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Emmerson Mnangagwa: Who is The Crocodile?

His sacking from the Zimbabwean government by Robert Mugabe appears to have triggered a series of events that has led to Africa’s longest-serving leader facing impeachment and removal from office.

Emmerson Mnangagwa
Emmerson Mnangagwa /

Emmerson Mnangagwa was fired from his job as vice president on 6 November, in a move many saw as paving the way for Mr Mugabe’s wife Grace to become the president’s successor.

But, following a military takeover of the country by the army, Mr Mnangagwa was elected as the new leader of the ruling ZANU-PF party – an indication that Mr Mugabe underestimated the man he ousted.

He is known as The Crocodile, which some say is after a group of African nationalist rebels in the early days of the fight against white majority rule.

Others, meanwhile, say it stems from his power, ruthlessness and ability to survive the tough, sometimes aggressive world of African politics.

The name is so established that his supporters are known as Team Lacoste, due to the brand’s crocodile logo.

Just three days ago, as Mr Mugabe was refusing to leave office despite the army urging him to quit, crowds of people gathered in Harare waving placards bearing Mr Mnangagwa’s picture and slogans demanding his return to office.

The 75-year-old was loyal to his former boss for years, gaining a reputation for being astute, ruthless and effective.

Many say Mr Mnangagwa was one of those who helped the dictator cling to power when, at times, it seemed as if his grip might be weakening.

He is most notorious for, as the country’s minister for national security, overseeing the security services during the brutal 1983 campaign against the supporters of Mugabe rival Joshua Nkomo, which became known as the Matabeleland massacres.

Between 10,000 and 20,000 Ndebele people are said to have died in Zimbabwe’s southern provinces during the civil conflict, which involved the Zimbabwe army’s Fifth Brigade, equipped and trained by North Korea.

Mr Mnangagwa is rumoured to have amassed a sizeable fortune and been involved in the development of diamond trading in Harare.

The Atlantic Council, a US-based policy institute, says Mr Mnangagwa was targeted by US sanctions in the early 2000s, for undermining democratic development in Zimbabwe, and he was named in a United Nations investigation into exploitation of mineral resources in Congo.

But some say his willingness to work with others in Zimbabwe’s establishment, possibly including opposition figures, could mean the country can finally move forward after years of economic failure and political repression.

In 2008, he was the election agent who helped broker the creation of a unity government that brought in opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister, after balloting that was marked by violence and allegations of vote-rigging.

Former UK foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind told Sky News: The negative is he’s got a lousy record – he was involved in the very serious massacres in the Matabeleland a long, long time ago – and his succession, if that’s what happens, would be a continuation of the status quo.

But a smooth succession to Mnangagwa would still be an improvement.

Not only because he is 20 years younger and not suffering from senility, as Mugabe has at least part of the time, but also because he is more likely to be pragmatic.

He knows the country is an economic mess.

If he is going to make any prospects for success, he has to persuade the international community to help on the financial and trading side, and he’s also got to show that he’s willing to include the opposition, who could make an important contribution to Zimbabwe’s gradual recovery.

On Tuesday, hours before he was due to arrive back in his country, after which he could become the new leader, Mr Mnangagwa said: The people of Zimbabwe have spoken with one voice and it is my appeal to President Mugabe that he should take heed of this clarion call by the people of Zimbabwe to resign, so that the country can move forward and preserve his legacy.

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Emmerson Mnangagwa: Who is The Crocodile?