Popularly known as ‘the crocodile’ for his cunning and stealthy nature, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa can crack jokes but act ruthlessly against his enemies. He has created a coterie of cronies for political benefits as he prepares to contest Zimbabwe’s presidency for a second term on 23 August.
To consolidate power, he keeps very influential individuals close in the business, military, judiciary and religious sectors.
Some of his associates have been sanctioned or are under watch by US-based investigative and policy organisations. The Africa Report examines his current inner circle.
Blood ties are important to Mnangagwa for staying in power, and his wife, Auxillia, features prominently in Zimbabwe’s politics as she works hard to spruce up the image of the first family. A former member of parliament, she became First Lady in November 2017 and craves the media spotlight even more than former first lady Grace Mugabe.
Auxillia regularly receives positive state media news coverage, where she is given acres of space posing as a philanthropist. She reportedly also influences the layout and presentation of her stories.
Recently, she attracted controversy after she went on a state visit to meet Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko together with her twin sons Collins and Sean. Although an unofficial member of the government, she engaged in discussions that encroached on government business and was accused of usurping government powers amid concerns that Mnangagwa’s family was pursuing private business in Belarus.
Mnangagwa’s first-born son, Emmerson Jr, is reportedly very close to him and often attends his father’s functions. He enrolled for a degree in Australia in 2004 but came back in 2007 after pressure from Zimbabwe’s opposition that children of Zimbabwean politicians must come back to the country to experience the dilapidated education system.
In 2013, he tried his luck in politics and was voted Zanu-PF Midlands province Youth League secretary for information and publicity. Junior was added to the US sanctions list in 2022 due to his ties with businessman Kudakwashe Tagwirei and his Sakunda Holdings fuel company, both of which were already under US sanctions.
Mnangagwa’s eldest son also courted controversy in February 2023 during Lukashenko’s state visit to Zimbabwe after he was caught on camera clad in his father’s trademark scarf, seated among ministers from both Zimbabwe and Belarus at a closed-door meeting at State House. This raised questions about whether his attendance was to represent the business interests of the first family.
Eastern Europe is one of Mnangagwa’s favourite destinations, especially Belarus, where he has developed close ties with President Lukashenko, one of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s allies. However, scepticism reigns over whether Mnangagwa and Lukashenko’s business ties benefit Zimbabwe, despite the several multimillion-dollar agreements signed between Minsk and Harare.
Some of the deals with Belarus are murky, including a tender scandal where firefighting vehicles that cost $30,000 in China were priced at $464,296 by Belarus.
Zimbabwe’s honorary consul to Belarus, Alexander Zingman, who has been linked to arms deals (a claim that he denies), is a central negotiator between Harare and Minsk. In 2021, Zingman was arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo and released after being questioned by intelligence services.
In 2020, he threatened to sue Zambian news outlet News Diggers over photographs of himself with Edgar Lungu and Zambian security chiefs at the Zambian embassy in Moscow. News Diggers stood their ground and Zingman’s lawyers backed off.
Zingman, a dual US and Belarus citizen, has been photographed several times with Mnangagwa amid reports that the Zimbabwe leader’s 2019 trip to Belarus was meant to seal an arms deal. Documents from Pandora Papers portray him as a shrewd businessman who has been transferring money using shell companies in the Seychelles and the UK.
Through Zingman, Mnangagwa’s government has imported buses, agriculture and mining equipment from Belarus. Media reports indicate the multimillion-dollar agricultural equipment and business deals with Zimbabwe could be a coverup for money-spinning deals in the arms trade and mining.
To maintain power, information machinery needs to be well-oiled and married couple Christopher and Monica Mutsvangwa ensure the best spin on even the most egregious accusations. They have proven their loyalty to Mnangagwa time and again. In 2015, Monica, the current information and publicity minister, was expelled from Zanu-PF for disrespecting Grace Mugabe. She assisted in Mugabe’s ouster in 2017 by moving a motion in parliament to impeach him.
