Even Western diplomats warmed up to Mnangagwa. In 2016, Tsvangirai complained to reporters that Western capitals that once supported him were now reaching out to Mnangagwa, seeing him as “pragmatic”. For once, the opposition were united with Mugabe against the West.
In January 2016, at the funeral of a Kwekwe dairy farmer, Neville Coetzee, Mnangagwa again was accused to trying to set himself apart from his boss. He said Midlands leaders had chosen not to take over dairy farms during land reform.
“Here in Midlands we stood our ground to avoid disruptions of the dairy industry and convinced the party leadership. As a result, Midlands is now the number one dairy producing province in the country,” he said.
Because of the decision taken by Mnangagwa, and the likes of the late Cephas Msipa, a former governor, the Coetzee’s small dairy project has grown into one of Zimbabwe’s largest dairy firms, Dendairy.
It was pleasing to some outside the party, but in ZANU-PF this was cause for alarm.
For critics, however, there’s little evidence Mnangagwa would have been a reformist leader. His own record in business is tainted.
In 2002, a UN report named him as part of a cabal that looted resources in the DRC. Mnangagwa was also named in the government takeover of Shabani and Mashaba Mines from Mutumwa Mawere, a seizure that impoverished Zvishavane.
He has also associated with many shady characters in business, and reports suggest his men run violent gold syndicates that control vast gold claims in the Midlands. With the support of long time allies such as Owen “Mudha” Ncube, militia known as “Al Shabab” are said to have long run gold trade for Mnangagwa across the province. Ncube has denied such claims previously.
All this did not stop Western interests from viewing him as some Kagame figure; an imperfect leader who would hold the country together and bring economic stability by merely ensuring order.
Even some of his opponents thought so. Eddie Cross, the MDC-T’s economic secretary, described Mnangagwa as a “skillful lawyer” and “a business man who understands business”.
David Coltart said Mnangagwa “understands the running of the economy better than Mugabe, better than most ZANU-PF politicians.”
A fateful article on Mnangagwa by the New Statesman magazine also thought so too.
“A Mnangagwa presidency might offer Zimbabwe one thing: economic recovery. He is sharp, organised and business-savvy; more pragmatic and less ideological than Mugabe,” the New Statesman said.
On Monday, in its report on Mnangagwa’s sacking, the Financial Times also carried a similar line.
“Abroad, Mr Mnangagwa was seen as supporting an effort to clear Zimbabwe’s arrears with the IMF and other international lenders, with which it cut ties following economic crisis and hyperinflation in 2008,” the paper said.
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