Robert Mugabe has struck a secret “gentleman’s agreement” to hand over power in Zimbabwe to his feared defence minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa, sources close to the two men have revealed.
Telegraph: Insiders say that Mr Mugabe, aged 88 and now in office for three decades, will stand as Zanu PF’s candidate in elections one last time before handing over to Mr Mnangagwa, a former spy chief nicknamed “The Crocodile” for his ruthless reputation.
In the clearest sign yet that he is being groomed for the top job, Mr Mnangagwa, 65, was recently dispatched to Tehran where he met Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a key anti-Western ally.
Having another Zanu-PF strongman succeed Mr Mugabe would help ensure that other powerful party members avoid any future scrutiny about wealth gained through illegal land seizures, and avoid possible prosecution at The Hague.
Mr Mnangagwa, the former head of Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation, was appointed campaign manager by Mr Mugabe during the 2008 presidential election and was widely blamed for the brutality unleashed after his rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, edged ahead in the first round of voting.
The prospect of taking over from the ageing leader gives him a clear incentive to ensure that elections tipped for later this year go Zanu-PF’s way again. Last month, Mr Tsvangirai’s party, the Movement for Democratic Change, claimed that the army was already recruiting and training jobless Zanu PF youths “on a massive scale” for a new programme of vote-fixing.
Mr Tsvangirai, who is prime minister in a shaky coalition government with Mr Mugabe, says he has been told by senior security officials that “anyone other than President Mugabe, even if they win an election, will not be able to take up their mandate”.
Mr Mnangagwa, 65, helped orchestrate Mr Mugabe’s battle against white rule in the 1970s, during which he was arrested and tortured by white Rhodesian policemen, rendering him deaf in one ear.
Zanu-PF colleagues say he is the one man feared even more than Mr Mugabe, a reputation he gained as CIO head during the suppression of the rival Zapu party in 1980s, in which thousands of civilians were killed and in some cases forced to dance on the freshly-dug graves of relatives.
In later years he has been seen as Zanu-PF’s chief “money man”, helping organise lucrative concessions linked to gold and diamond mining.
Last month he met Mr Ahmadinejad to discuss further co-operation between Zimbabwe and Iran, which is known to be eyeing Zimbabwe’s uranium for its disputed nuclear program. Mr Ahmadinenjad said that their shared difficulties as targets of Western sanctions could be converted into “new opportunities for further development and progress”.
In return, Iran’s defence minister, Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi, pledged to help beef up Zimbabwe’s armed forces. “We will help strengthen their military so that they are able to protect their land and culture, especially so they are prepared against the pressures and threats from Western countries,” he said.
The pact between Mr Mugabe and Mr Mnangagwa is alleged to have taken place at State House in Harare in April 2008, after the president failed to secure an outright majority over Mr Tsvangirai.
According to a long-serving Zanu PF minister who witnessed the meeting, the embattled Mr Mugabe offered Mr Mnangagwa the future presidency if he could help ensure that things went Mr Mugabe’s way in the second round.
“It is common knowledge within the high ranks of the party that Mnangagwa delivered the presidency to Mugabe, and that we are in power today because of his efforts,” the minister said.
“It is on the basis of this understanding that Mugabe said in his own words that the ‘job is yours when I leave’, receiving nods from senior military generals who were also present that day.”
Another source close to senior defence chiefs told The Sunday Telegraph: “Mnangagwa was told that he had to deliver victory for Mugabe by whatever means or he would go down with the old man. After that, the two are glued together so tightly unless Mnangagwa commits a cardinal sin, he is assured of the succession.”
Others insist that there are still considerable hurdles – most notably the feisty Joice Mujuru, Zimbabwe’s vice-president who is known to be favoured by Zanu-PF moderates as Mr Mugabe’s successor for her friendly relationship with Mr Tsvangirai.
Together with her husband Solomon, a retired army chief, she led a rival faction to Mr Mnangagwa. But last year, Mr Mujuru died in a mysterious fire at his rural farm, depriving his wife of a real power base. Some suspect foul play in his death, although it has never been proved.
So far no date has been planned for future elections. While Mr Mugabe wants them held this year, opponents say they should be postponed until new constitutional changes designed to guarantee a fair political playing field are finalised.
However, one minister claimed that if any election result did not go Zanu-PF’s way, Mr Mnangagwa’s backers also had a plan to roll out “choreographed anarchy” which would allow them to declare a state of emergency.
“In a state of emergency, civil and political rights get suspended, thus the constitution itself gets suspended, meaning that the army can potentially impose a ruler of its choice under the pretext of enforcing peace and stability,” the minister said.
While Mr Mnangagwa has personally profited from white land seizures – he owns a 1,000 acre farm – in public he strikes a less anti-British tone than Mr Mugabe.
In a rare interview with The Sunday Telegraph last year, he told after Zanu-PF first came to power, he had even offered promotions to the white policemen who tortured him in the name of reconciliation. He dismissed talk of Britain having a vendetta against Zimbabwe – a common claim of Mr Mugabe – and described himself as a “humble man”, baffled as to why so many spoke his name in fear.
In 2010, he also claimed to have found God, telling mourners at his brother’s funeral: “For those of us comrades who were taught to destroy and kill and have seen the light in the last days of our lives… our rewards are in heaven.”
Among those backing Mr Mnangagwa are said to be air force chief Perence Shiri, police commissioner general Augustine Chihuri, secret service chief Happyton Bonyongwe, and prominent Zanu PF politburo member Jonathan Moyo.
They are said to have been told to keep quiet about it, but Maj-Gen Nyikayaramba, recently promoted into post by Mr Mnangagwa, could not resist a boast at a recent rally in Bikita in Masvingo province: “President Mugabe will rule for a while and then leave office for his top lieutenant, the Crocodile,” he told shocked villagers.