JACK ZIMBA, Mumbwa
EMMERSON Dambudzo Mnangagwa’s ascension to power could not have been more dramatic.
For a week, the world was kept on edge as the planet’s oldest, and one of its longest serving leaders, Robert Mugabe, 93, reluctantly gave up power after 37 years, under pressure from his own citizens and the military, which staged a coup that was so cool that it defied logic.
Mr Mnangagwa (pronounced muh-nahn-GAHG-wah) now joins a growing list of presidents in the region with close ties to Zambia.
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki once lived and worked in Lusaka, while his successor and current President Jacob Zuma can easily find his way around Helen Kaunda and Mtendere townships.
For many years, Namibian President Hage Geingob also lived and worked in Lusaka, which was not only a safe haven for those fighting for liberation at the time, but also served as a base for their operations.
Mr Mugabe lectured at Chalimbana Teachers Training College long before becoming Prime Minister and later President.
And it is not just presidents.
At one time, Herald House, which houses Zimpapers, the company which is the proprietor of Zimbabwe’s leading daily newspaper, had so many Zimbabwean journalists from the Zambian episode – Bill Saidi, Farayi Munyuki, Stephen Mpofu, Tim Chigodo and Tonic Sakaike among others.
It was Bill Saidi, in his memoirs, who said “a few of us must have been tempted to speak to each other in Nyanja when we met in the corridors”.
But surely, somewhere in Lusaka, maybe on the door of an old locker or under a bunker bed or wherever, we must find the words “Emmerson Mnangagwa was here”.
After he was sworn in as Zimbabwe’s second executive President [the first President was Canaan Banana from 1980 to 1987 with Mugabe as the executive Prime Minister] on November 24, the rumour mill was set in motion as to where Mr Mnangagwa had been in Zambia.
Some suggested he attended Matero Boys Secondary School and others, David Kaunda Technical School, all in Lusaka, before he studied law at the University of Zambia (UNZA).
A headteacher at Matero Boys Secondary School told me there was no record of Emmerson Mnangagwa at the school.
But one thing for certain is that Mnangagwa lived between Zimbabwe and Zambia, and a large part of his family is still here.
My quest to follow the tracks of the man nicknamed ‘The Crocodile’ because of his political cunning, led me across rolling hills in Mumbwa district, driving over practically impassable terrain. After a jerky ride, we stopped at a crumbling old farm house in Kalindi village.
The farm belonged to Judah Mnangagwa, who was Emmerson’s first cousin. Judah died on June 18, 2015 and is buried in the family burial ground at the edge of the farm. His burial was attended by Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was the then Vice-President of Zimbabwe.
That he travelled this far, and over such bad roads to attend his cousin’s funeral, speaks volumes about their closeness.
Pamela Mnangagwa, who is the youngest daughter of the late Judah, says his father often spoke about his “younger” brother Emmerson.
“He used to tell me that he had a brother, who worked for the government in Zimbabwe, and sometimes he used to travel to Zimbabwe to see him,” she says.
Judah Mnangagwa may be dead, but that he was a popular figure in this area is without doubt. Everyone I ask along the way has something to say about him, perhaps more so now that his brother is President.
Judah Mnangagwa’s widow, Phillis, still lives at the farm.
According to Phillis, in September last year, Mr Mnangagwa came again for the unveiling of the tombstone and performed other customary rites. He also played the role of arbitrator, distributing his late cousin’s wealth among his children.
Judah had married four wives and had 22 children. Eighteen now remaining.
When I ask Phillis where the then Vice-President of Zimbabwe slept when he visited, she responds: “Where did you want him to sleep? He slept in this same house with these broken windows.”
She gives her old structure a thoughtful look before adding: “I don’t think he can come here now that he is President, maybe if Socha [Socha Mnangagwa is now the oldest of the remaining cousins] dies.”
When I ask Pamela what conversation she had with Emmerson Mnangagwa during his last visit, she says: “He just asked me if my husband had finished paying lobola.”
Pamela got married in 2010 and has three children.
“He is my uncle and he is now President so our name is now great,” she says.
Emmerson Mnangagwa may be President of Zimbabwe, but among his blood relatives here, the reaction is rather indifferent.
“I’m happy that he is President, but he is President in Zimbabwe and I’m here in Zambia,” says Phillis. “My President is Edgar Lungu.”
Lloyd Mnangagwa is the new Zimbabwean President’s first cousin, but says he does not expect much personally.
“I can’t just sit and wait for help from him, I have to work hard on my own,” says Lloyd. “It is up to him if he is willing to help. I have no intention of asking him for help.”
So, was there a big celebration here when your brother became President? I ask Lloyd.
“No,” he says. “We were happy, but we didn’t celebrate.”
According to Lloyd, another of Emmerson Mnangagwa’s first cousins, the Mnangagwas came to Zambia in the 1950s, and settled in the Mumbwa area. Emmerson’s parents were among them.
When Zimbabwe became independent in 1980, and Emmerson Mnangagwa became minister, he came to Zambia and took his parents back to Zimbabwe.
“My father was older than his father, so he is my brother,” says Lloyd about the new Zimbabwe President.
But most of the remaining Mnangagwa’s were born in Zambia and consider it their home. They express no desire to go and resettle in Zimbabwe.
“I have children here and my husband is here, I wouldn’t want to go to Zimbabwe,” says Pamela. “Even if I go there, for me to see the President I need an appointment. I can’t just go there.”
Clement, a first cousin of the new Zimbabwean president, adds: “We are happy here, why should we go to Zimbabwe?”
And there is so little information to glean about Emmerson Mnangagwa from among his blood relatives here. Most of them have only ever seen him once or twice.
The Mnangagwas here live ordinary lives, tilling the land with their oxen.
Others, like Clement, engage in charcoal production.
When I arrive at Clement’s homestead, the whole family is helping to pack bags of charcoal in sacks, and when I mention Emmerson Mnangagwa, they all claim a relationship with him.
“He is our relative, he is our older brother,” says Clement as he finishes packing another bag of charcoal.