PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa is an interesting character with a fascinating history.
His story reads like a Hollywood script where the main actor should not die for the continuity of the film. As the main actor in Zimbabwe’s political soap opera, President Mnangagwa has survived countless attempts on his life.
He first survived the guillotine in 1964 after blowing up a Rhodesian steam locomotive with his colleague, Cde Matthew Malowa.
Young Emmerson was only saved by his age as the law at the time did not allow a death sentence on persons under the age of 21.
When he was appointed Vice President in 2014, he survived yet another life-threatening attempt when his office at the Zanu-PF headquarters was sprayed with cyanide. After missing the target, the deadly poison ended up causing serious injuries to his secretary Mrs Catherine Magaya.
The innocent lady was the first person to enter the office unaware it had been sprayed with poison. At the height of Zanu-PF infighting instigated by the G40 cabal fronted by the strident former First Lady Mrs Grace Mugabe, President Mnangagwa had numerous break-ins at his New Government Complex offices. What happened to police investigations relating to those incidents is a matter for another day. The worst was yet to come for the “main actor”.
Things reached a crescendo when President Mnangagwa was poisoned during a youth interface rally in Gwanda in August last year.
The incident saw him being airlifted to South Africa for treatment in what is now commonly known as the “ice cream saga”.
Again, in a typical movie style, President Mnangagwa survived. Slowly, things were reaching a tipping point in Zanu-PF.
Former president Mugabe was pushed into an invidious position by the G40 cabal fronted by his ambitious wife who sought to grab power by any means. During the 9th Youth Interface Rally on November 5, 2017 in Bulawayo, Mr Mugabe drew a line in the sand and threatened to fire Cde Mnangagwa who was his deputy then.
This was after multitudes of party supporters booed Mr Mugabe’s wife for defending then Minister Higher and Tertiary Education Professor Jonathan Moyo. Mr Mugabe concluded that those who jeered his wife were Cde Mnangagwa’s “hired” supporters.
Prof Moyo, who is now a fugitive, was accused of embezzling more than US$400 000 from the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund (ZIMDEF).
Two days later, Cde Mnangagwa was expelled from Government and as Zanu-PF’s Second Secretary. His expulsion broke the camel’s back and to borrow a phrase from Lieutenant-General Sibusiso Moyo (Retired): “the situation . . . moved to another level”.
Soon after his expulsion, Cde Mnangagwa’s security was withdrawn. The move was designed to leave him exposed and vulnerable as plans were already afoot to arrest him on trumped-up charges.
Cde Mnangagwa got wind of the plot and made another movie style escape to South Africa via Mozambique. He left a strongly worded statement threatening to return to take control of the levers of power in two weeks.
True to his word, in two weeks, things changed in spectacular fashion. Zimbabweans from all walks of life and political persuasions took to the streets with the support of the military under an operation code named “Operation Restore Legacy” demanding Mugabe’s resignation.
Zanu-PF convened an extraordinary Central Committee meeting that recalled Mugabe as its First Secretary and State President. Cde Mnangagwa was re-admitted into the party as a Central Committee member.
The party recommended his elevation to the position of First Secretary and State President pending ratification at its scheduled December Congress.
Things were happening too fast for Mugabe who then resigned when impeachment proceedings were already in motion. On November 24, 2017 Cde Mnangagwa was inaugurated as Zimbabwe’s second Executive President. The rest is now history. Thus, events leading to Cde Mnangagwa’s ascension left everyone convinced that the man is one of the best political minds to emerge in the land between Zambezi and the Limpopo rivers.
However, many are not aware of how and where President Mnangagwa shaped his political career let alone that he once occupied a powerful position in Zambia’s United National Independence Party youth wing as secretary-general. UNIP was Zambia’s first black ruling party at independence led by founding nationalist President Kenneth David Kaunda. In fact, President Mnangagwa pursued the greater part of his education in Zambia where he later joined other nationalists to wage our war of liberation.
Recently, we explored how President Mnangagwa as a rural boy from Mapanzure in Zvishavane ended up settling in Zambia in the late 1950s together with his family; how he shaped his political career in Lusaka and how he connected with other nationalists to launch the war of liberation.
The “great trek” to Zambia took us to Chief Shakumbila, Myooye Primary School, Mumbwa Secondary School and the University of Zambia where President Mnangagwa studied law. To visit all these areas, President Mnangagwa’s nephew based in Lusaka, Mr Wilfred Miga, played a central role.
He facilitated interviews with the President’s relatives and some of his classmates. President Mnangagwa’s brother based in Mumbwa, Mr Socha Mnangagwa, said the Mnangagwa family relocated to Zambia in 1957 to escape the Land Tenure Act that restricted blacks to five head of cattle and eight acres of land. For the Mnangagwa family, Zambia became the best option for settlement for two reasons.
