RECENTLY installed vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa has reportedly embarked on a charm offensive to present the other side of a man widely viewed as a sneaky hardliner.
President Robert Mugabe dramatically fired Joice Mujuru, a presumed moderate, as first vice president, replacing her with Mnangagwa who was immediately seen as the veteran leader’s choice as successor.
Mugabe is thought to have considered that Mnangagwa, widely seen as hard-line and ruthless, would be more likely to continue the veteran leader’s controversial policies as well uncompromising approach in relations with the West.
Nicknamed Ngwena – Shona for Crocodile, Mnangagwa however, this week took the uncharacteristic move of publicly apologising to a junior minister and other top Zanu PF officials humiliated by overzealous hangers-on at his rural homestead during a party held to celebrate his appointment to the presidium.
It was also reported that Mnangagwa, a veteran of Zimbabwe’s brutal 1970s bush war that brought independence, would be in charge of the country’s social ministries, rather than the security portfolios which he has long been associated with.
Observers said the development was meant to project the former head of the feared joint operations command as a man of the people.
“You must understand that Mnangagwa is viewed as a military man given his background during and after the war and the fact that he has almost always been associated with the country’s military aristocrats.
“He now needs to project a new image, that of a civilian and a man who can be trusted. That will need a bit of work and that has just begun, we need to demystify the myth that he is a cruel man.
“He is just a reserved person and if you get to know him you will understand that he is a very soft man,” said one of Mnangagwa’s fervent supporters on condition of anonymity.
According to the state media, Mnangagwa was mandated with superintending over the ministries of Health, Agriculture and Lands, Public Service Labour and Social Welfare, Mines and Mining Development, Tourism, Education, Sports, Arts and Culture, Small to Medium and Co-operative Development.
In contrast, second vice president Phelekezela Mphoko, according to the reports, will take charge of the security cluster.
Insiders said the fact that the allocations were announced by Mnangagwa who is currently the country’s acting president was a deliberate effort to present “a new man”.
Mnangagwa has a chequered military and security history, from his near death experience at the hands of the Rhodesian regime when he escaped the hangman’s noose by a whisker because of his then young age to his alleged involvement in the Gukurahundi atrocities in the early years of independence when he was Intelligence Minister.
The acting president, who also serves as the country’s Justice Minister, was linked with the orgy of violence and bloodbath that followed the disputed 2008 poll whose first round Mugabe lost to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai before a run-off was forced.
Tsvangirai pulled out of the run-off citing systematic violence and the murder of about 300 of his party supporters as well as disappearances some that remain mysteries to this day.
There have been reports of renewed infighting within the ruling party, particularly in the Mnangagwa faction, which seemingly benefited from the mayhem that rocked the former guerrilla movement ahead of its elective congress early this month.
Mnangagwa is reportedly under siege from hawks who claim they did not benefit from the spoils of Mujuru’s ouster and are now, by way of revenge, projecting him as “un-electable” and aloof.