That is exactly what Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa did last month as he tries to bury the memories of his long ties to Mugabe and rebrand himself as a ‘man of the people’ ahead of what is expected to be a tight election on Monday.
Mnangagwa, a 75-year-old who came to power after Mugabe was removed in a de facto coup last November, has campaigned on a promise to mend divisions in Zimbabwe and rebuild the economy.
“Some have eyes but they do not see, others have ears but cannot hear that we are in a new Zimbabwe,” Mnangagwa told ZANU-PF supporters at a rally last week, draped in his trademark scarf in the colours of the national flag.
“Together we will rebuild our nation, a new prosperous Zimbabwe for our people.”
Mnangagwa, known as “the crocodile”, an animal famed in Zimbabwean lore for its stealth and ruthlessness, was removed as Vice President by Mugabe last November to make way for his wife, Grace, to seize power.
This was too much for army generals who rolled military vehicles through the streets of the capital Harare and kept Mugabe, 94, under house arrest until he resigned facing imminent impeachment.
For all his talk of a ‘new’ Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa’s opponents are at pains to remind people that he was a trusted lieutenant of Mugabe for five decades and has failed to deliver on promises of change in the past.
“Mnangagwa has been in politics for 60 years and in power, as the chief enforcer of Zimbabwe’s first republic for 38 years,” Jonathan Moyo, the main voice of Grace Mugabe’s political faction, said this week on his Twitter feed.
“Lies come easy to him. It’s time for generational change. Creators and enforcers of the old dispensation cannot lead the new dispensation.”
Yet there is cautious optimism among diplomats and foreign investors that things are slowly improving.
Mnangagwa invited international observers to watch the election and allowed the opposition far more freedom to campaign, although his main rival, Nelson Chamisa, says the process is still being rigged by a biased electoral commission.
Mnangagwa has even reached out to white Zimbabweans, including promising farmers there will be an end to the violent farm evictions that began in 2000 in what Mugabe defended as a way to address post-colonial racial imbalances.
“I’m humbled,” said Christine Moorcroft, one of more than a hundred white Zimbabweans addressed by Mnangagwa last week.
“He is talking about us being ‘one people’. We’ve never heard that from ZANU before. I will vote for ED (Emmerson Dambudzo) next week.”
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