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

Mnangagwa took control of measures such as the ease of doing business reforms, resulting in Zimbabwe climbing just a few notches up the global ease of doing business index. He was the Government point man for meetings with big business, where he has gained the respect of many executives. His team also put together proposals for parastatal reforms, among them a new code of conduct that seeks to improve how state enterprises are run and led.

Most of these proposals came to naught, as Mugabe preferred to listen to things that made more political sense than economic. When Prisca Mupfumira, another Mnangagwa ally, fired thousands of ZANU-PF youths who are feeding off the Government payroll, Mugabe’s nephew, then Youth Minister Patrick Zhuwao, went to his uncle and whispered to him the move would lose him votes. Mugabe reversed it at the next rally.

The spending cuts approved by Cabinet in 2015 were swiftly reversed.

Which is why it was the political, ruthless Mnangagwa that Mugabe found more useful. Mnangagwa suffered a setback in 2004, when Mugabe barred his path to the Vice Presidency, but he regained Mugabe’s trust by engineering ZANU-PF’s controversial electoral victories.

“Outside of President Mugabe, there is no better strategist in ZANU-PF than Mnangagwa,” Owen Ncube, a ZANU-PF MP and Mnangagwa’s long-time aide, has said.

Ncube is accused of running a militia on Mnangagwa’s behalf, a group dubbed “Al Shabaab” that violently runs gold fields in the Midlands. Ncube denies that either he or Mnangagwa have anything to do with the gangs.

Bureaucrats who have worked with him paint different pictures.

“He gets things done, one way or the other,” said a senior official at the Ministry of Justice, which Mnangagwa led until Mugabe reshuffled him and his allies out of ministries. “Either he charms his way through things with his humour, or he just rams right through. Either way, he gets things done.”

Mnangagwa has a sharp sense of humour, belying his persona as a feared securocrat. At one time, asked about his reputation as a hard man, he told an interviewer that he was, in fact, “soft as wool”.

Among the locals in his home town, he is known for humourous church sermons. He is a lay preacher in the Methodist Church, and a massive Chelsea fan.

But there is a ruthlessness about him that is unsettling and hard to ignore. His people try to spin it, to make it sound like a good thing.

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