Before his rise to the presidency through a military coup in 2017, the silent word in the corridor was on his cunning and brutal exploits as Mugabe’s enforcer. His colleagues described him in chilling adjectives. In a widely reflective interview before his death, Mugabe summed his nature – “If you cross his path, he never forgives. He will make you pay”. Today, three years into his presidency the true character of the man nicknamed – The Crocodile – is flourishing in a chilling manner.
Having escaped the noose in a 1965 conviction for terrorism and banditry because of age and his Zambian citizenship, he served 10 years in Rhodesian jails. He was released to Zambia in 1975 where he enrolled at University Of Zambia. The period between 1975 to 1977 is hazy but he popped up in Mozambique at the invitation of Mugabe as a Special Prosecutor at a bush court organized to deal with dissent with ZANU.
His bloodthirsty nature came to the fore at the kangaroo court in Chimoio where he called for the death sentence on the accused who included senior leaders and commanders like Henry Hamadziripi, Crispen Mandizvidza, Ray Musikavanhu, Stephen Chocha (nickname for former Commissioner Augustine Chihuri), Dzinashe Machingura and Rugare Gumbo. The accused were only saved by the demand by Samora Machel to end executions. They were however kept in dungeons prisons and later at Machaba Prison near Maputo.
At independence in 1980 Mnangagwa became the Minister of State Security in charge of the feared Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). On 6 February 1982 Mnangagwa convened a press conference in Bulawayo, telling journalists the government had discovered around 60 arms caches in Matabeleland. What followed was the darkest chapter of Zimbabwe’s history.
A massive crackdown followed by murders of genocidal proportions ensured over a period of over five years. More than 20 000 people are believed to have been massacred by the notorious North Korean trained army brigade infamously known as the Fifth Brigade. Mnangagwa after the retirement of Gen Peter Walls had become the Chair of the Joint Operation Command under whose operational direction the Gukurahundi massacres were executed.
Mnangagwa has refused to publicly acknowledge his role in the Gukurahundi massacre despite testimony from victims some of whom accuse him of carrying out some of the torture sessions in person. In recent months he has moved to exhume victims of the massacre and reburying them despite vehement protestation by the communities.
Mnangagwa is also credited with turning Midlands Province particularly the City Of Kwekwe into a jungle of violence following the formation of the country’s most formidable opposition party Movement For Democratic Change (MDC). A violent machete gang known as “Al Shabaab” aptly named after the Jihaadist group from the Middle East, is known to have been a militia that worked directly to instill fear into opponents of Mr Mnangagwa.
By his own confession, Mnangagwa was instrumental in Mugabe’s refusal to concede to Morgan Tsvangirai in the elections of 2008. In that election, Mugabe was soundly beaten but he took more than a month to release the results of the presidential election. During that month, the military was deployed to hunt down opposition members. More than 250 people were killed. Thousands were displaced. Mugabe ran a second election by himself after Tsvangirai pulled out citing the incessant violence. Eventually Tsvangirai was arm-twisted into a Unity Government that left Mugabe at the helm.
Mnangagwa’s close proximity to the military ensured his rise to power in November 2017 following a coup by former Mugabe loyalists. During the early days Mnangagwa tried to rebrand himself into a more moderate and inclusive president, a departure from his well-known character during Mugabe’s rule.
It did not take long for Mnangagwa’s true colors to pop out. On 1 August 2018, a day after the disputed election; protests erupted in Harare. Nelson Chamisa, a younger , eloquent and largely popular leader of the MDC appeared to have captured more votes than Mnangagwa but dubious results started to appear in some constituencies. Places like Mutare North and Gokwe showed more votes that did not tally with results on the ground. People took to the streets. Mnangagwa deployed the military who shot and killed 6 people some of were not part of the protest. This all happened in the presence of international media invited to cover the election.