First, they had an auntie who was married to a Zambian and, second, the soil in Mumbwa area where they later settled was good for agriculture. Mr Socha Mnangagwa, a member of the United Church of Zambia, gave an account of the family’s history in a wide-ranging interview at Nangoma Business Centre.
The highlight of his account was about President Mnangagwa’s intellectual prowess which he said was evident from childhood. “(President) Emmerson (Mnangagwa) is my younger brother,” said Mr Socha Mnangagwa. “He came to Zambia with our parents in 1957 and I followed in 1959.
I remained behind because I wanted to finish my Standard Six. When he (President Mnangagwa) came here, he continued with his education at Myooye Primary School before enrolling at Mumbwa Secondary School.
He passed with flying colours and proceeded to the University of Zambia where he studied law. He joined politics when he was still a student. “After completing his school we heard that he had blown up a Rhodesian steam locomotive. How he connected with other nationalists and how he travelled back to Rhodesia we don’t know.
The incident became very a popular story during those days because it was aired daily on all radio stations both in Zambia (Northern Rhodesia) and Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia).
He was arrested and sentenced to death and he was only saved by his age because then he was just about 17 years old, if I am not mistaken.” Mr Socha Mnangagwa continued: “Emmerson was intelligent and during his entire stay here, we never heard of his involvement in any illegal activity. He made a lot of friends here and most of them are now prominent people occupying influential positions.”
When President Mnangagwa’s family migrated to Zambia, it settled in Chimana village under Chief Shakumbila. The Herald traversed the rough terrain to meet the current Chief Shakumbila, Dr Chikumbe Chibamba.
The idea was to get an impression on President Mnangagwa’s development. Upon arrival at the chief’s palace, we were accompanied to his office by his aides.
The spacious office is decorated with a portrait of Zambia’s fifth president Edgar Lungu and modern furniture.
The chief’s computer was neatly placed on the centre with a pile of documents stacked in a tray on the left corner of the desk. “When the Mnangagwa family settled here I was still a toddler,” Chief Shakumbila said.
“What I know is that the current President of Zimbabwe worked as the first black interpreter at our local court. I met him when he came here to attend the funeral of his late brother, Mr Judah Mnangagwa, last year.
He called me to say we are in your area and we met. What I can say is that the Mnangagwas are good people. We have been staying with them here for a very long time and they don’t have any bad record.
We enjoy an excellent relationship with them. From my interaction with President Mnangagwa, he is a good gentleman and if you give him a chance Zimbabwe is destined for a greater future.”
Most of President Mnangagwa’s classmates are now big guns in Zambia occupying influential positions. For instance, Mr Alexander Chikwanda at one point was Finance Minister, Justice Esau Chulu is the current chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Zambia while Mr Richard Shamilimo Chella is the former Police and Prison Services Commissioner.
We caught up with Mr Chella in Lusaka who impressed that President Mnangagwa was always keen to liberate his country from colonial yoke from his childhood days.
“I came to know President Mnangagwa back in the 1950s,” said Mr Chella. “We happened to be together at Mumbwa Primary School from Standard Three to Standard Six. When UNIP was formed we both joined it.
President Mnangagwa inspired us as Zambian youths to be brave and to be resolute in fighting for a right cause and he was a member of the UNIP youth wing.
“The most interesting thing about President Mnangagwa is his bravery. At times when some of us wanted to chicken out he would say ‘No, no, if you show cowardice how are we going to achieve the independence of our country?’
He said our country and not your country although he was Zimbabwean. “One thing I never forget is that he said after my school I will go into the bush and fight for the liberation of our country Zimbabwe.
“On that one he never wavered and Dr (Kenneth) Kaunda loved him as a young man. He (Dr Kaunda) kept telling us that ‘you should emulate your brave friend Emmerson’.
He was very loyal and we were trained not betray our leaders.” Mr Chella added: “President Mnangagwa is a strong-willed man who focused on the truth. When he came here recently, he introduced me to the audience to say this man is my brother. I was with him.
That shows he has a photographic memory. Just imagine almost over 50 years of separation we never met again but he was able to recognise me from a distance. Perhaps I should urge my brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe, particularly the young people, to give him maximum support.
“He has goodwill for Zimbabwe. Knowing his upbringing, how much he loves the country, just imagine the way how he helped us youths in Zambia to fight for the independence of our country?
He never said ‘I come from Zimbabwe’. We are very appreciative that he was always with us in Zambia and through him I came to know most of the leaders in Zimbabwe such as Herbert Chitepo and Joshua Nkomo. “We know Emmerson didn’t want to usurp power. He always said whatever the position our leaders give us, we should accept.
As of now, I believe Zimbabwe will never be the same with (President) Emmerson Mnangagwa. He is a genuine leader and I have known him for a long time. “He has never been power hungry.
I remember one time when our school captain was trying to victimise us, he came to our rescue. “He was very powerful. He hit the captain and said ‘Why are you taking advantage of young people’ yet we were of the same age. To me that meant he did not want people to take advantage of the weaker ones.”
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