WATCH | 4 things you didn't know about Emmerson Mnangagwa
Zimbabwe’s former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose sacking last week triggered the military’s takeover, has returned to the country, an aide told AFP Friday as ageing leader Robert Mugabe clung onto power.
Mnangagwa, who is a leading candidate to succeed to President Mugabe, flew back to Harare on Thursday after nearly a week abroad as army chiefs and the president met to negotiate Mugabe’s exit from office.
The 93-year-old president has refused to resign, sources said, after soldiers this week put him under house arrest in a stunning turnaround for the veteran leader who has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist since 1980.
The generals took over late on Tuesday after Mnangagwa was sacked by the president and Mugabe’s wife, Grace, emerged in prime position to succeed her increasingly frail husband. The military was strongly opposed to Grace’s rise, while Mnangagwa has maintained close ties to the defence establishment.
Who is Mnangagwa
Nicknamed “Ngwena” (The Crocodile) because of his fearsome power and ruthlessness, the 75-year-old has a reputation for taking no prisoners.
In the early days after independence from Britain in 1980, Mugabe made Mnangagwa, who was then a young trainee lawyer, minister for national security. Since then Mnangagwa occupied a host of cabinet positions — but relations between him and his political mentor have not always been cosy, and the younger man is no stranger to presidential purges.
In 2004 he lost his post as the secretary for administration in the ruling ZANU-PF party after being accused of openly angling for the post of vice president.
Four years in the political wilderness followed, during which his then rival Joice Mujuru became vice president and the favourite to succeed Mugabe. She was ultimately deposed following a campaign orchestrated by Grace Mugabe who convinced the president she was not to be trusted.
The 2008 elections, when he was made Mugabe’s chief election agent, changed Mnangagwa’s fortunes.
Mugabe lost the first round, but his supporters were not going to make the same mistake in the second round, which was marred by violence, intimidation and allegations of vote rigging.
In the same year Mnangagwa took over as head of the Joint Operations Command, a committee of security chiefs which has been accused by rights groups of organising violent campaigns to crush dissent.
He was targeted by EU and US sanctions imposed on Mugabe and his close allies over the elections and violence, but promptly given control of the powerful defence ministry.
It was a return to the home that made him a force in Zimbabwean politics in the first place.
He once remarked that he had been taught to “destroy and kill” — although he later claimed to be a born-again Christian. Takavafira Zhou, a political analyst at Masvingo State University, previously described Mnangagwa as “a hardliner to the core“.