Emmerson Mnangagwa, the new President of Zimbabwe, is not an ogre with evil intent as his detractors make him out to be.
He is a courteous, amiable, honest to goodness person, who is now on a new mission to fix what needs to fixed in his home country so that Zimbabwe can become an asset yet again in the geopolitical region of southern Africa – just as many compatriots would want it to be.
With his comrades in the Zanu-PF leadership, last November they averted an impending social disaster for Zimbabwe and SADC in the way in which they handled the “military assisted transition”.
By arriving at a peaceful political solution with the support of all major stakeholders, including the opposition and neighbouring heads of state, they conducted themselves with a level of sophistication and maturity that very few observers saw coming.
The Zimbabwe Defence Force launched Operation Restore Legacy, warning the tsotsi elements surrounding the mighty octogenarian and father of the Zimbabwean nation, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, a day before they assumed power at the blue roof house.
A cognitive shift in the balance of forces in the political sphere had happened too quickly and too fast, with the opportunists having a free hand.
It was not a classic coup d’ etat that the army commanders intended but when Vice-President Mnangagwa was expelled from office it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Zanu-PF managed a touch and go situation very sensitively and brought about the welcome change, without any loss of life and without bloodshed.
It should not have come as a surprise.
Emmerson Munangagwa holds unimpeachable credibility in the struggle for change in Zimbabwe. He survived the Rhodesian hangman when he was under-age. His death sentence was commuted to 10 years in prison. He rose through the ranks as a selfless cadre.
He has served with the Zanla forces in the armed struggle without any ambitions for personal glory and self-gratification. He did the political leg work for Zanu without thought of special treatment or high reward.
At times he took the blame for wrongdoing on behalf of the collective leadership when he shouldn’t have done so.
We first met Mnangagwa in a chance meeting in Borrowdale, Harare, in 1980 at Phyllis Johnson and David Lozell Martin’s house. They covered the war in Zimbabwe for Canadian and British newspapers respectively.
With my colleague at Ravan Press then, the now late playwright and artist Matsemela Manaka, we arranged with the two journalists to co-publish their book, The Struggle for Zimbabwe, simultaneously in South Africa in order to beat the virulent censorship board from banning it before we had pushed our book sales.
Mnangagwa was in the house, clarifying issues to the journalists and helping with final touch ups before production.
He warmly welcomed us stating that the hard won victory in Zimbabwe should encourage the struggle in South Africa to gain its own momentum. He then asked his aides to drive us around town for a better understanding of the challenges the new government was facing.
We placed him among an array of anti-establishment leaders like Nathan Shamuyarira, Amos Nkala, Joshua Tongogara, Edgar Tekere, Dr Herbert Ushewukonze, Rex Nhongo, Teurai Ropa, Perence Shiri, and many others whom we had looked up to for their valiant roles in bringing down Ian Smith’s Rhodesia. Mnangagwa was the special adviser to the new Zimbabwean Prime Minister Robert Mugabe.
Mugabe ran the transitional government for 10 years with 20 reserved seats for white political parties in parliament. They opened a public debate to consider a socialist construction of the economy and to be ideologically driven in the changes necessary. A new paradigm against planned economies, protectionism and high trade tariffs was strongly countering the socialist approach. They eventually accepted the “conditionalities’” of the Internatonal Monetary Fund and World Bank. Zimbabwe started on the structural adjustment programme – a Washington Consensus plan.
Southern Africa was faced with high noon changes and many of its countries were complying – or could meet up with ruin.
I met up with Mnangagwa again in 1993. He conducted a master class session for the PAC on state governance and transformation issues in preparation for the new dispensation in South Africa. He was assisting Edison Zvobgo – the constitutional expert.
Mnangagwa displayed vast experience in his presentation and kept us in stitches of laughter as he cited their blunders and their achievements when they came into power, raw from the bush war.
