PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s daring manoeuvres to change and redeploy critical personnel and commanders in strategic military units in a major shake-up has triggered fears of purges among troops that staged the 2017 coup and facilitated his dramatic rise to power, it emerged this week.
Informed security sources say Mnangagwa’s move is designed and calculated to contain and diminish his ambitious co-deputy retired Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander General Constantino Chiwenga’s influence in the military and politics.
Although Chiwenga is ailing, he remains a force to reckon with in Zimbabwean politics, given his role in Mnangagwa’s ouster of former president Robert Mugabe who turned 95 yesterday.
Photos of Mugabe with his family released on social media yesterday showed him looking elderly and frail.
Sources say since coming to power, Mnangagwa has been thinking about how to neutralise Chiwenga and his military machine that toppled Mugabe to reduce the risk of another coup.
Chiwenga has been in India of late for medical reasons, although he is expected back home anytime, or has returned. Close family members indicated he was back or on his way home, but no official confirmation could be obtained.
Presidential spokesman George Charamba yesterday said he would only comment on the issue today. Upon his return, Chiwenga will fly into the redeployments storm within the security forces.
Last month while Mnangagwa was visiting Russia and former Soviet republics in Eastern Europe amid a blizzard of violent social protests and a bloody military backlash, the country was abuzz with stories and reports of an imminent coup. Mnangagwa’s allies publicly spoke about a plot against him, with some hinting on impeachment intrigue.
As a result of the volatile political and military dynamics in the current state of flux, Mnangagwa had to quickly but carefully manoeuvre to take steps to checkmate
Chiwenga, coup-proof his regime and consolidate power.
Information obtained by the Zimbabwe Independent from security sources shows apart from making bold changes in the military command element, Mnangagwa also moved to redeploy personnel in the Presidential Guard and Mechanised Brigade where senior commanders and troops were shifted or removed.
The two brigades played a key role in the coup which catapulted Mnangagwa to power in November 2017.
Senior commanders retired on Monday pending diplomatic reassignments include Major-General Anselem Sanyatwe, who was commander of the Presidential Guard; former Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) chief-of-staff (administration) Douglas Nyikayaramba, chief-of-staff responsible for service personnel and logistics, Major-General Martin Chedondo, and Air Vice-Marshal Sheba Shumbayawonda.
Sources told the Independent this week that besides the four commanders, there have been further massive movements, particularly in the Presidential Guard.
The Presidential Guard is an elite force which is more politically oriented as it protects the head of state. It ranks among other elite forces such as the commando and parachute regiments and the special air services. But unlike the other brigades, it is specially trained to fight in built-up areas and its soldiers receive special training in urban warfare as a reaction force.
The brigade, specifically in charge of securing Mnangagwa, state installations and Harare’s central business district, has two battalions: One Presidential Guard Infantry Battalion at Josiah Magama Tongogara Barracks (formerly KGVI Barracks) and Two Presidential Guard Infantry Battalion located in Dzivaresekwa suburb in Harare.
Before the coup, the One Presidential Guard, also responsible for securing State House, was under the command of Colonel Never Jones Makuyana, while the Dzivaresekwa battalion was commanded by Colonel Samson Murombo.
Mnangagwa has since ringed in changes in the unit, removing Makuyana and replacing him with Murombo. Makuyana was initially re-assigned to be Mnangagwa’s aide-de-camp before being shifted again recently. Air Force of Zimbabwe personnel has been deployed to be part of Mnangagwa’s close security unit instead of the “yellow berets”.
According to the sources, Mnangagwa recently promoted Regis Mangezi from the rank of lieutenant-colonel to colonel before reassigning him to be in charge of the Dzivaresekwa battalion.
Sources said there was great disquiet among top commanders when Murombo, upon assuming his new role, made the unprecedented decision of moving his entire battalion from Dzivaresekwa to Tongogara barracks.
Sources said senior commanders raised the red flag over the massive and unusual move thinking it was his personal decision.
They, however, later discovered that he did so on the orders of Mnangagwa, ZDF commander-in-chief.
As if these moves were not alarming enough, the sources said, there came manoeuvres around Mnangagwa when Makuyana was two weeks ago removed as presidential aide-de-camp alongside Colonel Solomon Siziba and Colonel Kampira.
