As President, he has promised to compensate white farmers, even though the treasury is empty. But although he offers a more pragmatic approach than Mugabe, Mnangagwa has also made clear his determination that ZANU-PF, and its wealthy elite, will remain in control.
“The dogs may keep on barking, but ZANU-PF will keep on ruling,” he said after Mugabe’s resignation.
To this end, he has appointed to his cabinet several former generals notorious for their brutality, including Perence Shiri, former commander of the Gukurahundi, and Constantino Chiwenga, a former defense forces chief; both have been heavily involved in orchestrating election violence and farm seizures.
The key test of Mnangagwa’s intentions will come in the run-up to the next elections, which are due later this year.
He has promised that the elections will be “free and fair.”
Yet ZANU-PF’s government has a long record of rigging elections.
It is practiced not only in controlling the work of election officials and law enforcement agencies but also in manipulating a defective electoral roll system that contains millions of ghost voters.
Much will depend on the willingness of Western governments to insist on credible elections that are strictly monitored as a condition for helping Zimbabwe emerge from decades of misrule.
Meanwhile, the state Mugabe created lives on.
With Mnangagwa and the generals at the helm, ZANU-PF continues to control every lever of government.
Just as Mugabe envisioned more than four decades ago, the vote still goes with the gun.
Ed: The Council for Foreign Relations which owns the magazine is considered right wing, though media organisations have rated Foreign Affairs magazine as one of the least biased. Mnangagwa has promised free and fair elections and is inviting international observers for this year’s elections.