Emmerson Mnangagwa — Christian or crocodile?

Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe’s president in waiting. (PHOTO: MAYNARD MANYOWA and AFP via Daily Maverick)

Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, Zimbabwe’s president-in-waiting is nicknamed “the crocodile” — in reference to his reputation for ruthlessness as former president Robert Mugabe’s “enforcer”.

But a report surfaced in social media in the past week suggesting that the man linked with massacres of political opponents in the 1980s — and alleged election rigging and violence in 2008 — claims to be a born-again Christian.

This report piqued my interest — especially as I came across it just days after I was sent a video clip of Pastor Marc Bredenkamp prophesying on television (Faith Television Network) in November 2014, saying: “Zimbabwe, there is one who shall be removed in the next three years and shall be no more, just like it shall be in South Africa, says God.”

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Bredenkamp also went on to say the removed president would be replaced by one who has God’s Spirit in him.

With Mugabe’s dramatic “removal” from power three years after the prophesy — to the month — I wondered about the part about being replaced by a Christian president (not to mention the South Africa part!).

Knowing that Mnangagwa, who had been sacked by Mugabe as vice president two weeks previously, was in line to become interim president, I wondered whether the prophecy might not refer to a future president to emerge after elections next year. During the early 1980s while reporting in Zimbabwe for South African newspapers I saw mass graves in Matabeleland where an estimated 20 000 Ndebele people were killed while Mnangagwa was minister of state security and head of the feared Central Intelligence Organisation.

But then I received a Whatsapp, with an article which had apparently been posted on the Facebook page of a Christian public figure, suggesting that despite his dark past, Mnangawa had been changed by God. I made contact with the public figure who confirmed posting the piece on Mnangagwa which she took to be true. But she could not direct me to the original writer of the article — as, so often is the case with reports that spread via social media.

God certainly can turn around the lives of the most notorious people, and all of us are saved by grace through faith in Jesus who atoned for every sin on the cross. I remembered a story we posted in 2013 of an ex cannibal warlord from Liberia, General Butt Naked, who had murdered many men, women, and children, who was saved by Christ and now serves as a preacher and evangelist.

God can change anybody. Look at the apostle Paul who wrote most of the New Testament. But Emmerson Mnangagwa? I started reading reports on News 24 and other platforms which skeptically alluded to the president-in-waiting of Zimbabwe having at some point claimed to have become a born again Christian. But columnists are warning that he is a hardliner who may continue in the repressive mould of Mugabe. Several writers point out he is more flexible than his predecessor and has a reputation for business savvy, which he will surely need to tackle the rebuilding of Zimbabwe’s tattered economy.

In a conciliatory address at Zanu PF headqaurters in Harare yesterday after his return from a short period of exile, Mnangagwa pledged to be the people’s servant and prioritised unity, economic growth, peace and “jobs, jobs, jobs”,

According to the “Christian Mnangagwa” article that has been doing the social media rounds, he may be the perfect choice for president in this season as he has the respect of the army, war veterans, Zanu PF and much of the opposition and is rumoured to have been engaged in negotiations towards achieving a unity government to bring change.

Digging around on the internet I found a 2010 report in News Day which confirms the authenticity of key sections of the social media article. An excerpt of the News Day report reads: Minister of Defence Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa has made a startling confession, that he was taught to destroy and kill, but in the same breath immediately said he had turned a new leaf and had found comfort in the arms of God.

Mnangagwa, one of the most shrewd politicians in Zimbabwe who is referred to by those that know him well as Ngwena (the Crocodile), told mourners at his brother’s burial on Monday that he had turned to Jesus and changed, from being a destroyer to a man of God.

“For those of us comrades who were taught to destroy and kill and have seen the light in the last days of our lives, and will die in Christ, our rewards are in heaven,” Mnangagwa told mourners at the burial whose master of ceremony was former Midlands governor July Moyo.

Another excerpt of the same news report says: Mnangagwa, once touted a presidential candidate in the Zanu PF’s succession matrix, says he is now a born-again Christian and has of late preached the Word of God with passion.

At the burial, Ngwena opened the Bible and preached from Proverbs, with such intensity mourners were left confused that such a man could be linked to the brutal political violence that his party was widely accused of in the bloody 2008 elections.

Even as he preached, partners in the inclusive government were accusing him of deploying army personnel in various provinces ahead of what is feared to be another violence-ridden election touted for mid-next year.

But Mnangagwa maintains he is a gentleman as “soft as wool”.

I also found a more recent report in Zimbabwe’s Sunday Mail on a speech Mnangagwa made to hundreds of Christian leaders at a prayer breakfast in Harare in September this year, in which he says: “If we, in leadership positions, as the people of influence within our nation, conduct ourselves with righteousness, continue upholding justice, honesty and peace, then the entire nation will be transformed for the better.

“We have a crucial role to play in our constituencies. There is a need to be guided by He who created humanity. I say this: Be guided and encouraged by Philippians Chapter 2 Verse 3, which says, ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves.”

There is no reason to doubt that Emmerson Mnangagwa spoke the words in the above articles. The question is, is that the real man? Has the leopard changed its spots? Or the crocodile shed its scales?

Let us continue to pray for Zimbabwe — as she enters a new era. Do also pray for the soon-to-be interim president, that he holds on to the words of faith in Christ that he has proclaimed and that he grows in the grace and knowledge of God and is led by His Spirit at this key time in Zimbawe’s history. Pray too that Christian leaders reach out to him.

Also read Tshego Motaung’s insightful article on God’s plan to restore Zimbabwe.


