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40 years on, Mnangagwa finally emerges from Mugabe’s shadow

After 40 years in Robert Mugabe’s shadow, Emmerson Mnangagwa is finally stepping out on his own.

But there is more than one Emmerson Mnangagwa, and we don’t know yet which one we are getting.

There is the ruthless and cunning Mnangagwa. There is also the witty and humourous Mnangagwa. Then there is also the third Mnangagwa; the one whose efforts to reform the economy were thwarted at every turn by Robert Mugabe.

Mnangagwa is taking over just months away from an election in which he will be the ZANU-PF candidate. Over the next few months, and perhaps even weeks, Mnangagwa will begin his bid to win that election. How he approaches that election will tell us which Mnangagwa we have.

With the economy in crisis, marked by empty banks and silent factories, many will be hoping for the reformist Mnangagwa. But now that he is the one with all the power he once gave Mugabe, there is also the possibility of the “crocodile” emerging as he tries to stamp his authority over a divided party while also winning a crucial election.

Mnangagwa’s “Crocodile” nickname came from the Crocodile Gang, a special sabotage unit that he says he was part of in the liberation struggle. The moniker has since come to mark his image as the cunning and ruthless operator.

His former boss, Mugabe, recognised both Mnangagwas and deployed them accordingly. When he was Security Minister in the 1980s, he was accused of being involved in the massacre of thousands of innocent people. In 2008, Mnangagwa led Mugabe’s election campaign, and some critics believe he was involved in the violence.

When Mugabe briefly flirted with the idea of economic reform and reengaging international financiers, he gave Mnangagwa the job. With the likes of allies such as then Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa, they laid out an economic reform plan in 2013 that involved cutting spending at home, refining damaging empowerment laws, and restructuring foreign debt.

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