In January 2019, following Mnangagwa’s announcement hiking the price of fuel, protests broke out across the country. Mnangagwa deployed security forces some of who operated outside the jurisdiction of the army and police. Seventeen people were killed. Multiple reports of rape as punishment were reported. It was during this period that a vicious and ruthless quasi-intelligence semi-independent terror entity called Ferret Team became active.
The Ferret Team has been accused of multiple disappearances and abductions. Its members operate above the law. Attempts to prosecute some of them have been met with State pushback. It is this Ferret Team that has become a menace in the country, acting as the personal executors for Mr Mnangagwa.
A string of abductions followed by vehement State denials started to follow the trails of the Ferret Team. Activist Tatenda Mombeyarara, comendian Samantha Kureya and former President of Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), Dr. Peter Magombeyi were all victims of abductions by the Ferret Team in 2019.
In 2020 the trend continued. The Ferret Team seems t have been hardened by the clear nonchalance of the government when dealing with allegations of its excesses. They have come after anyone believed to be challenging the absolute rule of Mr Mnangagwa.
On 13 May 2020, three female activists; Cecilia Chimbiri, Netsai Marova and Joanna Mamombe – an opposition parliamentarian – were arrested by the police at a roadblock following a protest. The police initially acknowledged through their spokesperson that they had taken the trio into custody but when the ladies could not be located in the police cells, they backtracked. The ladies were discovered days later after being tortured and sexually abused by their captors.
The State has gone on to persecute the ladies for telling their story. They were rearrested and charged in the courts for “lying about abductions”. The State has gone to great length to discredit the ladies including concocting videos which they broadcast on Zimbabwe’s sole television station. Joanna Mamombe started suffering from depression but in their typical break-you-to-the-bone fashion the State ordered that she be detained and be examined by a State doctor while in remand prison, something that has no precedence.
Covid-19 pandemic provided Mnangagwa with an opportunity to consolidate his power. He tightened restrictions on movement and assembly, at the same time his cronies found an opportunity to loot State coffers. Prominent journalists Hopewell Chin’ono and Mduduzi Mathuthu exposed a looting scheme that is now known as Draxgate which involved the family of Mnagagwa and members of his cabinet.
Zimbabweans called for protests against corruption within the government. These were scheduled to happen on 31 July 2020. What followed was a crackdown on anyone who criticised corruption. Hopewell Chin’ono was arrested and spent a month in Chikurubi Maximum Prison. Jacob Ngarivhume, Job Sikhala leaders in the opposition were also arrested and spent a month at Chikurubi. Other members of the opposition including the Spokesperson Fadzai Mahere , YALI 2017 alumni and Masvingo Councillor Godfrey Kurauone were also arrested so was prominent author Tsitsi Dangarembga.
At the same time in Bulawayo – Zimbabwe’s second largest city, a manhunt was underway for Mduduzi Mathuthu. In attempt to get him out of hiding, they abducted his nephew Tawanda Muchehiwa. His abduction was caught on camera. He was released after a judge order. Tawanda had been severely tortured and threatened with death.
The case of Tawanda Muchehiwa brought to light the modus operandi of the Ferret Team. One of the cars used was discovered to have been hired from Impala Car Hire. The company refused to furnish the family with details of the abductors. Police did not even bother to follow up. This led to protests at the company where Takudzwa Ngadziore was attacked by pro-Mnangagwa militia.
Takudzwa Ngadziore is the leader of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU), he has been languishing in remand prison for more than four weeks now. His crime is asking for accountability from Impala Car Hire.
While the Mnangagwa administration is persecuting every dissenting voice in the country, he is also been working actively to destroy the opposition establishment. He has instituted stringent political restrictions under the guise of Covid-19 control which only apply to the opposition party led by Nelson Chamisa while his own party is allowed to carry out its programs.
The shameless abuse of power by the military government in Zimbabwe and suppression of dissenting voices has reached levels that were never reached even post Gukurahundi. As it stands, Mnangagwa will not stop until every opposing voice has been dealt with, in almost all occasions it has to be violently.