As information and publicity minister, she is quick to defend Mnangagwa’s government, including against recurring allegations of human rights abuses in the country. In August 2020 she penned a press statement that described Catholic bishops as a ‘genocidal’ and ‘evil-minded’ lot for calling out Mnangagwa’s government over rights abuses.
Her husband, Christopher, is the Zanu-PF spokesperson. He has a penchant for using big words to blast opponents. Chris is said to be the man that masterminded former vice president Joice Mujuru’s downfall and was active in the 2017 coup that removed Mugabe.
A war veteran and former Ambassador to China, in 2018 Christopher was accused of spilling the beans over businessman Kudakwashe Tagwirei’s monopoly in Zimbabwe’s fuel sector.
Tagwirei is one of Mnangagwa’s economic advisers and is on the US sanctions list together with his oil company Sakunda Holdings. Known as ‘Queen Bee’, Tagwirei is accused of utilising his relationships with high-level Zimbabwean officials to gain state contracts and receive favoured access to foreign currency. In turn, he has provided big-ticket items such as expensive cars to senior-level government officials.
Tagwirei has also used his ongoing relationship with Mnangagwa to grow his business empire and rake in millions of dollars. He has over 40 oil, mining, banking, logistics, transport and trade companies that have been supported with government resources. Of late, Mnangagwa seems to have distanced himself from Tagwirei due to US sanctions. The Queen Bee is said to now be closer to Vice President Constantino Chiwenga.
VP Constantino Chiwenga
Chiwenga will be remembered for his military role in the 2017 coup to remove Mugabe. Zimbabweans were so happy about the coup that some wrote ‘Chiwenga is Bae’ on social media, praising him for masterminding the coup which then brought in Mnangagwa as leader. Chiwenga was rewarded with the vice presidency post.
However, there is speculation that he is leading a Zanu-PF faction to oust Mnangagwa, particularly after it was revealed that Chiwenga was to become the party’s presidential candidate after Mnangagwa’s first term. In the lead-up to the 2022 party conference, however, Chiwenga was ill. The president used this to opportunity to erode the VP’s power base, retiring his military cronies.
In February, Chiwenga dismissed the allegations during an interview on state media, saying: “We are bound together – so he is part of me and I am a part of him.”
Brigadier General Walter Tapfumaneyi
The retired brigadier-general Walter Tapfumaneyi’s closeness to Mnangagwa has resulted in him being assigned the role as shadowy leader of Forever Associates Zimbabwe (FAZ), an outfit said to have hijacked the electoral processes, intimidating voters ahead of the polls and collecting voter registration information to ensure Mnangagwa retains power on 23 August.
FAZ is playing tricks to confuse voters, including registering fake Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) candidates, which resulted in double candidates on the ballot.
Bishop Andrew Wutawunashe
Family of God church founder and leader Andrew Wutawunashe has openly endorsed Mnangagwa, describing him as a ‘genuine president’. Using his pulpit as a Mnangagwa promotional tool, he reportedly compared the president to Joshua in the Bible, saying the Zanu-PF head will see Zimbabwe out of murky waters, just like Joshua, who brought the Israelites to the River Jordan and took them to the promised land.
He has led national thanksgiving prayers at State House in support of Mnangagwa and took a group of clergymen to the UK to call for the removal of sanctions.
Prophet Uebert Angel
One man of the cloth who has featured prominently in Mnangagwa’s cabal is self-styled prophet Uebert Angel, who also implicated the president and his family in the Gold Mafia gold smuggling scandal.
Despite being named in fraud, money laundering and racketeering scandals, this has not stopped him from getting key posts like being appointed Ambassador at Large to Europe and the Americas, and the Pan African Parliament Ambassador for Interfaith Dialogue and Humanitarian Affairs.
Chief Justice Luke Malaba
To win the 23 August elections, Mnangagwa needs members of the Judiciary on his side. Zimbabwe’s Chief Justice Luke Malaba seems to be part of his cabal as he has been criticised for making controversial judgements, creating a distinct disadvantage for the opposition.
When Malaba’s term in office expired in 2021, Mnangagwa extended his tenure in office through contentious amendments to the constitution. Allegations that Zimbabwe’s judiciary is captured by the State continue to circulate.
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