By David Blair, Chief Foreign Correspondent
7:40PM GMT 10 Dec 2014
One of the most feared men in Zimbabwe, notorious for his part in masterminding the massacre of thousands of civilians, re-emerged as President Robert Mugabe’s most favoured successor on Wednesday. Emmerson Mnangagwa, who once threatened to “shorten the stay on earth” of any “cockroaches” who opposed Mr Mugabe, became vice-president and Zimbabwe’s possible next leader. His promotion crowned more than 40 years of loyal service to Mr Mugabe.
When Zimbabwe achieved independence in 1980, Mr Mnangagwa was appointed security minister and political head of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).
His first task was to wipe out the rival Zapu party in the Matabeleland region. Mr Mnangagwa helped to run a campaign that claimed at least 8,000 lives and was so brutal that even Mr Mugabe later described it as a “moment of madness”.
As well as directing the CIO’s part in the repression, Mr Mnangagwa delivered chilling public speeches. At one rally in 1983, Mr Mnangagwa called the opposition “cockroaches” and threatened to burn “all the villages infested with dissidents”.
A month later, Mr Mnangagwa adopted a Biblical tone, telling another rally: “Blessed are they who follow the path of the government laws, for their days on earth shall be increased. But woe unto those who will choose the path of collaboration with dissidents, for we will certainly shorten their stay on earth.”
After Zapu surrendered in 1987, Mr Mnangagwa served variously as minister of justice and defence. From 1998, Mr Mugabe gave him special responsibility for Zimbabwe’s military intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s civil war, allowing Mr Mnangagwa to enrich himself by acquiring mining interests.
But his career began in 1965 when he led knife-wielding guerrillas, known as the “Crocodile Gang”, who specialised in attacking white-owned farms in Zimbabwe’s eastern Highlands. The young Mr Mnangagwa was captured by the Rhodesian security forces and induced to confess to the capital crime of blowing up a train. He avoided being hanged by claiming to be under 21, receiving a ten-year sentence instead (Mr Mnangagwa’s exact age is uncertain, but he was probably born in 1942 or 1946).
On Wednesday, he told journalists that his promotion at the expense of Joice Mujuru, the sacked vice-president, showed how the “revolution has a way of way of strengthening itself”. Mr Mnangagwa added: “It goes through cycles: this is another cycle where it rids itself of elements that had now become inconsistent with the correct line.”
A political organism which requires the permanent, forcible subjection of large groups of its population is likely to end by totally brutalizing and stultifying itself. I am not saying that it will therefore destroy itself physically, only that it may destroy itself morally and culturally, which is not the same thing. The question-mark rests largely (though not solely) with the submerged people. Will they just grumble, and accept their fate, or not? Aldous Huxley once said that ‘the abject patience of the oppressed is perhaps the most inexplicable, as it is also the most important, fact in all history.’ In Roman history it was virtually a universal fact.