By Nick Mangwana
To this writer a soft person or, more specifically, a soft leader is one who has emotional intelligence. It is one who has a lot of empathy and that empathy attracts people to them. Emotional intelligence also means one has emotional discipline and is not given to too much impulsivity. Their inner circle is highly inspired by the person that they carry his vision forward even if he himself doesn’t care much about public speaking.
This has always been this columnist’s impression about President Mnangagwa; there has always been something soft about him. But his legend was irreconcilable with the hard man legend that was so widely accepted as reality. This is why John Kennedy said: “The greatest enemy of the truth is not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.” So there you go. Many who knew the President closely knew the so-called hardness was a myth. But what was not clear was whether the man himself enjoyed the legend or not. Apparently, he doesn’t. He wants the world to know the difference between the myth and reality.
To debunk the myth, he simply said: “I am as soft as wool my bro”. This was said to BBC’s Fergal Keane. Was the legend wrong? Mr Keane’s face was incredulous. But the President is actually soft and we are going to support that with evidence of his softness.
This writer believes that President Mnangagwa is as soft as he says he is actually to a point of weakness. Whilst he was a member of the iconic crocodile, he has none of its fangs. Yes, he was a member of the Crocodile Gang. Even CIO files from the ’60s authenticate that. That “Crocodile” appellation has stuck with him. The crocodile legend is peddled by his supporters and foes alike for diametrically opposed effects. Throughout history when one thought they would see a hard man they found one as soft as wool.
In 1989, a musician known as Paul Matavire -who was right at the peak of his career – committed a heinous crime by raping a disabled woman from Chiwundura communal lands in October. A provincial magistrate convicted him and his accomplice and bandmate Peter Mabvuwa. This is a case that really divided public opinion, primarily because Matavire was blind. His fans thought a blind man could surely not rape. Others said he could, with help. Anyway, the case weighed against him and he was sent to prison.
Emmerson Mnangagwa was Minister of Justice. One day he went around touring the country’s prisons and became aware of convict Matavire’s case. He was touched by the condition he found this vulnerable blind man in. He was caught in a conundrum. This man needed to pay his debt to society. But there was a need for compassion. He tempered justice with compassion. Paul Matavire had already served 13 months in prison. Emmerson Mnangagwa pleaded with the then President to get him a presidential pardon. His heart which is as soft as wool had been touched.
His detractors prefer to talk about his period as Minister of State Security. During the disturbances in Matabeleland the intelligence services would pick up people they deemed a threat to national security, the Minister of State Security was one of the most accountable members of that Cabinet.
Let’s remember that during that time, there were a number of opposition MPs in Parliament both before and after 1985. These opposition MPs included ZAPU and Conservative Alliance of Zimbabwe and some Independent MPs who had crossed the floor from Ian Smith’s Conservative Alliance of Zimbabwe (CAZ).
There was a state of emergency during that time. Going through the parliamentary reports as recorded in the Hansard from that period would show that there were basically three ministers who were in charge of security ministries. The Prime Minister was the Minster of State Security. He was also the Minister of Defence. Then there was the Minister of Home Affairs. During this period Parliament would call all these ministers to ask them about the events in Matabeleland.
Many a time the other two ministers would invoke national security clauses and therefore would not be subjected to questioning. But ED would give full account to Parliament of how many had been picked up by State security, how many had been released and how many people had been handed over to the police. This was a man who has always respected the rules and never sought to bend them.
Let us see how he is described by someone who worked closely with him. Hard men are obsessed with power and control. Emmerson Mnangagwa has shown that he is not more interested in results and professionalism than power and control. Ken Flower, the long serving director-general of both the pre-independence and post-independence CIO, wrote his book “Serving Secretly”, page 272: “Mnangagwa left the professional control of CIO to me, while he provided the professional link with Government. This made for little change in intelligence functioning and as far as rank and file of the CIO were concerned, there was absolutely no intereference in executive or administrative control … “
In June 2000 Emmerson Mnangagwa lost Kwekwe Central seat. This loss has had a lot of exaggerated significance attached to it. That significance is just self-serving but of no other value and has no reflection on his electability. A lot of other Zanu-PF leaders more senior to him also lost including Joseph Msika, Dumiso Dabengwa and Simon Khaya Moyo.
Emmerson Mnangagwa was offered the opportunity to become a non-constituency MP but he declined in deference to his more senior comrades who had also lost.
We need to talk a little bit more about the actual significance of that loss. If Emmerson Mnangagwa was the master rigger how come he lost his own seat, not once but twice? Why didn’t he deploy all his hard-edged resources to ensure his own victory?
On the contrary, he accepted the voice of the people twice in an election that affected his own political career. He deferred to the voice of the people .So when he says that the voice of the people is the voice of God we have to believe that he heeded the voice of the people.
A lot of people don’t remember that President Mnangagwa held the position of Speaker of Parliament. In fact, he was the first Speaker to work in a Parliament with an opposition since the Unity Accord. This was a new territory for Zanu-PF which had been used to having one voice in Parliament, which was that of its own. Of course, it had experienced such independent thinkers in its own ranks like Lazarus Nzarayebani, Byron Hove and Eddison Zvobgo and, to some extent, Dzikamai Mavhaire.
One of the first things President Mnangagwa did within weeks of being sworn in was to restore Morgan Tsvangirai’s dignity. He didn’t have to do that but he did anyway. He bent over backwards and stretched his compassionate hand to him in his final days and to his family in bereavement. Where is the hard man we have all heard of?
Emmerson Mnangagwa has always preferred smart power to the hard-edged power. Within four months of coming into power ED gave presidential amnesty to 3 000 prisoners. This was about 30 percent of all people held in Zimbabwe’s prisons. A vindictive and retributive leader would not do that. And do we need to go into the composure he displayed when that woman was throwing tantrums during those interface rallies? The amount of abuse he took, if he was somebody else we would be talking of someone permanently banished to exile. But not with ED. He has been always ready to forgive and look at the bigger picture.
His co-Vice President, Phelekezela Mphoko, reports say he was so vile and uncouth towards him in a very unprecedented way. Mphoko was unconventional, out of sorts and plainly just mean towards ED. There was every reason for ED to be vengeful towards him. But he is living his life in Zimbabwe unperturbed, so are many of his G40 enemies. Only two people who continue to threaten national security are in exile. So where is the actual evidence that ED as anything but soft?
The legend of Emmerson as a hard man is nothing but that. But myth is more fascinating than reality and we prefer to believe fables and legend than reality. The legend of the ruthless crocodile is a false fable and mythological narrative.