Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe’s vice-president and likely successor to Robert Mugabe, has revealed the “secret” that he personally protected scores of white farmers from being driven from their land at the height of the Zanu-PF-sanctioned farm invasions.
Mr Mnangagwa told mourners at a memorial service for 74-year-old Estelle Theresa Coetzee, a prominent white Zimbabwean dairy farmer and philanthropist who died last week, that his close connection with her family saved many of their own livelihoods.
“I have kept this a secret, but let me tell you now: The majority of you are still here because of Neville (Coetzee) and his wife,” he reportedly told the audience of several Zanu-PF cabinet ministers, and hundreds of farmworkers and white farmers, during a ceremony at sports club in Kwekwe, central Zimbabwe.
“Every morning they would be at my house bothering me left and right to protect you. If you did not know it, it’s because of the good nature of the Coetzee family, who I have worked very well with over the past 40 years, that you are still here.”
Mr Mnangagwa is the former head of Zimbabwe’s ruthless central intelligence organisation and is nicknamed The Crocodile for his violent activities before Zimbabwe won independence. He also spearheaded the Gukurahundi massacre of thousands of supporters of Mr Mugabe’s political rival in the 1980s.
He is seen as the frontrunner to take over from Mr Mugabe, about whom rumours of ill health have been swirling in Harare in recent weeks as he takes his annual holiday in Singapore, leaving Mr Mnangagwa in charge of the country.
With Grace Mugabe, Mr Mugabe’s wife, rising through ranks of Zanu-PF and making increasing overtures for the top slot, Mr Mnangagwa is seen as the West’s preferred candidate.
As such, his claim to have saved white farmers could be part of his effort to present himself as one of Zanu-PF’s more moderate candidates.
He told his audience that he had championed the country’s dairy farmers when it was not fashionable to do so.
“Here in Midlands we stood our ground to avoid disruptions of the dairy industry and convinced the party leadership. As a result, Midlands is now the number one dairy producing province in the country,” he said.
The Coetzee family has been farming in Kwekwe for 54 years and founded Dendairy, a well-known Zimbabwean firm. Their farm was invaded at least five times during the land seizures, but each time the war veterans and Zanu-PF supporters were removed by the police.
Ninety per cent of other white farmers – more than 4,000 – were forced off their land, crashing Zimbabwe’s export economy which was heavily dependent on agriculture.
The Afrikaans-speaking Coetzee family currently owns a farm with over 2,000 dairy cattle. Like many white farmers who have managed to remain, they support smaller scale farmers and buy their milk.