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'Crocodile' Mnangagwa is no beacon of hope

Ludger Schadomsky
November 24, 2017

In Harare, thousands have been cheering the new Zimbabwean president, Emmerson Mnangagwa. But he is no better than his predecessor Robert Mugabe, says Ludger Schadomsky.

Simbabwe Unterstützer des neuen Präsidenten Emmerson Mnangagwa
Image: Reuters/M. Hutchings

Around the middle of this week, the first "chitenges" with a new motif started appearing: These colorful wrap-around cloths often worn by Zimbabwean women tend to reflect the country's political landscape and thus, over the past almost 40 years, have frequently displayed a portrait of Robert Mugabe. But now, with the aged autocrat finally swept from office by a sudden transition, they have already begun to be printed with a picture of the new strongman, 75-year-old Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Read more — Zimbabwe: Emmerson Mnangagwa sworn in as president

Although it might be tempting to see this new face in Zimbabwe as a symbol of a new beginning or even national reconciliation, it is, however, not that at all. Indeed, it is no coincidence that the former vice president has gained the nickname of "the crocodile." Since the 1970s, Mnangagwa, loyally devoted to his political mentor, has done the dirty work for Mugabe: at first as a bodyguard, later as head of the secret service and finally as a general henchman. The new leader is responsible not only for the brutal murder of thousands of government opponents and activists but also the slaughter of white farmers.

Simbabwe Harare Vereidigung Präsident Emmerson Mnangagwa
Mnangagwa was sworn in on Friday in HarareImage: Reuters/M. Hutchings

But Mnangagwa is seen not least as the mastermind behind the bloody repression of the 1980s rebellion by the Ndebele ethnic group against Mugabe and his Shona clique, during which thousands died. It is hard to imagine that the Ndebele in the disadvantaged south of the country will now be happy to extend their hand to the new president in reconciliation.

Read more — Zimbabwe's Emmerson Mnangagwa returns: What's next?

Nonetheless, Mnangagwa is considered to be less ideologically set in his ways than Mugabe is, and optimists hope he will bring a new form of realpolitik to the State House that will remove Zimbabwe from its isolation and bring it back into the international community. The new leader uttered words to this effect after his swearing-in on Friday.

It must thus be conceded that Mnangagwa was probably the right man in the right place during this troubled period of transition. He knows the ropes better than anyone else does. But when Zimbabweans have called out "chinja," the local version of "change," over the past few days, they cannot have meant a 75-year-old whose political and secret-service career has been as closely intertwined with the old system of Mugabe as Mnangagwa's.

Read more — Emmerson Mnangagwa: the Crocodile who snapped back

In some parts of Africa, the crocodile is revered as a totem; in others, it is feared. During recent days and hours, Zimbabweans have been similarly torn. But one thing is clear: By the 2018 elections at the latest, this Zimbabwe-style ambush predator will have to step down and make way for a real change.

Mnangagwa: 'Let me pay special tribute'