World News

'Gucci Grace' and the 'Crocodile': The key players in Zimbabwe politics

Posted November 15, 2017 1:29 a.m. EST

— Political strife in the southern African country of Zimbabwe has seen armed soldiers on the streets of the capital, Harare.

The sudden appearance of the military in the capital comes amid rising political tensions in the wake of Robert Mugabe firing his deputy, powerful Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

While the 93-year-old has maintained an iron grip on the country since he led it to independence in 1980, many Zimbabwe watchers see Mugabe at perhaps his most vulnerable in decades.

So who are the main political figures in the country?

President Robert Mugabe

President Robert Mugabe is the world's oldest president and has been in control of the country for almost four decades -- first as Prime Minister and then as President.

For the 1980s and part of the 1990s he was feted at home and abroad, but gradually became more authoritarian and by 1993 had instituted the Land Acquisition Act permitting the government to force white farmers to give up their land for redistribution to black Zimbabweans.

Since then he has presided over mass inflation and food shortages brought about by his disastrous land reallocation programs.

As conditions in Zimbabwe worsened and accusations of human rights abuses escalated, institutions around the world, including the British Crown, stripped him of honors previously bestowed on him.

In July of this year Mugabe urged his ruling ZANU-PF party to ensure that his legacy remains "long after" he is "gone."

Emmerson Mnangagwa

Mnangagwa, known has "Ngwenya" or the "Crocodile" to many because of his well-honed survival instincts, was with Mugabe from the start. He's been Mugabe's right-hand man for nearly four decades, first as his assistant during the liberation struggle, later as his intelligence chief, then cabinet minister and all-round enforcer.

Mnangagwa had previously been considered most likely to succeed Mugabe if the president stepped down or died while in office.

Mnangagwa has a strong following in Zimbabwe's powerful military and amongst war veterans who fought in the liberation struggle, and has been a key strategist for Mugabe in past elections, says David Coltart, a former cabinet minister and opposition leader.

But earlier this month Mugabe accused Mnangagwa of "disloyalty, disrespect, deceitfulness and unreliability," in a move to pave the way for his wife, Grace, to succeed him.

First Lady Grace Mugabe

Born in South Africa, Mugabe's second wife has developed a reputation as a shrewd, if sometimes extravagant, politician in her own right.

Given the moniker "Gucci Grace" by Zimbabweans for her exorbitant shopping trips, she has been a polarizing figure in a country wracked with poverty. Despite this, she has long had the support of younger politicians in the country's political hierarchy.

Mnangagwa's sudden dismissal was seen by many as a way for 93-year-old Mugabe to appoint his wife, Grace, to the position, prompting widespread discontent among formerly loyalist supporters.

Minister for Defense Sydney Sekeramayi

Minister for Defense Sydney Sekeramayi is "believed to be a contender for the vice presidency and is considered a dark horse in the succession drama," Tinashe Jakwa, a Southern Africa analyst at the African Studies Association of Australasia and the Pacific (AFSAAP) said.

"His elevation to the VP post would be a strategic move to curb perceptions of a Mugabe dynasty."

Gen. Constantino Chiwenga

The nation's army commander, Chiwenga denounced the firing of the vice president and other "members associated with our liberation history."

On Tuesday he held a press conference in which he threatened to intervene should his political allies continue to be sidelined, warning that if the purge of senior ZANU-PF officials did not stop, "the military will not hesitate to step in."

In response to the conference, ZANU-PF, accused Chiwenga of "treasonable conduct."