and many party officials, not to mention voters, in Matabeleland might find it hard to back Mr Mnangagwa.

He does enjoy the support of many of the war veterans who led the campaign of violence against the white farmers and the opposition from 2000.

They remember him as one of the men who, following his military training in China and Egypt, directed the fight for independence in the 1960s and 1970s.

He also attended the Beijing School of Ideology, run by the Chinese Communist Party.

‘Torture scars’

Mr Mnangagwa’s official profile says he was the victim of state violence after being arrested by the white-minority government in the former Rhodesia in 1965, when the “crocodile gang” he led helped blow up a train near Fort Victoria (now Masvingo).

“He was tortured, severely resulting in him losing his sense of hearing in one ear,” the profile says.

His ruthlessness, which it could be argued he learnt from his Rhodesian torturers, is said to have been seen again in 2008 when he reportedly masterminded Zanu-PF’s response to Mr Mugabe losing the first round of the president election to long-time rival Morgan Tsvangirai.

The military and state security organisations unleashed a campaign of violence against opposition supporters, leaving hundreds dead and forcing thousands from their homes.

Mr Tsvangirai then pulled out of the second round and Mr Mugabe was re-elected.

Mr Mnangagwa has not commented on allegations he was involved in planning the violence, but an insider in the party’s security department later confirmed that he was the political link between the army, intelligence and Zanu-PF.

Ice cream plot

He was seen as Mr Mugabe’s right-hand man – that is until the former first lady Grace Mugabe became politically ambitious and tried to edge him out.

Their rivalry took a bizarre turn when he fell ill in August 2017 at a political rally led by former President Mugabe and had to be airlifted to South Africa.

His supporters suggested that a rival group within Zanu-PF had poisoned him and appeared to blame ice cream from Mrs Mugabe’s dairy firm.

In his first words to cheering supporters after Mr Mugabe’s resignation, he spoke about this plot and another plan to “eliminate” him.

He has also blamed a group linked to the former first lady for an explosion in June at a Zanu-PF rally in Bulawayo in which two people died.

Fixing the economy is what is paramount now. Zimbabweans are on average 15% poorer now than they were in the 1980s.