By Fungi Kwaramba
HARARE – Post-congress Zanu PF bigwigs opposed to embattled Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa say among the many things that allegedly “don’t add up” about him are his age and liberation struggle history.
One of the VP’s detractors who spoke to the Daily News yesterday said Mnangagwa had escaped the hangman’s noose in Rhodesia in 1965 because he was said to be under 21 years of age.
Puzzlingly, the Midlands godfather had recently said he was born in 1942, which meant that he was 23 years old in 1965.
“Which is which here? Unfortunately, Ngwena (Mnangagwa) has not found it necessary to explain this puzzle yet.
“This is why some comrades are speculating that he either lied about his age then to survive the gallows, or worse still possibly sold out his comrades so that he could be spared the noose. We are all waiting to hear his clarifications,” the bigwig said.
When it was put to him in his interview in August with the London-based New Africa magazine that he was born on September 15, 1946, Mnangagwa vehemently disputed this.
“I was born on 15 September 1942. The press has been saying 1946 but it is incorrect,” he said.
To add to the mystery, former Presidential Affairs minister Didymus Mutasa, who served time in prison with Mnangagwa for a short period during the liberation struggle, said what he knew was that the VP was released from jail because his parents were Zambian.
“I did not spend much time with him in prison. We were together maybe two to three months before he was released. I spent more time in prison with the president, perhaps two years.
“Mnangagwa was released because he was Zambian. I am not sure about his age, but then we were also told that he was released because he was under age. Nobody knows for sure,” Mutasa said.
Asked if it was possible during the colonial era to manipulate one’s age to escape the noose, Mutasa said, “If it is true that he reduced his age then he must have provided solid proof. I knew the lawyer who was representing him”.
Mnangagwa was convicted in 1965 on charges of blowing up a locomotive in Masvingo and sentenced to death, with groups like Amnesty International actively campaigning for his life to be spared, which was done because at the time he was said to be under-age.
Some war veterans who recently spoke to the Daily News also claimed that the VP was never part of the famous Crocodile Gang that was led by the late William Ndangana, as Mnangagwa himself has consistently asserted.
They also claimed that Mnangagwa was a peripheral figure during the protracted liberation struggle and that his “only possible claim to fame” was that he was once allegedly married to the sister of the late decorated war commander, Josiah Magama Tongogara.
The liberation struggle stalwarts said they were raising their doubts about Mnangagwa now because they were worried that Zanu PF was about to be led by “a person with a hazy history”, and who was allegedly “a stowaway who fled the country claiming to be a Zambian”.
One of the veterans, Retired Colonel Bastian Beta, said he had only met Mnangagwa once during the liberation struggle, “and then he was just a family visitor to the camp”.
“I only met him in 1978 when he came to the camp and we asked who he was, and we were told that it was Comrade Tongogara’s visitor. We were later shocked when we returned home to find that he was heading the security ministry,” Beta said.
To augment their claims, the former freedom fighters also said that there were only five members of the Crocodile Gang and Mnangagwa was not one of them.
“The five were Sipho Ncube, William Ndangana, Cde Mlambo, Cde Dhlamini and Cde Master. They later scattered after they killed a white man at Nyanyadzi, with some going to Zambia. Sipho actually has a crocodile tattoo on his arm,” one of them said.
Another war veteran added that he and Ndangana, who led the Crocodile Gang, had once done a documentary on the activities of the crocodile group and Mnangagwa’s name had not once featured in the narrative.
War veteran Parker Chipoyera told the Daily News that when in Zambia, Mnangagwa did not get much involved in politics.
Chipoyera said there had never been “a single day” that Mnangagwa visited party offices while he was studying at the University of Zambia, adding that the VP did not even join the Zanu branch at the institution of higher learning.
“Cde (Hebert) Chitepo was there in Zambia and domiciled at party offices. Cde Kumbirai Kangai and others used to come to the party offices.
“The likes of Fay Chung, Sam Geza and others used to come attending conferences but he was never there maybe because he knew he would be interrogated about the circumstances surrounding his deportation from Zimbabwe,” he said.
According to the war veterans, this was notwithstanding the fact that Zanu had had other students in Zambia who included Frederick Shava, Joseph Masangomai and Tungamirai Midzi.