Source: Is Mnangagwa the ultimate survivor…or is he living on borrowed time? | The Financial Gazette August 4, 2016
EVENTS of Wednesday last week proved that the 69-year old veteran politician is indeed a cunning survivor — that is if he is not living on borrowed time.GIVEN the rough and tumble of Zimbabwean politics, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa may be a suitable candidate for the accolade: The ultimate survivor.
When one of his political adversaries in the ruling ZANU-PF party, Mandiitawepi Chimene turned her guns — at point blank range — and tore into Mnangagwa in a vituperative rant, most observers thought “the crocodile or ngwena”, as Mnangagwa is affectionately known, had finally come to the end of his political career.
But before Chimene had caught her breath, after her heart-stopping attack on her superior, President Robert Mugabe had come to Mnangagwa’s rescue, and the crocodile survived to fight another day.
Seated quietly in his chair next to President Mugabe, showing no emotions just like a crocodile basking in the sun, Mnangagwa even partook in the sloganeering that denigrated him as he displayed extraordinary resilience to blunt torture.
And his reaction a day later, over his down-dressing by Chimene, exposed the typical traits of a real crocodile that appear to be inherent in Mnangagwa.
Science has observed that a crocodile is one of the few predators that can observe the behaviour of its prey without betraying any emotion.
For example, it knows in perfect detail the time and pattern when its prey comes to drink water at the river.
And when hunting, it can lay quietly like a useless log, while waiting for an opportune moment to strike.
It rarely misses.
After Chimene’s attack, Mnangagwa’s response was typical: “Do I look like I care?… They can continue barking, barking and barking, while I continue working for ZANU-PF and my President.”
Currently locked in a vicious succession battle with fellow ZANU-PF cadres, who have publicly sworn that his biggest dream of becoming the next President of Zimbabwe would never come true, Mnangagwa has been methodical in dealing with his foes, who include former vice president Joice Mujuru.
While the modus operandi of his rivals — as dramatised right in front of the ruling party’s leader, President Mugabe, on Wednesday last week — has been direct confrontation, his style has been a stealth approach.
“He is the ultimate political survivor,” says former government bureaucrat and political scientist, Ibbo Mandaza.
“Other people come and go; careers rise and fall; alliances shift, but Mnangagwa seemingly survives and even prospers all the time.”
Variously described as “ruthless”, “calculating” and a “head kicker”, Mnangagwa’s political life — spanning over half a century — has all been about surviving potentially fatal political situations.
His first survival ordeal came in 1965 when he, as part of the crocodile gang which specialised in terrorising white Rhodesians, 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.
Mnangagwa was spared the hangman’s noose under a provision in the law, which banned capital punishment on persons under the age of 21.
Some are convinced that he survived because he had doctored his date of birth.
Another of his remarkable survival episodes played out at the turn of the millennium when he, during the year 2000 parliamentary polls, lost his Kwekwe Central seat to little known Blessing Chebundo of the then newly formed Movement for Democratic Change.
He risked a cold life outside Parliament for the first time in 20 years, but he ended up presiding over the legislature as Speaker of Parliament.
He again lost to Chebundo in the 2005 legislative plebiscite, but President Mugabe still appointed him Minister of Rural Housing and Social Amenities — a ministry that was solely created to give him a landing pad. It was disbanded immediately after an opening arose.
Then came the delimitation of constituencies ahead of the 2008 general elections, which created for him the Chirumhanzu-Zibagwe constituency, which has been kept within his household to date.
It is now represented by his wife, Auxilia.
His past is replete with incidents of being humiliated.
In February this year, Sarah Mahoka, the ZANU-PF secretary for finance in the women’s league, launched a scathing attack on him, likening him to a hapless duck.
She also challenged him to come out in the open and declare his presidential ambitions.
Most memorable was in 2004 when a change in the party’s constitution was effected to allow for a woman to rise in his stead, effectively depriving him of his very first chance to deputise President Mugabe.
Perhaps this could be his greatest escape from the death grip of political oblivion.
He was initially set to become vice president having mobilised the support of eight out of the country’s 10 provinces.
