After narrowly escaping an assassination attempt in Bulawayo on Saturday, President Emmerson Mnangagwa is due to institute a top-to-bottom review of security agencies’ protocols after the bombing incident exposed serious lapses in his close security.
The Daily News can exclusively report that there would be a sweeping overhaul of security agencies’ advance work and protective details, better radio technology and more agents by the president’s side at all times.
While the protection of the president has primarily been the autonomous duty of the Police Protection Unit (PPU), this role was delegated to the Presidential Guard, which falls under the Zimbabwe National Army, after the fall of former president Robert Mugabe in November last year.
In the wake of the November coup that toppled the long-ruling despot, there were expulsions of high-ranking Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) officers.
In fact, the army, which deactivated other security agents as it swooped on Mugabe and his allies in a month-long operation code-named Operation Restore Legacy, dealt harshly with members of the police and CIO netted during the coup.
This frayed relations between these critical security organs which had deteriorated due to differences over the protracted Zanu PF succession wrangle.
On Saturday, there were fundamental lapses in Mnangagwa’s protective security as seen in failure to conduct a thorough prior inspection of White City Stadium — the venue of Saturday’s rally — and the people attending the event.
His security also allowed the president, along with his two deputies — Constantino Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi — along with other VVIPs to leave the rally together, and failure to deploy counter-assault strategies that allowed the attacker to get away.
The undetected escape of the assassins has been blasted by analysts canvassed by the Daily News as a vivid illustration of the bungling and derelict in the security agencies’ duties.
By yesterday, police were still to identify a suspect or motive behind the attacks, and the clues revealed publicly have only deepened the mystery.
Police spokesperson Charity Charamba on Sunday issued an appeal for information, offering an unspecified reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator.
It’s not the first time that Mnangagwa’s security has been breached.
At a Zanu PF youth interface rally in Gweru earlier this month, a losing Zanu PF councillor from Masvingo, Moses Mavusa, tried to grab his hand on stage, seeking a photo opportunity.
Mnangagwa pushed him aside in a faux pas beamed live on State TV.
The Daily News understands that Mnangagwa’s security detail is having a torrid time because he loves to mingle, to get in the middle of huge crowds, and feed off the energy of huge crowds.
Contacted for comment on Sunday, presidential spokesperson George Charamba told the Daily News that the White City Stadium moment left an indelible mark that will permanently change security agencies charged with protecting the president.
He admitted that it was unwise to have the president and his two deputies open to the prospect of an assassination.
“It’s too ghastly a thought to contemplate,” he told the Daily News.
“And I agree with you but that’s the nature of star rallies, they are meant to demonstrate the unity of the leadership, that’s how we have always structured them but obviously after Bulawayo, there would have to be a major rethink if not in terms of format, but certainly in terms of the security arrangement. I agree with you, really, we put all our eggs in one basket. That is not something that is normally done,” Charamba said.
Charamba said there was an inter-agency security arrangement around the president.
“It’s never for any one agency. The only thing that has changed and which you have seen is that the ADC is no longer coming from the police, which by the way was the original plan,” Charamba said referring to the Presidential Aide De Camp (ADC).
“During Banana’s presidency, it was the ministry which provided the ADC. This was changed much later into being the exclusive domain of the police.”
Asked if the new ADC’s rules of engagement were not too passive to adequately protect the president given events in Bulawayo, Charamba said: “What do you mean? The presidential guard (PG) is the most robust unit.”
He admitted the changes were ushered in after Operation Restore Legacy, the military intervention that ousted Mugabe in November last year.
“Well, you always review security arrangements. Let me tell you something, the role of secret service is to get the president out of danger, and the PG is the one that then deals with the danger itself. So you can never underestimate their capacity.
“And in any case, our structure is such that you have a convergence of agencies around the person of the president, the idea being to demonstrate that unity of the security establishment which is what we almost didn’t have in the previous dispensation and which is what created friction between maagencies,” Charamba told the Daily News.
Charamba denied that the extremely poor performance of the president’s bodyguards was because of the purge of the secret service and police’s PPU.
“I don’t think it’s the deployment format which needs to be questioned. I think it’s just a matter of re-examining the environment in the wake of the current threat, which we never got used to and I see lots of review happening in a very extensive way,” he told the Daily News.
Asked if he did not think the Presidential Guard’s inability to deter probably one lightly armed, demented individual from breaching the president’s defences and the VIP stage with a weapon, the security proved it was not prepared to hold back a coordinated attack by multiple attackers, Charamba retorted: “Why are you raising this as a unique question for Zimbabwe. It’s a question that arises in any country.”
In the previous dispensation, the presidential security created fences, buffer zones and checkpoints around the grounds.
Asked if he did not think the security lapse would embolden the attackers, Charamba said not necessarily.
“It depends on how robust the response is going to be and you will notice, there will be quite a robust response and it’s going to be encompassing, there is no doubt about it,” he said.