Emmerson Mnangagwa just became Zimbabwe's new president -- here's how he went from Robert Mugabe's bodyguard to his successor

  • Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in as Zimbabwe’s president on Friday.
  • Robert Mugabe fired him earlier this month to smooth the path to the presidency for his wife, Grace.
  • Mnangagwa and Mugabe’s relationship goes back decades.

Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn is as Zimbabwe’s president on Friday, officially ending Robert Mugabe’s 37-year reign over the southern African country.

Mnangagwa was fired from his role as Mugabe’s vice president earlier this month, in an apparent attempt to pave the way for Mugabe’s wife, Grace, to become Zimbabwe’s next president. This is believed to be the reason behind the country’s military coup last week.

Mnangagwa returned to Zimbabwe on Wednesday after Mugabe’s resignation the day before, which prompted celebrations in the country’s parliament and on the streets of Harare.

But Mnangagwa’s relationship with Mugabe wasn’t always bad. In fact, he had served as the Mugabe’s personal assistant and bodyguard, and occupied multiple senior political roles before becoming his vice president in 2014.

Scroll down to learn more about him.

This is Emmerson Mnangagwa, Robert Mugabe’s former vice president and now successor. At 75 years old, he’s 18 years younger than Mugabe, who is 93.

Mnangagwa was born in Zvishavane, a mining town in central Zimbabwe. As a child, he and his family were forced to flee to Zambia as his father became increasingly involved in the resistance movement against white settlers in the region.

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In Zambia, Emmerson Mnangagwa was expelled from school for his activism, The New York Times reported.

He later received military training in China and Egypt, and attended the Beijing School of Ideology, according to the BBC.

Decades on, he has maintained financial and professional links to China, and even sent one of his sons to study in the Asian country, The Guardian reported.

When Mnangagwa was 16, he was part of a group to blow up a train in what was then Rhodesia, a British colony. He was then sentenced to 10 years in prison, where he was tortured.

His fellow plotters were summarily executed, but thanks to a priest’s intervention, he was ordered to serve 10 years in prison instead, according to The New York Times.

There he was tortured, which included being hanged by his feet,the BBC reported.

The gruesome torture techniques he endured “made him unconscious for days” and resulted in his losing his hearing in one ear, the BBC said.

According to the Times, Mnangagwa also devoted his time in prison to study, and obtained a law degree from the University of Zambia upon his release.

Mnangagwa then joined Zimbabwe’s liberation movement in Mozambique in the 1970s, where he met Mugabe and became his personal assistant and bodyguard, according to The New York Times.

Mnangagwa also fought in Zimbabwe’s liberation war in the 1970s, where he earned his nickname “The Crocodile,” in reference to his time as a guerrilla fighter.

In a 2015 interview with the London-based New African magazine, Mnangagwa also said of his nickname:

“You know the trait of a crocodile, don’t you? It never hunts outside water. It always goes into the water to catch its prey. It never goes in the villages or in the bush looking for food. It strikes at the appropriate time.

“So a good guerrilla leader strikes at the appropriate time. That’s the importance of the nicknames we gave each other.”

After Zimbabwe achieved independence in 1980, Mnangagwa occupied a series of high-profile positions under Mugabe before becoming his vice president in December 2014.

From 1980 to 2014, he was Zimbabwe’s National Security Minister, Minister of Finance, and Minister of Defence, among other posts.

The Mugabe-Mnangagwa relationship seemed to end earlier this month, when Mugabe fired Mnangagwa. It paved the way for Mugabe’s wife, Grace, to ascend the Zimbabwean presidency.

Mugabe even accused Mnangagwa of plotting against him with witchcraft.

According to The Associated Press, the 93-year-old said: “People were told that I will retire in March but I did not. Upon realising that I wasn’t, he [Mnangagwa] started consulting traditional healers on when I was going to die.”

Mugabe’s accusations against Mnangagwa echoed those levelled against his predecessor, Joice Mujuru, who was also sacked and accused by Mugabe of using witchcraft to wrest control.

Mnangagwa fled to South Africa after being sacked, saying his security guards warned of plots to kill him, according to the BBC.

After leaving Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa issued a statement from an unknown location that said, as cited by the AP: “I will be communicating with you soon and shall return to Zimbabwe to lead you.”

After the military coup took place a week later, Mnangagwa said,according to the BBC: “I told the President that I would not return home now until I am satisfied of my personal security, because of the manner and treatment given to me upon being fired.”

Upon Mnangagwa’s arrival to Harare this Tuesday, supporters held up signs saying: “True to your word, you’re back. Welcome!”

After Zimbabwe’s military coup, Mnangagwa publicly called on Mugabe to resign. He also thanked the army for carrying out the “process” to remove Mugabe peacefully, according to the BBC.

Mnangagwa has, however, assured Mugabe and his family of their security and welfare since the coup, Zimbabwe’s state-owned newspaper The Herald reported on Friday.

The two men also agreed that Mugabe would not attend Mnangagwa’s inauguration because the ex-president “needed time to rest after the hectic events of the week-and-a-half.”

Mnangagwa was officially inaugurated on Friday morning local time (CAT) in Harare’s National Sports Stadium, before a crowd of supporters and foreign heads of state.

ZBC/BBC NewsZimbabwe’s Chief Justice puts the green sash and chain of office on Mnangagwa after the swearing-in ceremony.

Heads of state including Zambian President Edgar Lungu, Mozambique President Felipe Nyusi, and President of Botswana Ian Khama also attended the ceremony, The Herald reported.

Mnangagwa has promised to grow the economy and create jobs in Zimbabwe, where unemployment runs at 90%, according to the BBC.

“We want to grow our economy, we want peace, we want jobs, jobs, jobs,” he said on Wednesday.

In his first speech as president, Mnangagwa paid tribute to Mugabe despite “whatever errors” he had made in the past — and even called the ousted president “my leader.”

Mnangagwa said:

“Let me at this stage pay special tribute to one of, and the only, surviving founding father of our nation: Comrade Robert Gabriel Mugabe. He led us in our struggle for national independence. He assumed responsibility of leadership… at a very challenging time at the best of our nation. That is to be lauded and celebrated for all times.

“Whatever errors of commission or omission that may have occurred during that critical phase in the life of our nation, let us all accept and acknowledge his immense contribution towards the building of our nation.

“To me, personally, he remains a father, a mentor, comrade in arms, and my leader.

“I say thank you to him, and I trust that our history will grant him his proper place, and [record] his deserved stature as one of the founding fathers and leaders of our nation.”

While Mnangagwa has promised a “new and unfolding democracy” under his presidency, his critics remain doubtful. They think he might just bring the same brand of Mugabe-style oppression.

Dewa Mavhinga, Human Rights Watch’s southern Africa director, told The Guardian: “Most likely [this] will be a palace coup where there is just a replacement of the leader, but from the same camp.

“Mnangagwa has been Mugabe’s right-hand man since before independence and then for the last 37 years. It’s difficult to see how, going forward, he can be respectful of human rights, given his history.”

Prominent Zimbabwean opposition politician David Coltart tweeted after Mugabe’s resignation: “We have removed a tyrant but not yet a tyranny.”

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