Zimbabwe: Meet the force behind president Emmerson ‘Crocodile’ Mnangagwa

FILE - Zimbabwe’s former head of the army, Constantino Chiwenga, has been appointed vice president. (S. Mhofu/VOA)

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On Dec. 15 his 10-vehicle convoy, complete with soldiers toting AK-47 assault rifles, roared into a congress of the ruling ZANU-PF party. It was one of several displays of power by Zimbabwe’s generals since they helped oust Mugabe, the southern African nation’s ruler of 37 years, on Nov. 21.

Ostensibly Chiwenga, 61, is subordinate to the veteran politician who replaced Mugabe as president: Emmerson Mnangagwa, nicknamed the Crocodile. Mnangagwa, 75, was sworn in on Nov. 24 and promised to hold elections in 2018.

But since Mugabe was deposed and Mnangagwa installed, moves by senior military men have suggested the president is the junior partner in an army-dominated administration. Following a month of speculation about his role in Mnangagwa’s government, Chiwenga was named vice president on Dec. 23. He was also appointed defense minister on Dec. 29, so retaining control of the military.

That perception of Mnangagwa’s disempowerment is buttressed by reports seen by Reuters from inside Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). “The generals have tasted power and they are not willing to let it go,” reads one intelligence report, dated Nov. 29. “They want to enjoy the fruits of removing Mugabe from power.”

Another report, from Nov. 22, described the backroom negotiations to form a post-Mugabe government. “Chiwenga is the one going to have final say as power is in his hands. He is now the most feared man in government and party as well as the whole country,” it said.

The documents reviewed by Reuters are the latest installments in a series of hundreds of intelligence reports the news agency has seen from inside the CIO dating back to 2009. Reuters has not been able to determine their intended audience, but the documents cover every aspect of Zimbabwean political life over the last eight years – Mugabe, the top echelons of his ZANU-PF party, the military, opposition parties and the white business community.

In the dying days of Mugabe’s regime, the CIO – the principal organ of Mugabe’s police state – split into two factions. One served the interests of Mnangagwa, the other those of his main political rival, Grace Mugabe, the president’s 52-year-old wife, according to several Zimbabwean intelligence sources.

Much of the content of the CIO reports has turned out to be correct, including an intelligence finding reported by Reuters in September that the army was backing then vice-president Mnangagwa to take over from Mugabe.

Army spokesman Overson Mugwisi did not respond to requests for comment on behalf of Chiwenga. However, a senior general appointed to Mnangagwa’s post-Mugabe cabinet, Air Force chief Perrance Shiri, said there was nothing wrong in having military men in government.

“Who says military people should never be politicians?” he told reporters at a lunch to celebrate the cabinet’s inauguration on Dec. 4. “I am a Zimbabwean. I’ve got every right to participate in the country’s politics.”

Mnangagwa did not reply to an interview request for this article and his spokesman, George Charamba, did not respond to a request for comment. Mnangagwa’s lawyer, Edwin Manikai, said the president wanted to “work with anybody who adds value to the economy,” in line with the new leader’s stated desire to halt Zimbabwe’s precipitous economic decline under Mugabe.


Mugabe’s removal started with soldiers entering Harare on Nov. 14 and announcing in the early hours of Nov. 15 that they had taken control. Military vehicles took to the streets and gunfire and explosions were heard in parts of the capital. “It is not a military takeover of government,” said General Sibusiso Moyo, reading a statement on TV.

The generals dubbed their project “Operation Restore Legacy.” They called the move a “democratic correction” against a 93-year-old leader whose decisions, they alleged, were being manipulated by an ambitious wife half his age. Reuters was unable to contact Grace Mugabe for comment.
– Ed Cropley I Reuters