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[OPINION] Beware the Crocodile

You may know it as the parable of The Scorpion and The Frog. The way it was told to me as a young child growing up was as the fable of The Crocodile and The Frog. My father would tell it to me as a warning whenever I became too trusting or misjudged someone’s character. I thought of it this week as I watched elated Zimbabweans pour onto the streets of their cities, and ours, to celebrate a new dawn.

It goes like this.

There once was a frog who longed to cross a fast-flowing river. The frog could swim, but this particular river was filled with snakes. Along he hopped, hoping to find a log that had fallen or a narrow part at which to cross. He hopped and hopped but alas, he found nothing.

Days passed and finally a crocodile appeared. The frog told him his sad story about how he longed to cross the river. The crocodile listened sympathetically and then offered the frog a ride across the rushing water. The frog was immediately reluctant.

“But you will eat me. Or you will drop me in the water for the snakes to eat,” said the frog, alarmed. The crocodile allayed the frog’s fears and gave him an assurance that his motives were not sinister. He told his new friend that if he was that concerned, he could ride on his tail.

The frog considered his options and mulled over this proposal and decided to take the risk. He hopped onto the crocodile’s tail. The crocodile slid into the snake-infested water. However, it soon became necessary for the crocodile to use his tail as a rudder and the frog could not stay there. “I need to use my tail to steer,” said the crocodile. “Jump onto my back.” The frog hopped onto the croc’s back.

They made it a little way across the water with the frog on the crocodile’s back. After a while, the crocodile shouted out to the frog. “The view is better on my head. You should hop up here to see!” Of course, the frog was nervous about this and voiced his fears. Again the crocodile assured him. “We’re halfway across the river. There is no reason for me to eat you now.”

Perched on the crocodile’s head, the frog could see all the beauty and glory around him. He took it all in and for a moment, forgot about the snake-infested water below and the predator that was giving him a free ride. The crocodile broke his attention. “There’s a fly on my nose. It’s very bothersome. Please could you check? I’m worried it will make me sneeze and you will fly off.” The frog hopped onto the crocodile’s snout. And in one swift gulp… he was gone.

The moral of the fable is a simple one. It was in the crocodile’s nature to eat the frog. Don’t be fooled by something pretending to be what it is not. In the version with the scorpion and the frog, the frog gives the scorpion a ride and the scorpion stings the frog. They both drown in the river.

Today, 24 November 2017, Emmerson Mnangagwa, aka ‘The Crocodile’, will be sworn in as president of Zimbabwe. He earned the moniker both for his ruthlessness and for being a part of the so-called ‘Crocodile Gang’. It was a sabotage unit during the war of independence against British colonial rule. These days it’s also referenced when speaking about his faction of the Zanu-PF party known as ‘Lacoste’.

The people of Zimbabwe have been hopping along the side of the river for 37 years without finding a way across. No one came to help them. They are tired and hungry and growing old. They are worried about their children. They can be forgiven for chancing a ride on the back of a crocodile to freedom.

But it would do them well to heed the warning contained in the fable of The Crocodile and The Frog. Until not that long ago, Mnangagwa was one of Robert Mugabe’s closest confidantes. They have journeyed side by side for more than three decades. The two men met in Mozambique in 1977 fighting against Portuguese colonial rule. Mnangagwa became Mugabe’s assistant and bodyguard. He accompanied him to the Lancaster House Agreement negotiations and became the first Minister of National Security following independence in 1980.

The Crocodile allegedly oversaw arguably the most infamous wave of state-sponsored violence during Mugabe’s reign. It’s widely believed he directed the ‘Gukurahundi’ massacres, in which 20,000 Ndebele people were murdered by the Zimbabwean Fifth Brigade. Mnangagwa denied he played any role in the violence and blamed the army. However, he is still deeply disliked in Matabeleland.

Mnangagwa was also seen as Mugabe’s enforcer, directing an episode of violence and intimidation against opposition leaders in the 2008 election which forced them to pull out of a run-off vote. He was Mugabe’s chief election agent and ran the president’s campaign behind the scenes.

The Southern African director of Human Rights Watch Dewa Mavhinga has rung the alarm that Mnangagwa is cut from the same cloth as Mugabe and his tenure will be much of the same. “This is a change of a leader within the same authoritarian system of Zanu-PF backed by the military,” he told AFP.

“It's unlikely that there will be significant changes because Mnangagwa was Mugabe’s enforcer. He is likely to continue as far as abuses, impunity and lack of democratic change are concerned. He has to protect those who have been implicated in abuses because it is essentially the same team.”

Mnangagwa is standing ready to carry the Zimbabwean people across a snake-infested river. They have no one else to trust but him. The Crocodile must be given a chance to do the right thing but, unlike the frog, the Zimbabwean people must keep their wits about them and maintain the utmost caution. Remember, it is in a crocodile’s nature to eat the frog.

Mandy Wiener is a freelance journalist and author working for Eyewitness News. Follow her on Twitter: @mandywiener

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