The crux of his input was utilising a multi-disciplinary contribution in government to start an innovative delivery of basic needs for a transitional state that cares for its entire people. This was almost akin to the modern day Medici Effect tool in management sciences to bring all on board in finding solutions.
The Zimbabwe government was non-sectarian. It worked strictly in line with directives of the Frontline states. They took in semi-conventional and non-statutory forces like the progressive Transkei and Venda armies, with the OAU liberation committee-backed Apla and MK, respectively, into training for the new and professional South African National Defence Force. Zimbabwe is therefore not a sunshine friend of South Africa.
Mnangagwa was at the heart of cultivating those relations.
His critics say he was behind the 1982 Operation Gukurahundi, implying that he led genocide against the people of southern Zimbabwe. It is a misleading point.
Contextually, the apartheid regime then had a destabilisation project in the Frontline states to keep armed activities of the liberation movement at bay. The SADF boldly raided Maputo, Gaborone, Matola, and Maseru to eliminate their adversaries. They had their ground forces in southern Angola in what was termed a counter-insurgency programme. They used surrogate saboteurs like Renamo in Mozambique, Super Zapu in Zimbabwe and Unita in Angola. Super Zapu had their training camps in the Northern Transvaal bases of the SADF, in South Africa.
The South African government also had a strategic communications unit to spread lies and propaganda about Operation Gukurahundi. Their primary aim was to foment civil war in Zimbabwe using tribal divisions. It is disingenuous to say there was a “Matabeleland Massacre” under those circumstances.
The Fifth Brigade was dismantled soon after this operation and its excesses were equally condemned by the Zimbabwean government.
Zanu and Zapu revisited the united Patriotic Front and joined forces into Zanu-PF to bring together disparate political elements.
When pressure was brought to bear upon the government in the mid 1990s, Zanu-PF suffered debilitating defeats in the referendum to make constitutional reforms. Commercial farmers with dual passports repatriated their finances and literally brought agriculture to a standstill.
Mugabe was justifiably angry with the empty promises of the Lancaster House agreement that Britain would purchase land parcels for the indigenous people. The US and European Union economies wanted regime change and campaigned to bring Mugabe down. They failed. Until it reached where we are today.
All along in the internal Zanu-PF campaign , Mnangagwa has advanced the acceleration of agricultural production as a key to stimulating economic growth in Zimbabwe.
He outlined the land reform and rural development processes as critical to the commercial viability of what they called the Agriculture Command project. It was fairly successful but needed a further impetus to grow the economy.
Mnangagwa also expressed his intention to work in earnest with the faith communities.
The Generation 40 camp began to feel the pressure and resorted to dirty tricks instead of strengthening their political work legally. They applied crude methods out of inexperience.
After he was unceremoniously fired from his Deputy President position, his son drove him to the Mozambique border but they were intercepted by the police who were instructed to have him arrested. They managed to get past them.
He walked for 37km to safety – no mean feat for a 71-year-old man.
Mnangagwa’s economic growth approach could best be understood in an analogy withy the People’s Republic of China in 1978 when Deng Xiaoping introduced the modernisation of its economy as priority.
This was after a decade of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution that had failed miserably and resulted in the widespread suppression of intellectuals and economic stagnation.
Xiaoping was Mao Zedong’s colleague in the Communist Party leadership. He introduced an open door policy and made sweeping changes to uplift the quality of life and modernise socialism. He introduced the one China-two systems policy.
President Mnangagwa and his colleagues in the Zanu-PF leadership understand the Chinese experience of transformation and change.
They know that it is possible to move from wrong to right, in order to snatch victory at the jaws of despair.
Sanctions against Zimbabwe must be dropped. Constitutionality must be repaired and adhered to – even in the land reform programme. Zimbabwe needs foreign direct investment and a stimulus for the economic growth.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa is more than equal to the task.
* Seroke is Secretary for Political and Pan-African Affairs in the PAC of Azania.