On Friday morning, it was confirmed that Robert Mugabe had died following a long battle with illness. The 95-year-old left behind a problematic legacy, and despite his successful fight for freedom, his presidency of Zimbabwe was characterised by some heinous decisions. But Emmerson Mnangagwa has remembered him fondly.
Two years ago, the current incumbent did everything he could to shift Mugabe from power. Mnangagwa, the then-deputy president of the country, used his connections with the military to force through a coup and have “Uncle Bob” removed from office. After a tense few days, and some stubborn pushbacks, Mugabe stepped aside.
Emmerson Mnangagwa and Robert Mugabe
Make no mistake, Mnangagwa had lost complete faith in the leadership of Robert Mugabe, who was still in charge by the time he reached 93. There were even attempts on EM’s life, as he was made to flee the country when word of his efforts reached the Mugabe Administration.
Emmerson Mnangagwa didn’t just survive, but he succeeded the man who had spent 37 years in charge of Zimbabwe following British colonial rule. He assumed leadership in November 2017, before cementing his power in a general election nine months later.
The tensions between the two – which temporarily saw Mugabe suggest he could back a different political party to Zanu PF – eased in July 2018. The nonagenarian ended up backing Mnangagwa at the ballot box. In a tribute to his predeccesor, Emmerson Mnangagwa praised Mugabe for being “an icon of liberation”.
“It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President, comrade Robert Mugabe. He was an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people. His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”
Peas in a pod?
Mugabe ruled with an iron fist, crushing any opposition that dared challenge his rule. In the 1980s, Zim’s “Fifth Brigade” targeted ZAPU-linked opposition in Matabeleland in a campaign that killed at least 10 000 people, mostly Ndebele civilians. Then, at the turn of the century, his disastrous land reform policies took hold of Zimbabwe.
Mnangagwa wouldn’t be drawn on the ills of Mugabe’s legacy, but he himself has shown those similar “strongarm” tactics during his fleeting presidency. The new guy hasn’t been afraid to turn the army on his civilians when there’s been unrest and protests on the street. The two leaders are, arguably, cut from the same cloth.