President Robert Mugabe, in power for 35 years now, has always maintained that when the time comes, “the party”, meaning Zanu-PF, will elect his successor. The long-serving Zimbabwean leader has however shied away from announcing his heir.
The downside to this is that because of the absence of an heir apparent, people develop ambitions and factions within the party and try to position themselves in such a way that if the “appropriate time” comes, they will be in a commanding, if not unassailable, lead to take over from him.
That was the problem that afflicted the former vice president, Joice Mujuru, who, together with two dozen ministerial colleagues, was sacked last year for carrying her ambitions too far out of line.
However, those record sackings appear not to have tamed appetites in the party as in mid-June, President Mugabe had cause to publicly rebuke those who were, again, trying to form factions behind the two new vice presidents he appointed in December 2014, Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko.
The president used the occasion of a Youth League meeting to remind all and sundry that it was Zanu-PF as a party that would elect his successor, therefore the current positions of the vice presidents or other officials in the party or government did not matter.
In other words, there is no anointed one yet, at least not officially. That notwithstanding, most Zimbabweans still see Vice President Mnangagwa (popularly known by his initials, ED) as the leading candidate to succeed Mugabe. Interestingly, ED himself rejects such claims, saying they are “uninformed”.
He told New African: “No, [those views] are totally wrong. Those inside Zanu-PF know that being vice president or being a member of the Politburo or Central Committee is not a stepping-stone to becoming president. Not at all. A president is elected at the party congress. So you can’t say that because I am vice president or a member of the Politburo or a member of the Central Committee, I am nearer to becoming president.”
However, his and the president’s words have failed to change the general view, which puts ED ahead of all the likely candidates to succeed Mugabe. So who is ED?
Born in Rhodesia on 15 September 1942, ED has been working closely with Mugabe for 52 unbroken years. Since 1977, he has been a member of Zanu-PF’s National Executive Committee (which became the party’s Politburo in 1984). A Mugabe loyalist, ED has “liberation struggle credentials” that many cadres envy.
In 1954, when he was 12 years old, the Rhodesian authorities deported his father to Zambia (then known as Northern Rhodesia) because of an altercation he had had with a young white land development officer who had come to their village to do cattle destocking.
In 1960 it was the turn of the young ED to get into trouble when he and other colleagues at the Hodgson Technical College in Lusaka, Zambia, were expelled for burning down a racist white teacher’s house on the campus. As a youth activist at the time, he was recruited into the youth wing of President Kenneth Kaunda’s United National Independence Party, where he rose to become the youth secretary of the party. However, the liberation struggle back home in Zimbabwe attracted him into the ranks of the then nationalist party, Zapu, which sent him and 12 others for military training at the Heliopolis Military Academy in Egypt. As the training began, a disagreement within Zapu led to the formation of a breakaway party called Zanu, led by Mugabe and others, which, upon withdrawing ED and his colleagues from Egypt, sent him and four others to China for military training.
He returned to join the liberation war and rose through the ranks, mainly through the security department, where he headed a team of young fighters called the Crocodile Group which specialised in “sabotage action” against the Rhodesian regime.
The group blew up bridges, electricity pylons, and at one time a locomotive train. When a white farmer was killed in one of the “sabotage actions” in Manicaland, the Rhodesian authorities upped the ante and finally arrested the members of the group and sentenced them to death.
ED, however, escaped the death penalty because, at 18, he was under the legal age of maturity, which was then fixed at 21. But he was sentenced to life imprisonment, serving 10 years before his release and deportation to Zambia where his parents lived.
While in prison, he did his “O” and “A” levels and law degree, and swore that if he survived prison, he would forever oppose the death penalty. This is because across from his cell at the Harare Central Prison (then known as Salisbury Prison) was a door to another room where if people were hanged, their bodies dropped. “So my colleagues and other people were being hanged, and their bodies were dropping into that room, and I was hearing them drop,” he told New African. That changed his view about capital punishment forever.
“For the first 12 years after independence when I was the minister of justice, no one was hanged in this country,” he told New African. “I refused to sign the papers, because those papers had to be signed first by the minister of justice before being passed on to the president for the final signature. And I refused to sign them. Fortunately the president did not fire me.” Today, again, as minister for justice and vice president, he has refused to sign the death penalty papers.
Back when the Rhodesians released him from prison, he re-joined the war by moving to Mozambique, where he became close to Mugabe as his special assistant until independence in 1980 when he was named as a cabinet minister. He has since served in various positions, including as security minister during one of the most difficult periods in post-independence Zimbabwe, when Zapu and government forces battled for supremacy in Matabeland in 1981-82, which led to a heavy loss of lives on the Zapu side, an event now known as Gukurahundi.
In 2004, ED was in pole position to become vice president but he was asked by Mugabe to step aside for a woman, Joice Mujuru, to become the first female vice president of the country. Finally, ED’s turn came in December 2014, when he was named as one of the two vice presidents appointed by Mugabe after VP Mujuru and others were sacked from the government. NA