By Butholezwe Kgosi Nyathi
In a country where history so often gets rewritten for purposes of political expediency, the book ‘In the Jaws of the Crocodile’ is a useful literary archive.
But of course, this is to be mindful of the already varied versions of the coup narrative, in particular the escape to Mozambique by Emmerson Mnangagwa. The book is however commendable to the extent that it immortalises the remnants of existing truthfulness.
The expeditious publication of the book is commendable considering that it is not even one full year since the execution of the coup. This is not common in the Zimbabwe journalism fraternity. The Zimbabwean ownership of the narrative is inspirational.
The book is a useful resource for those keen to understand the politics and diplomacy around the dethronement of Robert Mugabe and subsequent rise of Emmerson Mnangagwa to state Presidency.
However, if you are Zimbabwean and the coup is a lived reality and you followed local and international media before, during and after the coup, you will not find much in the book by way of new information not already covered in leading online and print publications.
The author himself acknowledges on the second paragraph of page 103 that finer details of the military planning of the coup were hard to establish. Perhaps this is understandable as the coup is too recent an occurrence and sensitivities still hold supreme.
There is representation of both Lacoste and G40 factions in the range of interviews conducted by the writer. While support by Emmerson Mnangagwa’s political and business associates is already in the public domain, the writer goes further to interview Mnangagwa’s daughters, Farai the eldest, and Tariro the youngest.
It is Farai and Tariro who reaffirm the close relationship between Emmerson Mnangagwa and Constantino Chiwenga, the former Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander who engineered the coup.
As a reader this makes you further realise that odds were always stacked against Robert Mugabe in as far as the allegiance of the military was concerned.
Collins, Emmerson Mnangagwa’s son, provides a first-hand account of Mnangagwa’s escape to Mozambique. The narration is however at variance with some previous accounts. I guess ultimately it will be the narrative that gets said the most that will attain the status of ‘officialdom’.
The interview with Saviour Kasukuwere, former Minister of Local Government and key figure of the G40 faction, while in self-imposed exiled in South Africa is of particular interest to me. Kasukuwere’s damascene moment when he expresses understanding of how citizens feel when they are pushed out of their country provides insight into how our leaders are sometimes divorced from the people’s everyday struggles that they fail to exercise empathy and servant leadership.
Of all the interviews, perhaps a missing voice is that of Auxilia Mnangagwa, the President’s wife. As a soulmate, Auxilia was most often by Mnangagwa’s side when verbal assaults were being hurled by Grace Mugabe. Emmerson Mnangagwa skipped the border with the possibility of never returning.
This would have probably hurt Emmerson’s wife more than any other person. Aware that a writer can’t possibly interview all interested parties, an interview with Auxilia would however have been worthwhile on the basis of her intimate association with the subject of the book.
While the book is about Emmerson Mnangagwa, two individuals have significant mention – Robert Mugabe and Jonathan Moyo. It is apparent that the story of Emmerson Mnangagwa’s rise to power is incomplete without these two, the former a long time mentor and the latter a political ally turned nemesis.
Ray argues that for Jonathan Moyo ‘winning and losing are a deeply personal affair’. This probably explains why even after being forced into exile Jonathan is still unrelenting in his criticism of Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The book exposes the hypocrisy of the West who when the coup happened congregated and connived to call the coup a ‘military intervention’. The hypocrisy of the west is however vindicated by similar conduct on the part of the Southern African Development Community and the African Union, who neither condemned the coup nor intervened. The threat to constitutionality and the vulnerability of citizens even with regional, continental and international bodies is laid bare.
Holistically, the book is a positive projection of Emmerson Mnangagwa who among other projections is cast as a stickler for time, hard worker and easy going with staff. A deliberate positive projection is exposed when the writer in the bottom paragraph of page 179 asserts that Emmerson Mnangagwa’s wit and charm makes him doubt ‘allegations’ that he was involved in the Gukurahundi massacres.
For the avoidance of doubt, and l know the writer knows this, Mnangagwa’s role in Gukurahundi is not an allegation but a historical fact.
Furthermore, while Emmerson Mnangagwa and the military dethroned a largely unpopular despot, the writer interviews Mnangagwa but does not challenge him to respond to the various allegations that were raised against him during the subsistence of the Lacoste and G40 factional acrimony, some accusations which still hold to date such as capture of state institutions.
To the writer’s credit however, Emmerson Mnangagwa’s fear of his inconvenient past is highlighted through reference to his numerous calls for the past to be left behind.
Another issue which the writer could have addressed in his interview with Emmerson Mnangagwa was to determine why the Louis Vuitton briefcase is of particular importance to him.
Following the initial botched attempt to cross into Mozambique through the Forbes border post, it took military operatives to repossess the briefcase left in a car at the border. It appears Emmerson always has to have the briefcase by his side.
In as far as the chronological flow of events during the tumultuous 21 days of November 2017 that led to the overthrow of Robert Mugabe is concerned, the book is an informative read.
To the extent that one needs to understand the ideological and futuristic implications of the coup and its aftermath, the analysis in the book could have been tightened.
The events of November 2017 have the hallmarks of an awesome screen play – deception, betrayal, suspense, tension, intrigue and murder. It is now left for someone to tell that Zimbabwean story in film as Ray has done in writing.
Butholezwe Kgosi Nyathi is a Chevening scholar currently pursuing an MA Culture, Policy and Management at City, University of London.