Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa

Emmerson Mnangagwa’s naked power grab

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Crocodile is his moniker. He came to power in a dramatic two weeks in November 2017. His rise was heralded as a new dispensation for the southern African country, but since then all his actions are proving it was a false dawn.

Crocodiles are known for their patience, waiting still like dead logs in the shallow ends of a stream. However, their attacks are swift and devastating, leaving ripples or some red blood floating if the prey offered resistance.

On his inauguration day, Emmerson Mnangagwa, following the coup that had many names including – military assisted transition – promised a new way of doing things.

“I implore you all to declare that NEVER AGAIN should the circumstances that have put Zimbabwe in an unfavourable position be allowed to recur or overshadow its prospects. We must work together, you, me, all of us who make up this Nation,” he said at the time.

“Above all, we must always remember and realize that we hold and run this country in trust. It belongs to future generations whose possibilities must never be foreclose or mortgaged as a result of decisions of expediency we might selfishly make today out of fear of difficult choice and decision that have to be made.”

He added: “As we focus on recovering our economy, we must shed misbehaviours and acts of indiscipline which have characterised the past. Acts of corruption must stop forthwith. Where these occur, swift justice must be served to show each and all that crime and other acts of economic sabotage can only guarantee ruin to perpetrators.”

These were noble intentions, a statement of intent that was soon proven to be just a speech and nothing more than that. It did not take long for Mnangagwa’s true colours to come out.

A hawkish Mnangagwa unleashed the military against unarmed civilians for protesting the delayed announcement of the tightly contested presidential results.

The message was clear, the new regime unlike the Robert Mugabe government did not have qualms about quelling dissent using firearms. The regime is about consolidating the gains of the coup, entrench its rule.

The violence was nothing new, Zimbabweans have experienced state brutality since the Rhodesian days. It has been part of their staple for as long as the country existed.

After independence in 1980, they also experienced Gukurahundi an ethnic cleansing operation that killed over 20 000 in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces, while the vile Operation Murambatsvina and bloody presidential elections in 2002 and 2008 are among the notable excesses.

The Crocodile has always had his eyes on the big prize, the imperial presidency. He wanted to be the Lord of the Manor. Mnangagwa would not allow the trifles of the 2013 Constitution stand in his way. He immediately started decimating the charter with calculated and spirited zest.

In Constitutional Amendment No. 1, Mnangagwa  allocated himself the powers to appoint the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice, Judge President and the Prosecutor-General without going through public interviews as the constitution dictated.

The president has not stopped. He quickly followed it with Amendment No.2 that increased his powers to appoint judges to the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court without public interviews. He also dispensed with the running mate clause and extended the tenure of Constitutional Court judges beyond 70 to 75.

Mnangagwa did not make the changes for decorative purposes, he immediately brought them to use. Since his inauguration four years ago, he has appointed 30 judges, including the CJ, DCJ and JP. He has also appointed and filled Constitutional and Supreme Court benches.

Curiously, Mnangagwa also created a parallel graft fighting arm – the curiously named Special Ant-Corruption Unit (SACU) and housed in his office and reports to him directly. The man is now at the centre of everything. He started his 2023 presidential campaign soon after the Constitutional Court confirmed his win against the challenge of opposition leader Nelson Chamisa.

On the political front, Mnangagwa has reshuffled and reshaped the military and intelligence sectors to his liking. Some of the generals that were involved in the 2017 coup have appointed to diplomatic postings in Russia, DRC, Mozambique and Tanzania. In many ways, his actions can be interpreted as coup-proofing.

In a short three years, Mnangagwa has taken Zimbabwe back to 1987. This is a year that Zanu PF, using its super majority amended the constitution to give Zimbabwe an imperial presidency, the all-powerful office that also has equal power to parliament to make law.

This fits well in Franz Fanon seminal book – The Wretched of the Earth – where some of the revolutionaries did what they did out of envy. They wanted to replace the oppressor for the sake of replacing. Mnangagwa replaced Mugabe to be more than Mugabe, he envied the power, and wanted it for himself, to wield it without being questioned.

It is not far-fetched to draw a conclusion that Mnangagwa’s administration is a false dawn. Zimbabwe is still stuck with an imperial presidency, and a president who will not countenance laws to stop him doing what he pleases and would not hesitate to empty the military out of the barracks to shoot any pesky and unarmed civilians who dare challenge him or question his actions.

He has become much more powerful than Mugabe ever imagined was possible in 1987. And, according to critics, this is only the start and the opposition and Zimbabweans seem unprepared or even unsure how to respond to him. The country appears, for intents and purposes, to be in the jaws of The Crocodile.

Paidamoyo Muzulu

Paidamoyo Muzulu is a Zimbabwean journalist and social justice activist. He can be contacted at [email protected]