They were replaced by Air Force of Zimbabwe officers who have been seen providing Mnangagwa’s close security at public events in recent days.
Sources further said Sanyatwe will be replaced as the overall Presidential Guard commander by Brigadier-General Fidelis Mhonda, who has until now been in charge of the 2 Brigade in Harare. It was not immediately clear who will fill the 2 Brigade vacancy.
In addition to the massive movements in the Presidential Guard, there have also been changes in the Mechanised Brigade, an army unit in charge of the national armoury.
Military insiders and analysts see the changes as part of Mnangagwa’s strategy to put Chiwenga into checkmate, consolidate power and coup-proof himself. It also raises the spectre of further militarisation of politics by flooding the diplomatic service with military staff instead of security sector reforms to limit military influence in civilian affairs and improve civil-military relations.
A senior security officer told the Independent that Mnangagwa was in a dilemma over how to handle Chiwenga and his military allies.
“The central problem facing Mnangagwa and the Chiwenga-military alliance is that, on one hand, the president is trying to consolidate power at the expense of Chiwenga and his military allies, while Chiwenga and the army would want to deter such opportunistic behaviour by threatening a reaction behind-the-scenes,” the officer said.
“Mnangagwa had to first consider and decide whether to take any action that would shift the balance of power in his favour. The Chiwenga-military alliance in turn would then decide whether to launch a reaction or retreat.
“The president’s actions will be effective in curtailing the military’s power if the army retreats in response to his manoeuvres. Crucially, the power relations between Mnangagwa and the Chiwenga-military alliance will in turn define the likely outcome of the ongoing brinkmanship.
“What I’m saying is Mnangagwa’s actions will diminish the military’s ability to successfully react or organise a coup (which is coup-proofing). More fundamentally, the balance of power between the Mnangagwa and Chiwenga will determine how this ends. A decrease in the possibility of a successful coup resulting from Mnangagwa’s changes will increase his leverage, while reducing Chiwenga’s influence and prospects.”
Mnangagwa is fighting a deadly turf war with Chiwenga, who was ZDF commander from 2004 up to the time of the 2017 coup.
Chiwenga and his military allies who are now being purged executed the coup after Mnangagwa was fired by Mugabe. Mnangagwa fled to Pretoria, South Africa, at the time for
As first reported by the Independent, Mnangagwa and Chiwenga are involved in a political war of attrition amid dangerous brinkmanship rocking local politics.
The chaotic Zanu-PF primaries before the 2018 general election, the defeat of Mnangagwa’s key allies in the general elections, the Bulawayo grenade explosion and the bloody post-election violence — including the turmoil and killings last month — are said to have become a deadly cocktail fuelling tensions between the two coup protagonists.
Before the elections, Mnangagwa publicly spoke about an inside plot to impeach him after the polls. During the campaigns, Mnangagwa and Chiwenga appeared like rivals instead of allies, insiders said.
Mnangagwa also spoke about an attempted assassination after the Bulawayo explosion before the elections which killed two security aides and injured many. He did not say who was behind the attack.
Although Mnangagwa might have some newfound authority following his disputed narrow election victory last July which gave him the people’s mandate, Chiwenga remains a thorn in the flesh for the president who has tried to downplay their rivalry by recently saying in public there was no problem between them.
Insiders say initially the coup deal was that Mnangagwa would come in as a civilian face of government and serve one term, leaving power to Chiwenga.
However, Mnangagwa’s repeated talk of two terms is said to have widened the rift between the two. There were also differences on the transitional arrangement, critical appointments, business deals, the direction of the administration and now purges, especially in cabinet and the security sector, sources say
“What you should ask is under what conditions do political leaders adopt coup-proofing strategies? They don’t just take such moves for no reason,” the senior officer said.
“It is well-known in military circles and there is a broad consensus that political leaders who face a high risk of a coup tend to intervene in the military to coup-proof the regime.
So what is happening now is not unusual; yet it is telling and revealing. Mnangagwa is doing what he has got to do, but don’t overlook the possibility that his actions might trigger a reaction.”