By Joseph Winter
It has been an open secret in Zimbabwe for many years that Emmerson Mnangagwa would like to succeed Robert Mugabe as president.
Emmerson Mnangagwa received military training in China and Egypt
And Mr Mugabe has been almost toying with his emotions - one day promoting him to senior positions in both the ruling Zanu-PF party and the government, raising speculation that Mr Mnangagwa is the "heir apparent" but later demoting him, after he possibly displayed his ambitions a bit too openly.
He helped direct Zimbabwe's 1970s war of independence and later became the country's spy-master during the 1980s civil conflict.
He is currently minister of rural housing, a relative backwater after spells as minister of national security and speaker of parliament.
In 2005, he also lost his post as Zanu-PF secretary for administration, which had enabled him to place his supporters in key party positions.
This followed reports that Mr Mnangagwa, 60, had been campaigning too hard for the post of vice-president, backed by his close ally, former Information Minister Jonathan Moyo.
Mr Mugabe sacked Mr Moyo from both party and government but Mr Mnangagwa seems to be back in the president's good books.
The president has instead reportedly become alarmed at the activities of Joyce Mujuru, who got the vice-president's job, and her powerful husband, former army chief Solomon Mujuru.
Before his 2005 demotion, Mr Mnangagwa was seen as "the architect of the commercial activities of Zanu-PF", according to a UN report in 2001.
This largely related to the operations of the Zimbabwean army and businessmen in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Zimbabwean troops intervened in the DR Congo conflict on the side of the government and, like other countries, it was accused of using the conflict to loot some of its rich natural resources, such as diamonds, gold and other minerals.
But despite his money-raising role, Mr Mnangagwa, a lawyer who grew up in Zambia, is not well-loved by the rank and file of his own party.
One veteran of Zimbabwe's war of independence, who worked with him for many years, puts it simply: "He's a very cruel man, very cruel."
Another Zanu-PF official poses an interesting question when asked about Mr Mnangagwa's prospects: "You think Mugabe is bad but have you thought that whoever comes after him could be even worse?"
The opposition candidate who defeated Mr Mnangagwa in the 2000 parliamentary campaign in Kwekwe Central, Blessing Chebundo, would also agree that his rival is not a man of peace.
During a bitter campaign, Mr Chebundo escaped death by a whisker when the Zanu-PF youths who had abducted him and doused him with petrol were unable to light a match.
Mr Mnangagwa's fearsome reputation was made during the civil war which broke out after independence between Mugabe's Zanu party and the Zapu of Joshua Nkomo.
As National Security Minister Mr Mnangagwa was in charge of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), which worked hand in glove with the army to suppress Zapu.
Thousands of innocent civilians - mainly ethnic Ndebeles, seen as Zapu supporters - were killed before the two parties merged to form Zanu-PF.
Among countless other atrocities, villagers were forced at gun-point to dance on the freshly-dug graves of their relatives and chant pro-Mugabe slogans.
Despite the 1987 Unity Accord, the wounds are still painful and many party officials, not to mention voters, in Matabeleland would be reluctant to support a Mnangagwa presidential campaign.
School of Ideology
Mr Mnangagwa, though, does enjoy the support of many of the war veterans who led the campaign of violence against the white farmers and the opposition from 2000.
Robert Mugabe has promoted and then demoted Mnangagwa
They remember him as one of the men who, following his military training in China and Egypt, directed the 1970s fight for independence.
He also attended the Beijing School of Ideology, run by the Chinese Communist Party.
Mr Mnangagwa's official profile says he was the victim of state violence after being arrested by the white-minority government in the former Rhodesia in 1965, after he helped blow up a train near Fort Victoria (now Masvingo).
"He was tortured severely resulting in him losing his sense of hearing in one ear," the profile says.
"Part of the torture techniques involved being hanged with his feet on the ceiling and the head down. The severity of the torture made him unconscious for days."
As he was under 21 at the time, he was not executed but instead sentenced to 10 years in prison.
He was born in the central region of Zvishavane and is from the Karanga sub-group of Zimbabwe's majority Shonas.
The Karangas are the largest Shona group and some feel it is their turn for power, following 27 years of domination by Mr Mugabe's Zezuru group.