  1. Hugh G Wetmore

    What an insightful, well-researched article! We’ve learned to be cautious about leaders claiming to be Christian, and then being seduced by power to behave unChristianly (Frederick Chiluba of Zambia, the Apartheid government in SA). Many non-Christian leaders (e.g. Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore) have ruled with more godly virtues than some so-called Christians. But Mnangagwa’s words went deeper than mere profession, when he said  “If we, in leadership positions, as the people of influence within our nation, conduct ourselves with righteousness, continue upholding justice, honesty and peace, then the entire nation will be transformed for the better.
    “We have a crucial role to play in our constituencies. There is a need to be guided by He who created humanity. I say this: Be guided and encouraged by Philippians Chapter 2 Verse 3, which says, ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves.”

    God wants Government to rule with “Kindness, Justice and Righteousness in Humility” (Jeremiah 9:23,24 et al) – these KJR in H Principles are listed in Mnangagwa’s speech. I found that very significent – he has understood God’s requirements for good government anywhere. Let’s intensify our prayers that God will hold him to his commitment, that he will work it out in practice. Solomon started well, but ended badly. May God give Mnangagwa the courage to stay the course and end well – to the benefit of Zimbabwe, and as an example to South Africa.

  2. A good, restrained article, not presuming too much or jumping to conclusions.
    Actions speak louder than words, and Jesus said we will know those who belong to him by their fruit. In due course will see whether Mnangagwa has indeed changed.
    I had to laugh when you stated “Has the leopard changed its spots? Or the crocodile shed its scales?”, because that is exactly what I’ve been saying!
    President Lincoln is supposed to have said something to the effect that the true test of a man’s character is when he is given power.
    Continuing to pray for Zimbabwe.

  3. Hi Andre,

    I very insightful article. I have also heard similar murmorings when living in Zimbabwe from 2012 to 2016. I had a close friend who was given an opportunity to go pray with him when he was Vice President. One thing God told him whilst praying for Mnangagwa was how he had a hidden diary in his top draw that included his dreams for Zimbabwe and his heart for the orphans and widows. Mnangagwa confirmed this was true and it then gave him a chance to share Gods plans for Zimbabwe. I can’t go into further details, but suffice to say God’s hand is on him and I think he will surprise many in the coming months ahead.

    We have to trust that God has all the bases covered.

    Look forward to seeing more articles on this topic in the future.

  4. Heather Herbst

    I believe he is God’s man for the hour. Now South Africa…..

  5. Indeed Saul was a wicked man, as was many leaders in Biblical times! The Word also says that God does, at times,takes the foolish things of this world to CONFOUND THE WISE!!! “….IF MY PEOPLE WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME…..!” My take on this all, is let’s not try to deal with all the WHAT IF’s AND focused on what JESUS EXPECTS OF US in the scripture referred to above 2 Chronicles 7 v 14 and keep praying on our knees & being part of THE SOLUTION & NOT part of the PROBLEM!!! LEAVE THE REST TO OUR CREATOR GOD!!! THE TIME HAS COME!!! PLEASE CHRISTIANS WE MUST GET OUT OF OUR COMFORT ZONES AND GET ACTIVE, ACROSS DENOMINATION & RACIAL DIVIDES!!! THERE IS ONLY ONE CHURCH; THAT BEING THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST; AND ONLY ONE RACE; THE HUMAN RACE!!!

  6. Riana Van Rooyen

    May God bless Zimbabwe

  7. Well researched and written Andre!
    With the apostle Paul I saw great repentance and acknowledgement of the sins he had committed, this I have not seen from the “Crocodile” yet. We need to see the signs of repentance as well as their fruits.

    If Zim is to recover economically (which I hope they will) a lot of restitution needs to take place. for instance, if land is restored to farmers, this will pave the way for foreign investment.

    May God be merciful and gracious to the people of Zim.

  8. A light shines more brightly in the dark. Darkness is the absence of light.Crist said he was the Light of the world, and I guess that includes Zimbabwe.
    We all need a Light to brighten the darkness of our doubt, fears and hurtful exoerience with hope.
    There is no limit to where the Light shines.

  9. This article is so encouraging. I left Rhodesia in 1978 during the war, after marrying an American Missionary’s son. I have had a vested interest to see Zimbabwe restored since 1/1/2009 due to a divine appointment with another Rhodesian – Colin Millar. A few months later we travelled with a delegation of Christians from Texas to Victoria Falls where we gathered with 300 Zimbabweans representing every sphere of influence at “The Seed Sowers Prayer Summit,” led by Lovejoy Terivipi.

    Our heart was to unify and pray and intercede for the country to be set free. We were in 12 hour prayer meetings, prophesying and praying and repenting over the sins of the nation and evena sking for forgiveness for its founder, Cecil John Rhodes, who stole the country from the nationals as we know through history. We believe that a new day dawned at that Summit and it is taken nine years to see the fruition of that vision of dancing in the streets.for change to happen.

    With all the prayers and prophetic words that have been declared over these years by many people, I must believe that “the Crocodile” has asked for forgiveness and has been reconciled to God through Christ. I cannot believe that the Lord would allow this man to come into power if He was not being led by the Holy Spirit of God. So in God we Trust alone to direct President Em’s course while he is in office, for the sake of seeing our beloved country restored to fulfill its ultimate purpose amongst the nations.

    Blessings to all who love and care for our Zimbabwe.

    Yvette Latta.

  10. Just to help you! He is called the Crocodile not because of ruthlessness but because when he came to war during the Liberation Struggle, he was part of a group of 5 guerillas called The Crocodile Squad and he became the only surviving member of that squad and he was arrested and sentenced to death but it was changed because he was only 18yrs of age and they he was then sentenced to 10yrs in prison