Zimbabwe’s military neutralised former police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri and former Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister Happyton Bonyongwe after they became a political threat by opposing the November soft coup that ousted Robert Mugabe, a comprehensive report on the military takeover says.
According to a document titled a “Summary of the issues and concerns of the command element communicated to his Excellency the President of Zimbabwe and commander-in-chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Cde RG Mugabe through the Father Mukonori”, in the two days from November 15 to 16, over 2 000 soldiers were deployed to operate tanks on the streets and some deployed to occupy the State broadcaster, from where the army had announced it had taken control of Zimbabwe.
Then major general Sibusiso Moyo, now Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister, appeared on State television on the morning of November 15 to announce the military intervention with the memorable words “the situation in our country has moved to a new level.”
The report claims Chihuri and Bonyongwe — who were fired just after Mugabe’s ouster — were vehemently against the military takeover and almost launched a countermeasure only to be neutralised by the army under the command of then Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander, Constantino Chiwenga, who is now President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s deputy.
Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba and then acting Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) boss Aaron Nhepera, who were tasked by the military to “accompany and assist Father Fidelis Mukonori” in talks with Mugabe and his wife, Grace, at the couple’s palatial Borrowdale mansion, compiled the report.
“(Mugabe) was informed of a serious attack on inter-agency cohesion within the establishment by the aforementioned cabal (Generation 40) which appeared to have influenced key departments of national security. The impact had been the virtual collapse of the national Joint Operations Command (JOC) through which issues relating to the national security were dealt with collectively, and jointly represented to the head of State.
“This vital structure had given way to narrow departmental reports and de-briefings which not only misrepresented the national security situation but also provided a conduit for briefings with the commander-in-chief that were based on self-serving falsehoods and character assassinations calculated to settle vendettas,” reads the report undersigned by Charamba, Nhepera and Mukonori.
According to the report, only a few top security officials had access to Mugabe in the twilight of his 37-year-old rule.
“The command element blamed…Chihuri and the former director general of CIO…Bonyongwe,” it reads in part.
As a countermeasure to the military takeover, Bonyongwe reportedly called former commander of the Zimbabwe Air Force Perrance Shiri, asking him to come back from Dubai to launch a counter-operation, with the police forming the backbone of that operation.
“The president was informed that the command element had made it clear that a counter-force against their operation would constitute an escalation which was bound to lead to a bloody outcome,” reads the report.
In his first interview after the soft coup on Thursday, Mugabe said the army made sure the other organs of the State were neutralised completely.
“They neutralised the Central Intelligence Organisation, many of whose members were bashed, whose heads cracked. Some of them are missing to this day; their guns were taken away from them. The police had their armoury completely emptied. Their guns had gone, disappeared. Who had taken them? The army and there in the streets the tanks they rolled,” he said.
According to the document, Mugabe was waylaid to believe that the military intervention was designed to salvage his legacy—which was being soiled by the Generation 40 (G40) faction and apparently believed the commanders, who continued making hard demands, including that he would resolve the succession issue.
“The operation was meant to prop the authority of the president and buttress his constitutional roles in running affairs of both the party, Zanu-PF, and the nation of Zimbabwe. Equally, it was reported to the president that the command element undertook to ensure the safety and welfare of the entire first family both in present and for all times.
“The command element pledged loyalty to the president and expressed reverence to him as the only surviving leader from the epochal of the national liberation struggle, as the founding father of the nation of Zimbabwe and, above all, as a symbol and personification of the founding process, the struggle for national liberation and independence,” reads part of the document.
Fearing that the ruling party would lose the forthcoming elections, the military intervened to ensure the “electability” of Zanu-PF and avoid the 2008 scenario when Mugabe was convincingly beaten by the late opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the first round of elections only to return riding on the back of the army which orchestrated a reign of terror against opposition party supporters to ensure his victory, albeit in controversial circumstances that were condemned by regional bodies such as the Southern African Development Community.
“Against such a baneful background, the party risked creating conditions for the rise of ‘independent’ candidates in the forthcoming elections drawn from embittered members, thereby dividing its vote to its own detriment and against its own electoral prospects.
“Feedback from the over 2 000 commissars comprising retired senior officials from the army already embedded in the communities across the country pointed to worrisome, widespread disaffection and malaise within the party, against its leadership, its decisions and its management style,” it said.
Admitting to the bussing of supporters by Zanu-PF, the report also said Mugabe’s hugely attended interface rallies were deceptive in that most of the people who attended the meetings were the same across the provinces.
The command element, according to the report, also expressed concern at the fact that ahead of elections, Zanu-PF had nothing to show to the electorate apart from stalled projects such as the Harare-Beitbridge dualisation project and the Gwanda Solar project that has been mired in controversy and is now ensnaring controversial businessman Wicknell Chivayo, who once wined and dined with the Mugabe family.
Other security concerns that the military supremos raised included former Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo’s growing influence and association with the “first family, both direct and indirect” which they said “constituted a grave threat to national security, apart from undermining the standing of the first family in public eyes.”
And amid suspicions by the army that Moyo and former Zanu-PF political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere were holed up at Mugabe’s house, the army threatened to storm the then president’s homestead, according to the report.
In his interview on Thursday, Mugabe revealed how the former politburo members Moyo, Kasukuwere and Patrick Zhuwao escaped from the jaws of the military.
“Yes, once upon a time we assisted them to get to safety. Guns, volleys of bullets were being fired at their houses, on their houses and a cry came, ‘please, please’ and it was my wife, mama save us, please save us. I wasn’t there, she organised some of her security, and said go. Go and save them, what happens to you, I don’t know.
And she went and put together the cars and the persons that she had here. And so they were brought here to our house, Jonathan Moyo, Kasukuwere and their families,” he said.
“The one had about four children, wife… the other wife and three children. We kept them here and we said to them we will keep your family. We said that to the men. We said you men, have your way. Go where you can but we will keep your wives and your children here. And so they left and we don’t know how and we don’t know where they went. We don’t know where they went. And we kept their families here till the situation was slightly better, then they asked to get back to their homes.”
“The seriousness of the matter was underlined to the president when he was told the command element expected him to release the two, failure of which it may even consider plucking them out of Blue Roof, with the attendant consequences,” the report says.
“The president was also told of the fears on the part of the command element that the duo’s continued stay at the Blue Roof represented its lingering hold and influence on the first family at a time when delicate attempts were underway to reopen clogged channels of communication between the president and the command element.”
Also of concern to the command element was the fact that with Mnangagwa dropped from government as VP, their jobs were also under threat as the then all pervasive influence of the G40 faction was hanging over their heads.