In January, a photograph appeared in Zimbabwe’s media showing Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa enjoying drinks with a friend.
In his hand was a large novelty mug emblazoned with the words: “I‘M THE BOSS.”
To supporters of President Robert Mugabe, the inscription bordered on treason.
They suspected that Mnangagwa, nicknamed The Crocodile, already saw himself in the shoes of Mugabe, 93 years old, increasingly frail and the only leader the southern African nation has known since it gained independence from Britain in 1980.
Those Mugabe supporters are not alone.
According to politicians, diplomats and a trove of hundreds of documents from inside Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) reviewed by Reuters, Mnangagwa and other political players have been positioning themselves for the day Mugabe either steps down or dies.
Officially, Mugabe is not relinquishing power any time soon.
He and his ruling ZANU-PF party are due to contest an election next year against a loose coalition led by his long-time foe, Morgan Tsvangirai.
But the intelligence reports, which date from 2009 to this year, say a group of powerful people is already planning to reshape the country in the post-Mugabe era.
Key aspects of the transition planning described in the documents were corroborated by interviews with political, diplomatic and intelligence sources in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
The documents and sources say Mnangagwa, a 73-year-old lawyer and long-standing ally of Mugabe, envisages cooperating with Tsvangirai to lead a transitional government for five years with the tacit backing of some of Zimbabwe’s military and Britain.
These sources leave open the possibility that the government could be unelected.
The aim would be to avoid the chaos that has followed some previous elections.
This unity government would pursue a new relationship with thousands of white farmers who were chased off in violent seizures of land approved by Mugabe in the early 2000s.
The farmers would be compensated and reintegrated, according to senior politicians, farmers and diplomats.
The aim would be to revive the agricultural sector, a linchpin of the nation’s economy that collapsed catastrophically after the land seizures.
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