Upon his return, he earned his nickname 'crocodile' after leading a group of fighters called the Crocodile Gang during the country's liberation war
In 1963, soon after modern Zimbabwe's ruling party ZANU-PF was formed, Mnangagwa was part of the first group of young party leaders sent to China for military training. Upon his return, he earned his nickname by leading a group of fighters called the Crocodile Gang during the country's war of independence against Rhodesia's white-minority rule.
Mnangagwa's gang blew up several trains. He was arrested in 1965 and sentenced to death. He escaped that fate because his lawyers successfully argued that he was under 21 and hence underage for the hangman's noose. But he was brutally tortured and spent 10 years in jail, where he met and befriended Robert Mugabe.
Mnangagwa was released after serving his sentence and deported to Zambia, where he studied law. He kept in close contact with Mugabe and was elected special assistant to Mugabe in 1977, becoming head of both the civil and military divisions of ZANU-PF.
After Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980 and Mugabe became prime minister, Mnangagwa was named the country's first minister of national security.
Mugabe changed the constitution and became president in 1987. From 1988 to 2000, Mnangagwa served as minister of justice, legal and paramilitary affairs, leader of the House and in several other positions for short terms.
When Mnangagwa lost a parliamentary election in 2000, Mugabe appointed him to one of the unelected seats in parliament, and he was then elected speaker.
In 2008, he was credited with masterminding Mugabe's presidential campaign. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the first round of the election. Hundreds of opposition supporters were killed in a campaign of violence blamed on the military and state security organizations.
Tsvangirai pulled out of the second round of elections. Mugabe was re-elected, and Mnangagwa became defense minister.
After Mugabe won another presidential term in 2013, Mnangagwa was appointed vice president.
On November 6, Mugabe fired Mnangagwa and accused him of plotting to take power, including through witchcraft. Mnangagwa fled the country, saying he and his family had been threatened.
Since then, more than 100 senior officials allegedly supporting him have been listed for disciplinary measures by a faction associated with Mugabe's wife, Grace.
The firing was seen as a move to enable Grace Mugabe to eventually succeed her 93-year-old husband.