HARARE – Former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa is now holed up in China after fleeing his home country within hours of being given the boot by his long-time ally, President Robert Mugabe.
The Daily News can report that the 75-year-old politician, who was once tipped to succeed the incumbent, arrived in China on Thursday night from South Africa.
It was still not clear though at the time of going to print whether China would be his final destination given that Mnangagwa has vast contacts not only in the East Asian nation but across the world.
During his short-lived tenure as vice president, he had established ties with countries such as Belarus, Russia, Mozambique and South Africa.
China is, however, regarded by Harare as an “all-weather friend” because of the support it continues to render to the governing Zanu PF party pre and post its attainment of independence.
Before the advent of majority rule in 1980, China was one of the communist States that backed the liberation war effort to dislodge the colonial Ian Smith regime.
Even in the wake of Harare’s fallout with colonial master Britain and its allies in the west over Harare’s human rights deficit, China stood by Zimbabwe through its support of the southern African State’s economic initiatives.
At a personal level, Mnangagwa is highly regarded in China, after making an impression in Beijing during his visit to that country between July 6 and 10, 2015.
China also has admiration for him for masterminding the “Command Agriculture” initiative, lauded for the bumper harvest achieved in the 2016/17 farming season.
The programme, however, became one of the sources of friction between him and Mugabe’s influential wife, Grace, who claims the idea was stolen from her.
Apparently, Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander, Constantino Chiwenga — a close ally of Mnangagwa — is also in China and it remains unclear whether the two would meet.
Respected University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said Mnangagwa will not be safe in China as the host country would be forced to deport him back to his home country.
He said it was very difficult for any country to give asylum to someone who is considered a fugitive following Mnangagwa’s threats to grab power from Mugabe “soon”.
“…There is no place where he is really safe. We have seen Rwandan refugees being targeted in countries they would have sought asylum, this is a risky game for his allies, they will be repercussions, and there will be a lot of collateral damage. I foresee problems for his allies. Even countries that are not in good books with Zimbabwe could find it difficult to host him,” said Masunungure.
Apparently, Mnangagwa is now a wanted man back home, facing up to 27 charges ranging from murder to money laundering.
Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo, one of Mnangagwa’s fiercest critics, wrote on his Twitter account that Mnangagwa would have his day in court even though he has run away.
“When a senior official is fired from a high-ranking government office and they jump the border into self-exile within hours of their dismissal, you know that they are running away from being legally held to account for heinous crimes they committed and covered up while in office,” wrote Moyo.
He added; “In terms of truth and justice, the law has a long arm, which can reach anyone, everywhere, any time. You can run but you can’t hide”.
The Higher Education minister has previously accused Mnangagwa of having crippled a journalist in the 1980s while fighting for a woman.
On Thursday, Moyo also wrote on micro-blogging platform, Twitter, that businessman and Mnangagwa’s ally, Larry Mavhima, should also be locked up.
Mavhima is being accused of delivering Mnangagwa’s hard-hitting press statement to the private media.
“So the so-called ED press statement issued today, which has a poor scan of his signature, was personally delivered to newsrooms as an advert by Larry Mavhima who chairs the NRZ board & who fronts for ED at Hanawa Foods. This makes Mavhima an accessory to treason,” said Moyo.
Political scientist Maxwell Saungweme said with numerous cases hanging over his head—the most sensible thing for Mnangagwa to do was to engage with China and not other regional countries.
“I think China is the safest haven for a 75-year-old Zanu PF political hoodlum who pillaged the country with his erstwhile boss. China is also strategic as Ngwena was Defence minister when diamonds from Marange were controlled by his ministry, and Chinese were the major investor when the $15 billion from the gems supposedly disappeared.
“So you can draw the military-diamonds-China-missing $15 billion nexus. Hence he finds China, the safest harbour. Apart from China or Russia, he has no other options. Sadc is out of question. You know Mugabe is regarded as big brother by most Sadc heads of States who would extradite Ngwena back to Zimbabwe to face Mugabe’s jungle justice.
“A few countries like Botswana will not even entertain the idea of harbouring a Zanu PF goon in their country given Ngwena’s role in plunder and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. So China is his best bet,” said Saungweme.
Blessing-Miles Tendi, a lecturer of African politics at the prestigious Oxford University, opined that one of the contributing factors to Mnangagwa’s dismissal was the fact that the United Kingdom, especially its ambassador to Harare, Catriona Laing, were considering it fait accompli that the former vice president would become the next president and pursue engagement policies.
The politician, who was already clearing the way for his ascendancy, had been opening up to countries such as the UK, which views him as a reformist and the one who was meant to succeed Mugabe.
“There are several reasons why . . . Mugabe fired Mnangagwa on November 6. Many were likely to do with Zanu PF infighting over who will eventually succeed the 93-year-old leader. But one external factor that contributed to Mugabe’s decision was Mnangagwa’s relationship with the UK.
“Beginning in the 1980s, Mnangagwa has assured London that he would be a more effective and technocratic leader than Mugabe. More recently, this led British diplomats in the UK embassy and some in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to see the decades-long Zanu PF insider as the candidate they could best work with and the figure most likely to implement urgently-needed economic reforms,” said Tendi.
But with Mnangagwa out of Zanu PF and government, Tendi wrote in the African Argument, it would be difficult for the UK to maintain those old ties that date back to the 1980s.
“Mnangagwa’s sudden dismissal from Zimbabwe’s political scene will require the UK to come up with a new strategy. This is necessary but also desirable. Laing made a fatal mistake by openly siding with the subordinate of a president who is extremely sensitive to perceived colonial intrusion,” said Tendi.
Interestingly, most of Mnangagwa’s allies have withdrawn into the shadows.
Outspoken Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association chairperson Christopher Mutsvangwa is now holed up in South Africa amid indications that he may be assessing the situation from there before coming back home.