While his shenanigans were perhaps just to land the vice presidency to replace the late vice president Simon Muzenda, he was, however, accused of being the leader of a faction that was plotting to dethrone President Mugabe, whose exponents gathered at Dinyane Primary School in Tsholotsho to allegedly hatch their plot.
The alleged conspiracy was foiled and many of his allies, including six provincial chairpersons, were purged from the party ahead of that year’s congress.
He was then demoted from being secretary for administration of the party to secretary for legal affairs.
Ten years later, Mnangagwa was back in the hunting, this time successfully upstaging his long-time rival, Mujuru, and landing the vice presidency.
Ironically, one of the key men that supported him in this endeavour, Jonathan Moyo, seems to be now at the forefront of campaigning against him.
Just two years ago, the pair had teamed up to form the pact that got Mujuru ousted.
They won, but no sooner than later they went separate ways with many speculating that Mnangagwa may have dumped Moyo and some of those that helped him in the victory, in a move that infuriated his former allies who then went on to form a faction called Generation 40 also known as G40.
That he has now categorically distanced himself from Team Lacoste may just serve to vindicate this theory.
But, one incredible thing about Mnangagwa is that despite President Mugabe and circumstances repeatedly clipping his wings over the years, he has been able to bounce back all the time.
In 2004, he lost grip on provincial structures after losing key allies through expulsions.
He then went down to the district coordinating committees where he planted his roots.
Those were also subsequently disbanded in June 2012 after it was realised that he was now in complete charge of the structures.
What on earth then explains this man’s survival?
He and Defence Minister, Sydney Sekeramayi, are the only people who have consistently been in government for the past 36 years, making them great survivalists.
Some say the crocodile has survived this long, serving in many diverse portfolios, because everywhere he has gone he has planted his roots like a colonising plant.
First, he was responsible for restructuring the security sector as state security minister in 1980.
Currently, he has been overseeing the judiciary since 2014 in his second spell as Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister.
He has been Defence Minister before and now he is Vice President.
Yet he has managed to hide the depth and experience in government business, perhaps highlighting the stealth of a crocodile in him.
Political scientist, Eldred Masunungure noted: “He is the man who has established himself firmly in all party and government systems and has been doing all the donkey work for (President) Mugabe since 1980. He is all over the systems and (President) Mugabe, I am sure, is well informed to know that even if he wants to remove him, he cannot do so to appease trigger-happy elements like Sarah Mahoka and Mandi Chimene. He has to find the right time and atmosphere if he is to do it.”
But there are so many other factors that can explain why Mnangagwa has survived thus far, which have very little to do with his tricks and schemes.
Political analysts agree that with the 2018 general elections beckoning, and the ruling party struggling to recover from a crippling purging spree of Mujuru and her many allies, President Mugabe knows very well that it would not be a wise idea to undergo another crisis of that nature.
“It looks like he is not prepared to take those risks. He cannot afford to break the party after firing Mujuru and others,” said political commentator, Rashweat Mukundu.
He added: “He (Mnangagwa) could actually be living on borrowed time, hanging on the clemency of President Mugabe, who could drop him at a time that is convenient for him.”
Mandaza has this other opinion: “With this humiliation, one is tempted to think that they actually want Mnangagwa to resign. In fact, if I were him, I would have packed by bags a long time ago.”
Mandaza reckons that the public humiliation of Mnangagwa was likely to continue.
“Who knows, maybe (President) Mugabe himself must be saying different things to Mnangagwa and then goes back to his rivals and blow the fire,” he said.
In these uncertain times, President Mugabe seems to be playing a delicate balancing act to prevent an implosion in his party by appearing to keep Mnangagwa’s rivals at bay in public, while at the same time itching for his number two’s fall, but keeping him working for him as hard as he can.
A case of keeping your friends close and your enemies even closer!
Mnangagwa might have survived last Wednesday’s ouster bid, but will he last the distance?
Could the ultimate political survivor actually be living on borrowed time?
These are just some of the many questions that leave many praying to live long enough to witness the end of it all.