It was Mnangagwa who oversaw the CIO’s surveillance operations – and much more besides.
And it was because of this dangerous proximity that he knew, better than anyone else, that Mugabe had no friends, only interests – most of which had a clandestine element.
As early as 1981, there were reports from South African sources that Mugabe was determined to “keep an eye on Mnangagwa”, with some accounts suggesting he wanted to “get rid of” his intelligence sidekick.
While the more dramatic stories were probably little more than makuhwa, or rumour, Mnangagwa himself was clearly watching his back.
In 1982, when minister of home affairs Herbert Ushewokunze set up a rival intelligence agency that began to cause the CIO considerable problems, Mnangagwa sent Mugabe a minute registering his “concern”, but heard nothing back.
He confided to another minister that he “wondered if this was not evidence of covert backing for Ushewokunze by Mugabe”.
Evidently, Mnangagwa shared South African suspicions that “Mugabe, a cunning politician, is playing off Ushewokunze and Mnangagwa against each other”.
Unlike Solomon Mujuru, Mnangagwa has – so far – successfully navigated the murky waters around Mugabe for decades and, as a current vice president of Zimbabwe, is a potential successor to his ailing boss.
Whether that will continue to be the case remains to be seen, although, to the extent that Mugabe influences the outcome, Mnangagwa is still well ahead of other pretenders in terms of understanding what makes the old conniver tick.
Yet what precisely are those common threads, the driving forces, that explain how Mugabe thinks – not least of which are his predilection for duplicity and conspiracy?
Two suggest themselves, based on the evidence from the 1980s when he was at the height of his powers.
At one level, there were the objectives and attitudes that informed his ideology – a philosophy that was common to the Zimbabwean nationalists of his generation, and one that elevated realpolitik and the ruthless pursuit of supremacy.
But that alone is insufficient to explain the degree to which Mugabe was able and prepared to deploy deceptions against those who were his comrades.
Personality and personal ambition were the ultimate determinants here.
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