By Nkosana Dlamini and Audience Mutema
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa quietly returned home Friday from a near week-long trip to New York with nothing of the pomp that used to accompany his predecessor’s arrivals from the UN General Assembly.
The Zimbabwean leader, who ironically assumed office through a military coup, is keen to project an image different from that of former President Robert Mugabe who delighted in being eulogised and feted for being a great leader.
During Mugabe’s era, hundreds of Zanu PF supporters, among them vendors were often bussed to the airport to dance and ululate as he landed from his many trips.
Mugabe, would often take the opportunity to address his followers while patting himself on the back for using the world stage to confront super power America over its sanctions on Zimbabwe and its bully tactics on less powerful nations.
However, Mnangagwa may still have a lot to offer in order to convince skeptics after he maintained his former boss’s culture which often sees top government officials and security commanders form a beeline to the airport to meet the President.
This was the case on Friday when the two Vice Presidents Constantino Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi were joined by some cabinet ministers to meet him at the Robert Mugabe International Airport.
There was nothing though of the gyrating Mbare Chimurenga Choir and the conspicuous white robbed church congregants to meet him.
Neither were there signs of vendors who were often forced to abandon their stalls to go and wait hours on end at the airport tarmac for Mugabe to arrive.
January this year, some Harare Zanu PF supporters who were planning to go and meet Mnangagwa at the airport on his return from the Davos World Economic Forum and the AU summit in Ethiopia were told to cancel the event, paving way for the new President to arrive quietly.
Even away from the airport, there was nothing of the usually fawning and expensive newspaper birthday messages directed to the President after Mnangagwa celebrated his 76th birthday 15 September.
Mugabe had his birthday marked as a prominent feature on the country’s political calendar with his annual birthday bashes often gobbling millions in donations and state funds.
Pro-democracy activist Pride Mkono is less enthused by Mnangagwa’s apparent modesty.
“Mnangagwa is a wolf in a wolf’s clothes while Mugabe was a sheep in wolf’s clothes,” he quipped.
“He is exactly and more the same as Mugabe.
“An apple rarely falls far from the tree which it has been born. There is apparently no change.”
Mkono accuses Mnangagwa of using strong arm tactics to deal with descent as seen in the killing of six civilians by the military soon after the 2018 elections August 1 and the current police operation to throw out street vendors from the Harare CBD.
He feels this is characteristic of Mnangagwa’s mentor turned rival.
“Its just a poster which is meant to hoodwink the international community and meant to put lipstick on a crocodile. But he is more than the same as Mugabe,” said Mkono.
Tawanda Majoni, national coordinator with the Information for Development Trust, an NGO formed to track public sector corruption and profligacy, also feels Mnangagwa has not totally abandoned Mugabe traits but says he needs time to completely shake them off.
“Having worked under Mugabe for about half a century, he is burdened by the deep seated perception that he can’t do things differently, but he is knows too well that international and acceptance can be earned by demonstrating that he is his own man,” Majoni said.
He added, “He has not significantly succeeded in shaking the Mugabe tag or entirely setting up a new political culture most likely because the old way of doing things is so entrenched in him.
“He has been in power for a short time or simply the fact that it’s usually difficult to change systems and tendencies that have been institutionalised.”