Understanding Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Life and The Events That Led to His Emergence as President of Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s sudden transition of power gave rise to the less talked about Zimbabwean veteran Emmerson Mnangagwa, popularly known as “the Crocodile (Garwe),” becoming the president. Ushering the beginning of a new and unfolding democracy in the country of Zimbabwe, after the 37-year long reign of President Robert Mugabe, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa emerged from his car to the thundering chants of “Garwe! Garwe! Garwe!”

The Crocodile or “Ngwena,” who was Zimbabwe’s former security chief, as well as former chief Lieutenant to Mr. Mugabe, took over the reins of power from Robert Mugabe as interim president of Zimbabwe on November 24, 2017. Since then, the nation has witnessed the dawn of a new democratic system. But how did Emmerson achieve this feat? Let’s see.

Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Life Before Politics

Mnangagwa, also known as “Ngwena” (a totemic name for a crocodile) or “E.D.” after his initials, is a Zimbabwean politician born on September 15, 1942, in the southwestern Zvishavana district. Born as one of six children of his parents, Emmerson is a member of the Karanga ethnic group, the largest subgroup of Zimbabwe’s majority Shona ethnic group. His father’s name is Mafidhi Mnangagwa and his mother is Mhurai Mnangagwa. They both aggressively fought against white settlers.

Like his politically active parents, Emmerson was an active politician from his youth. His grandfather was a traditional leader. Likewise, his father was a political agitator who fought for black emancipation during the colonial rule. It is safe to say he took off from where his biological predecessors stopped.

His First Participation in Politics was in College 

Emmerson is no doubt one of the young Zimbabweans who had the opportunity to receive a quality education in the early years when the country was still under colonial rule. He had his primary education in Zvishavane in the Midlands Province before his family relocated to Zambia in 1955. There, he attended Mumbwa Boarding School, Kafue Trade School, and Hodgson Technical College, the leading educational institution in the nation.

While at Hodgson, he took up a four-year program in City and Guilds Industrial Building Course. A source revealed that while Mnangagwa studied at the college, he was an executive member of UNIP, a Student Union. He was the only surviving member of the radical group that caused the explosion of a train during the white minority rule. He was spared for being a minor (aged 16).

Emmerson also holds a degree in law from London University. After practicing for a few years and working for a private law firm, he was contacted by the United National Independent Party to help with organizing their activities and recruitment, after which he became their secretary.

Mnangagwa’s Foray Into the World of Politics

The major impression everyone gets at the mention of his name is that of cruelty or ruthlessness. For starters, Emmerson Mnangagwa got the nickname “crocodile” for his hardcore political personality. He is not called the Crocodile for no reason. He was described as the country’s spymaster during the 1980s civil conflict. Although he has never admitted this, historical reports to date still link him to the plotting and execution of the “Gukurahundi” massacre, an attack that annihilated opponents of the ruling party in the ’80s.

Not only did Emmerson join the struggle for independence from Britain, but he was also one of the young combatants trained in China and Egypt to strategize the war. Mnangagwa also fought in Zimbabwe’s liberation war in the 1970s, where he earned his nickname “The Crocodile,” as a guerrilla fighter. To further break it down, Emmerson Mnangagwa was recruited from Zambia as a guerilla fighter for the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) in the Zimbabwean War of Liberation in 1962.

He fought with the  Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), a wing of ZAPU, and later became part of ZANU’s militant wing, the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA). Alongside William Nadangana, he formed the Crocodile Gang, a guerilla unit that formed a strong anti-government force known for its notoriety.

Emmerson Mnangagwa Held Several Cabinet Portfolios Under Mugabe’s Dispensation

After Zimbabwe achieved independence in 1980, Mnangagwa occupied a series of high-profile positions under Mugabe before becoming his vice president. For instance, he became Zimbabwe’s first Minister of National Security while Robert Mugabe became the Prime Minister. When Mugabe became President in 1988, Emmerson was made the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. He was also named the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Finances for a short period.

In 2000, Emmerson was given a seat in the parliament, as the speaker after he contested a seat in parliament. Though he claims to now be a Christian, Mnangagwa is still regarded as the same old tough cookie he has always been. He lost his place as the secretary of the ruling party in 2004 for openly and hardly canvassing for the office of the Vice President.

Becoming Zimbabwe’s Vice President & Eventual Fallout With Robert Mugabe 

Mnangagwa’s dream of becoming vice president came through on December 10, 2014, when he was appointed by former president Robert Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s first Vice President. They – himself and Mugabe – seemed inseparable, he became the president’s right-hand man in almost everything. Reports had it that Mugabe had him carry out some presidential assignments for him.

Indeed Emmerson met Robert Mugabe while at Harare Prison. He was moved to the prison after serving 10 years at Grey Street and Khami Prison for being part of a protest. So they had come a long way, which truly reflected in their friendship and political relations. Mnangagwa hardly experienced opposition challenges in the execution of his duties until 2015, when it was glaring that his interests clashed with that of the First Lady, Grace Mugabe.

This gradually led to a division in the ruling party, ZANU-PF, bringing about the emergence of two factions within the party – G40, and Lacoste. According to reports, while the former was led by the First Lady, the latter was headed by Mnangagwa. The year 2016 saw several outbursts between these two, with the loudest uproar coming from Grace Mugabe, who accused the VP of coveting the office of the President.

2017 came with even more pandemonium, as the First Lady had already begun to declare herself President. More drama ensued that year after Emmerson was allegedly poisoned at a rally, and his supporters pointed fingers at his political rival – Grace Mugabe. This caused a political outburst, which eventually led to his dismissal as vice president. To replace him, Robert Mugabe appointed his wife Grace as the VP, automatically making her his successor.

How Emmerson Mnangagwa Became the President of Zimbabwe

The stone-faced Mnangagwa is a man of few words with strong military links. After serving as Zimbabwe’s vice president for over three years, he was removed by Mugabe on 6th November 2017. Consequently, the tough politician vowed to challenge Mugabe’s authoritarian leadership. The veteran, who has been one of Mugabe’s longest-serving allies, accused Mugabe of using the ruling party ZANU-PF as his private property. After that, he fled the country, saying his life was threatened.

On 21st November 2017, under immense pressure, Mugabe resigned, clearing the way for Emmerson Mnangagwa to become the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe. This was after a planned coup, which was said to have been masterminded by the Crocodile. Following the ousting of the then President, Emmerson was named the leader of the ruling party ZANU-PF.

However, he was later sworn in as the third President of Zimbabwe on 24th November 2017. The following year, he secured his full term as President after he triumphed over Nelson Chamisa in the 2018 general elections. After the elections, he took to Twitter to express his heartfelt gratitude to Zimbabweans.

Lesser-Known Facts About His Personal Life

Emmerson, who was Mugabe’s right-hand man for many years, has amassed a stunning amount of wealth. Even though his estimated net worth is not yet clear, the fact remains that he is considered one of the richest men in Zimbabwe.

According to sources, Mnangagwa has close business links with Colonel Lionel Dyck, a white officer from the old Rhodesian army who founded Mine Tech, a landmine clearance company that secured lucrative contracts from the Zimbabwean government to clear landmines in Zimbabwe border areas after the war. He is also alleged to have made much of his money while he was the secretary of finance in Zanu-PF.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has had three marriages, with his second wife being the sister of Josiah Tongogara, a fellow ZANLA commander, who died from cancer in 2000. His third and perhaps last wife is Auxillia C. Mnangagwa, a Zanu-PF member since 1982. He also has nine children. Among them is a property developer Farai Mlotshwa and Emmerson Mnangagwa Jr.