Emmerson Mnangagwa. Picture: ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Emmerson Mnangagwa. Picture: ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Emmerson Mnangagwa, the recently elected president and first secretary of Zanu-PF, is a political cat with the proverbial nine lives.

A lawyer by training, he became Robert Mugabe’s personal assistant during the liberation struggle in the 1970s and has been a fixture in Zimbabwe politics since independence from Britain in 1980.

Mnangagwa, now 73, shot to prominence when he was appointed state security minister in 1980, aged 33. He is credited with creating Mugabe’s dreaded Central Intelligence Organisation and is associated with the 1985 Matabeleland massacre of Zanu’s opponents, which he denies.

Mnangagwa, who escaped the gallows for an act of sabotage in Rhodesia because he was under 17, went on to become chairman of the Joint High Command after Gen Peter Walls was dismissed. He oversaw the integration of the Zanla and Zipra guerrilla wings and the Rhodesian Army. From 1988 to 2000, he served as justice, legal & parliamentary affairs minister and leader of the house. He was an acting finance minister (1995-1996) and acting foreign minister.

In the 2000 parliamentary election, he lost his Kwekwe seat to little-known Blessing Chebundo of the new Movement for Democratic Change, but Mugabe appointed him to one of the unelected seats, and he became speaker of parliament that year.

During his time as speaker a UN probe into the illegal exploitation of Congolese natural resources recommended a travel ban and financial restrictions on him for his involvement in making Harare a significant illicit diamond trading centre. He has been described as Zimbabwe’s richest man, with close business ties to a former officer of the old Rhodesian army and head of Mine Tech, which scored landmine-clearing contracts from the state. It is said he made piles of money while Zanu-PF’s finance secretary, in charge of the party’s business empire. He has been linked with mogul Billy Rautenbach, arms smuggler John Bredenkamp and property tycoon Nicholas van Hoogstraten, among others.

In the 2005 election he was again defeated by Chebundo in Kwekwe and Mugabe again gave him an unelected seat. His involvement in a plot to become vice-president in 2005 resulted in him being demoted to rural housing minister until 2009.

He was appointed vice-president in 2013 but began to fall out with Mugabe and his wife Grace amid allegations that he wanted to grab power. He was allegedly poisoned at a Zanu-PF gathering earlier this year.

Last week he said after the army’s ultimatum to Mugabe to step down: "Let us bury our differences and rebuild a new and prosperous Zimbabwe, a country that is tolerant of divergent views, that respects opinions of others, that does not isolate itself from the rest of the world because of one stubborn individual who believes he is entitled to rule this country until death."

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