PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has moved to re-assert his vice-like grip on Zimbabwe’s state security service, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), which is critical to his power consolidation and retention bid.
Autocratic leaders rely on the intelligence apparatus for regime and personal security, including coup-proofing.
They often manage powerful, brutal and unaccountable intelligence establishments, which they hold close.
But, despite their close relationship with — and reliance upon — intelligence, despots also frequently struggle to use it to enhance decision-making and foreign policy, and consequently suffer avoidable intelligence failures.
The new appointment is particularly critical for Mnangagwa to ward off any sign of challenge by his ambitious deputy Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga ahead of crucial elections where the spectre of “bhora musango” — internal sabotage — looms large.
To shore up his faltering grip on the CIO, largely modelled on his own image as the country’s first State Security minister after Independence in 1980, Mnangagwa quietly appointed director of administration Patrick Donald Mutasa to the level of Deputy Director-General.
The new appointment came at a time when Mnangagwa is reportedly losing confidence in CIO Director-General Isaac Moyo and some top spooks who are either not discharging their duties well or are compromised by Zanu PF’s political factionalism and internal strife.
“Mnangagwa recently appointed Mutasa who was director of administration to new post at deputy director-general level. The strategy is to take away some functions and responsibilities from those who are no longer trusted or have fallen out of favour, and give them to loyalists to ensure his power consolidation and retention drive succeeds.
“It was also influenced by politics, internal dynamics at the CIO top hierarchy and the need for intelligence bosses to checkmate each other and prevent them from acting in collusion or common purpose. It’s a Russian-style or KGB-style approach.”
KGB was the Soviet Union’s intelligence service. It is now called Federal Security Service, the largest intelligence organisation in Europe.
There has been talk within the Zimbabwean intelligence community that although Moyo is a Mnangagwa loyalist, he has of late been viewed with suspicion, especially after he took a position on the delimitation process supporting the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) chairperson Priscilla Chigumba whom the President currently has a love-hate relationship with.
It is understood Chigumba’s relationship with Mnangagwa is frayed, sometimes on the rocks over electoral issues. Chigumba is said to be close to Moyo who offers her huge support in her work. There was a big fallout between Mnangagwa and Chigumba over the delimitation process.
Mnangagwa and his allies wanted to sabotage the delimitation report, while Chigumba was rescued by Chiwenga and Moyo. In his 2018 elections monograph, Excelgate — How Zimbabwe’s 2018 Presidential Election was Stolen, Jonathan Moyo, a professor of politics, narrates a fallout between Mnangagwa and Chigumba.
It got so serious that Chigumba wanted to leave the country. However, Chigumba has denied the allegations. The new appointment means there are now practically three CIO deputy directors-general. The other two appointed in January 2020 are retired Brigadier-General Walter Tapfumaneyi and Dr Gatsha Mazithulela.
They replaced Aaron Nhepera who had earlier been appointed Home Affairs permanent secretary. Nhepera has since been moved again to become Defence permanent secretary, replacing the retired Grey Marongwe.
In a bid to shore up his support within the intelligence structures, Mnangagwa elevated Mutasa to take some of the functions and roles exercised by Mazithulela whom they say is a great scientist, but not necessarily an intelligence guru.
While he is reportedly struggling in his CIO job, Mazithulela is a member of the National Defence University Council and chairperson of the National Authority of the Chemical Weapons Convention, Zimbabwe Chapter.
Mazithulela graduated with a PhD in genetic engineering at the age of 27 and worked in the United States and the United Kingdom. Listed among his achievements are the Fogarty Aids International Training and Research Scholarship at Johns Hopkins University in the US, Rockefeller Foundation pre-doctoral fellowship, a post-doctoral research fellowship at the University of Nottingham, and post-doctoral scientist at DuPont Incorporated in the US.
He was awarded support from the UK-South Africa Science and Technology Research Fund in 1997. Mazithulela served as a board member for the Cape Biotechnology Trust, Anvir Biopharmaceticals (Pty) Ltd and Elevation Biotechnology (Pty) Ltd chair.
He also served as National Research Foundation of South Africa vice-president, Nuclear Technology Products (Pty) Limited and at the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation, among other achievements.
Despite his colourful curriculum vitae, security sources say he is struggling to fit into the structures and operate in the shadows. Mazithulela is not entirely new to the intelligence world. He previously got a scholarship from them.
Mazithulela has been embroiled in some drunken and gun shooting controversies.
“Mutasa will assume some of Mazithulela’s roles because he seems to be a great scientist, but not an intelligence administrator or operator. That’s not his area.”
While Mnangagwa’s relationship with the CIO top boss might be now tenuous, his ties with Tapfumaneyi are strong. With Mazithulela, it is said Mnangagwa has good professional and family ties with him. Tapfumaneyi is very close to Mnangagwa and has been given an extra duty to run the upcoming general elections, through a structure called Forever Associates of Zimbabwe (Faz).
Previous elections were run by the military, with other security agents playing a supporting role, but the function has been taken over by the CIO, primarily because Mnangagwa does not fully trust the army, because he believes Chiwenga still has control.
Chiwenga was the Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander when the military toppled former president Robert Mugabe in 2017 and thrust Mnangagwa into power.
Before that he was a Commander of the Zimbabwe National Army, which he joined at its formation after independence in 1980.
Tapfumaneyi is leading Faz, which has been assigned to manipulate electoral processes in Mnangagwa’s favour.
This is not a constitutional or official arrangement, but an underground operational unit campaigning for Mnangagwa and Zanu PF in the August general elections. Faz has now displaced the army’s structure called Heritage that used to perform a similar role and other functions.
In 2018, the army ran elections through Heritage and Africom, a converged communication service provider.
The CIO move and channelling of public resources to its shadowy structure is unconstitutional, legal experts say.
Sources say, so far, Faz has received US$10 million and 200 cars to run its affairs in preparation for elections. More resources have been promised to capacitate the secret structure.
Faz’s mandate is to work together with Zec to coordinate logistics and other state institutions to retain Mnangagwa in power.
The CIO, police and the army under the Joint Operations Command (Joc) — a relic of the Rhodesia era — play a critical role in Zimbabwean elections. They are the cog in Zanu PF’s campaign and coercive machinery.