The son of farmers, he was a hardened freedom fighter by 16, educated as a lawyer and rose to turn out to be chief of his new country’s fearsome intelligence service. Known as the “Crocodile,” he after explained the nickname by saying: “It strikes at the proper time.”
Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice president of Zimbabwe till he was fired last week, now stands to grow to be its new leader, soon after the military took President Robert Mugabe into custody early Wednesday morning and plunged the southern African nation into uncertainty.
What role Mr. Mnangagwa, 75, played in what appears to have been a coup by his military allies is not but identified, but officials and observers of his rise to power say he shares some of Mr. Mugabe’s traits: He is energy-hungry, corrupt and a master of repression.
“His ruthlessness is legion,” said Peter Fabricius, a South African journalist and one particular of numerous observers who fear that Zimbabwe is exchanging one particular strongman for an additional.
In firing Mr. Mnangagwa, Mr. Mugabe — Zimbabwe’s leader since independence in 1980 and, at 93, the world’s oldest head of state — may possibly have lastly overreached, singling out an erstwhile ally with liberation-war credentials and a deep energy base of his personal.
The firing was widely noticed as paving the way for Mr. Mugabe’s wife, Grace, to succeed her husband as president, but Mrs. Mugabe — extensively disliked for her volatile temper and pricey tastes — has practically no support among the military officers and intelligence operatives who maintain a tight grip on the country.
By the time of Mr. Mnangagwa’s dismissal, the enmity between the vice president and Mrs. Mugabe had spilled into the open. He accused her of trying to kill him with poisoned ice cream from her dairy farm, an allegation she denied.
As the army negotiates with Mr. Mugabe more than a transition in which he would potentially be permitted to go into exile, the mood in the country is subdued. Most Zimbabweans have rejoiced at the downfall of the Mugabes, whose political stranglehold all but ruined the economy and alienated a lot of the population.
But numerous see the takeover as a symptom of the infighting and generational divide roiling the governing celebration, ZANU-PF, rather than a genuine possibility at multiparty democracy and economic reform.
There is also worry about his association with some of the Mugabe era’s low points: Mr. Mnangagwa was accused of orchestrating a crackdown in the 1980s in which thousands of members of the Ndebele ethnic group have been killed. He was an avid supporter of Mr. Mugabe’s most controversial economic policy — the expropriation and redistribution of land that had been controlled by white farmers given that the era of colonialism. He was also accused of getting behind deadly violence in 2008 a bid to rig polls in favor of Mr. Mugabe, a claim he denies.
“There is a healthy dose of trepidation since they know that the man who may well take over is not Mr. Democracy,” mentioned Wilf Mbanga, editor of The Zimbabwean, an on the web newspaper. “His track record is not impressive. He’s got a messy previous. Is he going to clean his act? We do not know.”
Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa was born on Sept. 15, 1942, in Zvishavane, a mining town, the kid of politically active farmers.
His father was steeped in the resistance movement against white settlers, and his political activism forced the family to flee to present-day Zambia. “He was born into politics,” said Victor Matemadanda, secretary common of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Association, who served beneath Mr. Mnangagwa in the military.
Expelled from college for his activism, Mr. Mnangagwa joined the movement to liberate what was then Rhodesia, a British colony, from white rule. He received military education in China and Egypt.
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At 16, he was portion of a plot to blow up a railway line. His accomplices have been summarily executed, but a priest appealed to the British to spare him on account of his age. He was instead provided a 10-year sentence in prison, where he devoted himself to study. After his release, earned a law degree from the University of Zambia.
He quickly left the legal practice to join the liberation movement in Mozambique, then a Portuguese colony, exactly where he met Mr. Mugabe and became his personal assistant and bodyguard. He was a commander in the course of the war for independence in the 1970s. He was at Mr. Mugabe’s side when the white-led government entered into political negotiations that resulted in the birth of Zimbabwe in 1980.
Mr. Mugabe rewarded Mr. Mnangagwa’s loyalty by elevating him to distinct posts. At a variety of points of his career, he was minister of justice and defense, minister for rural housing and speaker of Parliament, among other positions.
Even though in charge of the Central Intelligence Organization in the mid-1980s, Mr. Mnangagwa was accused of orchestrating a brutal campaign recognized as Gukurahundi — “the early rain that washes away the chaff ahead of the spring rain” — in which thousands of political opponents and civilians from the Ndebele ethnic group had been killed, a claim that he has denied. He has been a central node in the web of relationships that connect the army, the intelligence agencies and the governing party.
Like his nemesis Mrs. Mugabe, Mr. Mnangagwa is deeply unpopular in components of the nation. He lost his parliamentary seat at least twice, after following he was accused of firebombing his opponent’s house, according to Mr. Mbanga, editor of The Zimbabwean.
In current years, Mr. Mnangagwa has attempted to reform his checkered previous, styling himself an advocate of agricultural reform and a proponent of efforts to restore Zimbabwe’s relationship with outside investors and international institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the Planet Bank.
In 2014, when Mr. Mugabe removed Joice Mujuru, then vice president, in situations comparable to Mr. Mnangagwa’s later dismissal, he defended the president’s choice. Mrs. Mujuru went on to form an opposition party.
“It is not for practically nothing that he is known as Ngwenya,” said Mr. Fabricius, the journalist, employing the Xhosa word for crocodile.
“He didn’t ride off into the sunset to launch yet an additional opposition celebration, or just retire from politics to make even a lot more income, as many had expected,” Mr. Fabricius said.
The connection with the Mugabes began to sour this year, right after Mrs. Mugabe started to make an increasingly open bid to succeed her husband. She accused him of plotting a coup, and he accused her of attempting to kill him.
Although the newest military action was set off by his firing, reports are emerging that it had been planned many weeks earlier, with senior military officers consulting South African and Chinese officials.
Mr. Mnangagwa’s allies received assurances by South Africa that it would not intervene as extended as the action did not spill over beyond its borders, according to Africa Confidential, an on the internet journal.
The origins of the nickname Crocodile are not clear. Some say it was Mr. Mnangagwa’s nom de guerre for the duration of the liberation struggle other folks say it is derived from his household name.
In a phone interview, Mr. Matemadanda, the military veteran, elaborated on the nickname.
“A crocodile patiently waits for his target, pretending to be a rock,” he said. “At occasions you believe he does not react, or doesn’t have any resolution to what is taking place. He does not show irritation till the optimal moment and then he strikes. And when he does, he does not miss his target.”
“Everyone who gets into politics knows that the moment you join you don’t join to be the final name, you join with the hope that you will come out very first,” he added. Regarding the most recent developments, right after a long career, Mr. Mnangagwa “has been patient for a extremely lengthy time.”
As his commander, Mr. Matemadanda said Mr. Mnangagwa was “one of the most polite, tolerant, extremely down-to-earth persons that I have ever met.”
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