It was in China in 2015 that his mission to cast himself as a reformer came into the spotlight.
He sat down with a reporter of Chinese TV channel, CCTV, and spoke less like the unquestioning loyalist that Mugabe wanted, but like some modern day Deng.
Which areas of your economy needs urgent attention, the reporter asked him.
He replied: “You cannot say there are areas of our economy which we are happy with, infrastructure we are behind by 15-16 years, agricultural development the same, manufacturing; in fact capacity utilisation in some areas of our industry is down to 20%, so again, we have to retool by acquiring new machinery, technology and machinery so that we are competitive.”
Zimbabwe, he said, had a lot to learn from China, which dragged itself from an Asian backwater – per capita GDP was below Zimbabwe’s in 1980 – to a global economic superpower, by making hard reforms.
“So we are looking at the reform measures that China has gone through to help us move forward,” he said.
He made remarks that you would never hear his boss make. Capital, he said, goes where it is wanted.
“We have to see how we can create an investment environment which will attract the flow of capital. We must know that investment can only go where it makes a return so we must make sure we create an environment where investors are happy to put their money because there is a return.”
Soon, China, even the West and international financial institutions, began buying into the idea of Mnangagwa the reformer.
But back home, his boss was not pleased with all this talk of reform. To Mugabe and his loyalists, Mnangagwa was basically setting himself apart, telling the world that he would be a different leader to Mugabe. Resentment began building.
“Saka ndipo patava kusiyana navamwe ipapa vanobva vaenda mberi mberi nekumaChina kuti takuda president mutsva (This is where we are beginning to differ with some of our people; they’re going to the extent of approaching the Chinese, saying we want a new leader),” Mugabe told a rally not long after Mnangagwa’s China tour.
Mnangagwa ally Chinamasa, meanwhile, was on a mission to heave Zimbabwe out of isolation. A debt relief plan, signed in Lima, Peru, was meant to help Zimbabwe pay off some of its debts and lead to the resumption of financial support. Chinamasa grew so fond of his job, he at one time declared he had “fallen in love with the IMF and World Bank”.
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