PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s previous ambition of becoming the country’s Defence minister was blocked by the ethnically driven politics of hawkish Zezuru stalwarts in the ruling Zanu PF, a new book on his life has claimed.
Tribalism, kinsmanship and clansmanship have been at the centre of key political appointments before and after Zimbabwe’s Independence. This has often resulted in the emergence of factions along tribal lines.
Last week on Thursday, Mnangagwa launched his biography titled A Life Of Sacrifice. The 154-page book, which Mnangagwa described as a “brief window” into his life, was authored by Eddie Cross, a former high-ranking official in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
It was edited by businesswoman and musician Rachel Jambaya, who is also known as Rachel J. Mnangagwa, who has in the past served as State Security minister, Justice minister, Minister of Rural Housing and Social Amenities and Finance minister for a short stint, said tribal political dynamics in the ruling party were played out in the 1990s when Zezuru politicians influenced the then President Robert Mugabe from appointing him Defence minister.
He said this came at a time the southern African country was on a growth trajectory. Mnangagwa, who hails from the Midlands province, is Karanga while Mugabe was Zezuru. Solomon Mujuru, the late army general, saw Mnangagwa as a threat to his wife’s ascendancy as vice-president. Joice Mujuru, who was appointed Mugabe’s deputy after a series of plots and counterplots, was later succeeded by Mnangagwa after her fallout with Mugabe’s wife Grace.
“During the period of his life, Emmerson found himself partially marginalised as a Karanga political figure,” the book reads.
“He had ambitions to become the Minister of Defence after his years in security and intelligence, but powerful Zezuru elements in Zanu PF opposed this and insisted that he play a lesser role. It is significant that his predecessor as Minister of Justice was another Karanga leader, Eddison Zvobgo who was also an exceptional intellect and with legal training. Both men were recognised at the time as potential national leaders — and this was not welcome in the dominant Zezuru quarters.”
The book further notes that despite facing resistance from hawkish Zezuru politicians, Mugabe — who for more than four decades was Mnangagwa’s mentor before turning into a tormentor just before the 2017 coup — assigned Mnangagwa to be in charge of a 1990s Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) military operation that ousted Mobutu Sese Seko.
“What was fascinating about this operation was that President Mugabe did not put his Minister of Defence or Security in charge, he turned to his Minister of Justice. This was testimony to his confidence in Emmerson Mnangagwa and his abilities as an organiser and strong man,” the book reads.
Scholars however say the DRC war was a pyrrhic victory for Zimbabwe as it left the country’s economy battered. The campaign cost Zimbabwe over US$1.5 billion, the book states.
According to the biography, Mugabe deployed 10 000 troops “with all their equipment and the air force and heavy arms, to support the campaign by Laurent-Desire Kabila to take power from the long-standing dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.”
“But the Congolese war did more than establish his reputation as an effective Minister. It established him as the man most likely to succeed Mr Mugabe as President when he finally stepped down,” the book reads.
“In the highly charged atmosphere in Zimbabwe and the polarised character of its ethnically driven politics, this was both an advantage and a threat. After this experience, he became a target not only for President Mugabe’s paranoia but also for other leaders with similar aspirations. It would result in an 18-year struggle to secure the Presidency of his homeland.”
Interestingly, following his takeover after the 2017 coup, Mnangagwa has also been on the receiving end, with critics saying his government is now being led predominantly by people from the Midlands and Masvingo provinces which are both dominated by the Karanga tribe.
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