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Scotland on Sunday
Sun 20 Jul 2003
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Mugabe grooms ruthless successor


ZIMBABWEAN President Robert Mugabe is manoeuvring to ensure a key political ally known as ‘The Butcher of Matabeleland’ is installed as his successor before standing down on his 80th birthday.

The prospect of Emmerson Mnangagwa assuming power - which would ensure Mugabe avoids a potential trial for human rights abuses and allow him to remain in his palatial home called ‘Gracelands’ - will dismay political opponents as he is considered to be even more dangerous than Mugabe himself.

Mnangagwa masterminded the slaughter of more than 25,000 civilians opposed to Mugabe in Matabeleland in the mid-1980s and was also largely responsible for the controversial land reform programme that resulted in attacks on white farmers by army veterans who seized their property.

Despite mounting speculation by Western diplomats that Mugabe will relinquish power this December, informed sources in Harare told Scotland on Sunday that the Zimbabwean leader has chosen his birthday, February 21, to make his departure from office.

"He feels that at the age of 80 he will have a wonderful excuse to step down and hand over to a younger man," a former cabinet minister in Bishop Muzorewa’s short-lived government said.

At that age no one could accuse him of cowardice, said the source, who has asked not to be named at a time when the dreaded Stasi-trained Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) is hunting down "dissidents" and "traitors to Africa".

"Robert is a bit like Macbeth. He’s haunted by the number of people he has killed. He is terrified of going on trial somewhere and being remembered not as a hero, but as a monster," the source said. "He knows that Emmerson Mnangagwa is a safe pair of hands because they’re as bloody as his own."

The source was once a close friend of the Zimbabwean president and knows the country’s leaders intimately.

He added: "He [Mugabe] wants Emmerson Mnangagwa to take-over, and although there are other people in line for the job, I can’t see either the Central Committee or the Politburo challenging the will of a man who still somehow controls the police, the army and most important of all, the CIO, which has been responsible for thousands of murders and political assassinations since independence in 1980."

Mnangagwa, 60, has been at Mugabe’s side since the late 1970s when the Jesuit educated Marxist guerrilla fighter fled to Mozambique, where he helped lead a protracted war against white rule in Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia.

After independence, Mnangagwa was given key ministries in Mugabe’s handpicked cabinet of loyalists, and even when he lost his seat at the 2000 election, he was made speaker of the parliament, a post he holds today.

But Mnangagwa was always more than a political adviser to Mugabe.

The source said: "We must never forget that between those dreadful years 1982 and 1987 when Mugabe unleashed the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade of the Zimbabwe National Army and let hooligans in uniform slaughter upwards of 25,000 black civilians because they opposed his rule, it was Mnangagwa who stood beside him and ran the CIO."

Last year, Mnangagwa, who also heads up Mugabe’s vast business empire in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), led a government and ruling party delegation to a meeting of Thabo Mbeki’s African National Congress party in Pretoria.

Crucially, the South African leader sees Mnangagwa as the next leader of Zimbabwe.

Informed reports say that when US President George W Bush was in South Africa last week, Mbeki told him to stop talking about Mugabe’s track record of human rights abuses.

While the Americans and the British want to see a "democratic" presidential election when Mugabe steps down, the South African leader is said to be content to see Mugabe choose his successor, as long as his choice is approved by his Zanu-PF party.

While Washington and London believe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) would easily win a genuinely fair election, Mbeki wants to see an ideologically and politically correct ‘old style’ leader take over north of the River Limpopo.

Sources say Mbeki personally likes Mnangagwa, who has a legal and business background.

He is said to be a man of great personal charm and is also a close friend of one of Zimbabwe’s most important men, Army commander General Vitalis Zvinavashe.

It was Zvinavashe who commanded the Fifth Brigade when it invaded Matabeleland in a terrifying campaign to wipe out the opposition, which was led by Dr Joshua Nkomo of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU).

When President Bush was in South Africa he described Mbeki as "the point man" on Zimbabwe.

Zimbabweans in exile in South Africa - there are now close on two million of them - say that Mbeki remains "highly suspicious" of Tsvangirai.

President Mbeki is known to regard the MDC as a creation of white Zimbabwean farmers. The MDC receives funds from wealthy whites with mining and farming interests in Zimbabwe and Mbeki regards Tsvangirai as little more than a puppet manipulated by big business.

Mugabe and Mbeki have become close friends since 1999.

Basildon Peta, the respected Zimbabwean correspondent in Pretoria, said this week that America recently pledged a "reconstruction" package for Zimbabwe worth up to $10bn (£6.2bn) over an unspecified time frame.

The deal, says Peta, was discussed by the two leaders during a private meeting in Pretoria.

Opposition politicians fear that now he is America’s "point man" on Zimbabwe, Mbeki will be able to persuade Washington to accept any new leader as long as he demonstrates a desire to "start again" without embarrassing the outgoing Mugabe.

Rival contenders

FORMER finance minister SIMBA MAKONI who is known to be the favourite of America and Britain. He opposed Mugabe’s land reform programme which he said would cause inflation to soar and even more unemployment.

Makoni is popular with whites in Zimbabwe and big business in South Africa, but he has little support in the townships, from the MDC opposition or from the churches.

DUMISO DABENGWA, former home affairs minister, who fought against the Rhodesian forces with the Zimbabwe African People’s Union under Joshua Nkomo.

He rose to become the commander of Nkomo’s military forces and was known as the uncrowned king of Matabeleland.

A former opponent of Mugabe, he sided with the government after 1987 and lost the support of the young and the MDC opposition.

MORGAN TSVANGIRAI, the leader of the main opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change, is still challenging the result of last year’s contested presidential election through the Zimbabwean courts.

The ballot last year gave Mugabe a further six-year term in office but there were claims of vote-rigging and intimidation,

The former trade union leader, spent 10 days in prison on treason charges for allegedly plotting to overthrow Mugabe.

Tsvangirai trial delay (11-Jul-03)
Mbeki accused of lying to Bush over Zimbabwe (10-Jul-03)
Mayor of Harare held (08-Jul-03)
Powell attack on 'tyranny' of Mugabe (25-Jun-03)
Zimbabwe judge releases opposition leader (21-Jun-03)
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