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Profile: Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwean Minister of Defence

By Patrick Smith
Posted on Monday, 21 September 2009 00:00

A much-feared veteran of Zimbabwe’s security system, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa remains the favoured successor of President Robert Mugabe to lead ZANU-PF. The two men have been close since Mnangagwa served as Mugabe’s special security assistant at the height of the liberation war in 1977; for several years, their ties have been close enough to earn Mnangagwa the sobriquet ‘Son of God’. In the shaky power-sharing government, Mugabe appointed Mnangagwa defence minister, much to the distaste of the MDC.

The appointment was both a signal to ZANU-PF and a recognition of Mnangagwa’s key role in Mugabe’s survival last year. As chairman of the Joint Operations Command, Mnangagwa presided over the security services’ devastating attacks on the MDC and their supporters in the run-up to the second round of the presidential elections: the ferocity of the attacks finally forced the MDC out of the race.

Mnangagwa is no stranger to political violence. He was arrested by Ian Smith’s Rhodesian regime and tortured for several weeks after he was arrested for blowing up a locomotive at Masvingo in 1965 when he was 19, having led a unit of saboteurs known as the Crocodile Gang. He served a ten-year sentence before resuming his studies to qualify as a lawyer in Zambia. Despite the party rhetoric, Mnangagwa takes a pragmatic view of white Zimbabweans: he does highly profitable business with key figures from the Smith regime such as Lionel Dyck and John Arnold Bredenkamp, both of whom speak highly of Mnangagwa’s wit and leadership qualities.