As It Happens

Beware of Zimbabwe's new leader, Emmerson 'Crocodile' Mnangagwa, says student

A Zimbabwean student in South Africa tells us why he is warning his country to beware of President Robert Mugabe's successor, Emmerson "The Crocodile" Mnangagwa.
Supporters of Zimbabwe's President in waiting Emmerson Mnangagwa, known as 'The Crocodile,' raise a stuffed crocodile in the air as they await his arrival at the Zanu-PF party headquarters in Harare. (The Associated Press)

Story transcript

On Friday, Emmerson Mnangagwa will be sworn in as president of Zimbabwe.

He will be the first new president the country has had since 1980, when Robert Mugabe assumed power of a newly independent Zimbabwe. 

The streets have been filled with hopeful celebrations since Mugabe's resignation on Tuesday. But not everyone is optimistic about his successor.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke with Leon Mighti about an op-ed the Johannesburg-based law student wrote for the Daily Maverick titled "Beware 'Crocodile' Mnangagwa: Zanu-PF is not renewing, it is a snake shedding its old skin." 

Here is part of their conversation. 

Why should people be wary of the next president of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa?

Basically, because he was the second hand man who assisted Robert Mugabe throughout his 37 years of rule, so it's unlikely that he will change tact just now.

His nickname is "The Crocodile." Why is that?

His nickname is the crocodile because he earned it from a reputation of repression, suppression and brutality. He was involved in a mass murder in the early '80s. So it's literally because he lurks in the water and he strikes and when he strikes it's fatal. 

Can you tell us a bit more about that notorious massacre? What happened there and who was responsible?

Robert Mugabe was responsible, but he instructed several generals who supported him to carry out a genocidal mission in Matabeleland, where a tribe, which was opposed to his rule, lived.

Basically, the number is between 20,000 and 100,000 people were killed ... using a brigade which was called the Fifth Brigade — and Emmerson Mnangagwa actually oversaw its operations. 
Leon Mighti is a Zimbabwean student living in South Africa. He wrote an op-ed in the Daily Maverick titled 'Beware 'Crocodile' Mnangagwa.' (Leon Mighti/Twitter)

There are many instances of human rights abuses that Mr. Mugabe is accused of. Can you run us through some of the more egregious crimes that people accuse Mr. Mugabe of where Mr. Mnangagwa was involved?

The first one is the genocidal massacre. It's referred to as the Gukurahundi, from a Shona word which means "cleansing."

Secondary to that was the abduction and disappearance of many political activists who opposed Robert Mugabe throughout the 37 years of his rule.

Mugabe has also been criticized for corruption. There was supposed to be a land reform program in Zimbabwe and Mugabe basically took most of the land for himself and his military generals and the political elite.

So those are the criticisms that have been leveled against Mugabe over the years, along with Emmerson Mnangagwa. 

One of the other areas that Mr. Mugabe has been accused of is vote rigging and election fixing. I understand that Mr. Mnangagwa was key to that?

Mnangagwa was pivotal to the campaign finance and the campaign management. Most of the things where there has been rigging involved, Mnangagwa has been in the background. He was central to making sure that the ZANU-PF, if they did not win fairly, would win by other means. 
A member of the Zimbabwe National Army keeps a close eye on tractors for the controversial land reform program in Harare in 2007. (AP)

You are in South Africa right now, and the Southern African community has watched this very closely, and was going to oppose any appearance that Zimbabwe was going to be taken over by a coup ... but what exactly has happened here? Despite the sort of support there seems to be in Southern Africa and in the region for this change of government in Zimbabwe, what has actually occurred?

The army intervened to make sure that their preferred candidate rose to the leadership of the party.

When they noticed that there was a lot of opposition coming from the West, from the Southern African Development Community, and the African Union, it is at that point that they started trying to get the people involved to try to make it look like a people's revolution.

Yet, in fact, the whole process has been orchestrated, directed and masterminded by the army to bring their preferred candidate into power. 
University of Zimbabwe's students, holding a portrait of former vice-president Mnangagwa, take part in a demonstration on Nov. 20. (AFP/Getty Images)

But people are genuinely in the streets, are they not? I mean, what we've seen in the past days — this jubilation, this street party — it appears genuine. People are cheering on the end of Mr. Mugabe and appear to be cheering on the arrival of Mr. Mnangagwa. So how do you explain that?

I think there is a lot of catharsis happening right now. People have been so brutalized by Mugabe that they would have accepted any savior, including a tainted savior.

A lot of people have said that even though they appreciate and understand that a lot of discussions have to happen around what kind of a Zimbabwe has to be created, they are just happy to have Mugabe fall.

That's also why some of the people are embracing Mnangagwa and the army, because they view them as the necessary evil that saved them.

Right now, a lot of people are caught up in the euphoria of the moment. They're willing to take it by any means necessary, even if it includes the army giving them that gift as a poison chalice.

This interview transcript has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Leon Mighti.

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