PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has purged top military commanders suspected to be aligned to his ailing deputy Constantino Chiwenga in a move seen as consolidating his hold on power and scuttling another possible coup.
Mnangagwa himself took over power after a coup toppled former President Robert Mugabe in November 2017.
Yesterday, Mnangagwa retired three Major-Generals and an Air Vice-Marshal from the military and said they would be reassigned to the diplomatic service, taking them off active military service and command.
Former head of the presidential guard, Anselem Sanyatwe, who was recently promoted from Brigadier-General to Major-General after he commanded a standby force that quelled last August’s post-election violence, resulting in the death of six people, was retired.
Also discharged from the military were Major-Generals Douglas Nyikayaramba, Martin Chedondo and Air Vice-Marshal Shebba Shumbayaonda, who are now set to join the less influential foreign mission posts.
“The Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet Dr M J M Sibanda today (Monday) announced the decision by His Excellency the President Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa to retire and reassign senior military officers to the diplomatic services in line with government’s critical global engagement and re-engagement strategy,” a government statement said yesterday.
Sanyatwe, who is seen as a close ally to Chiwenga, is reportedly earmarked for a diplomatic posting to Tanzania, where he will replace Absolom Chimonyo, who is now Zimbabwe National Army commander, while Chedondo was bound for China to replace Paul Chikawa, who is heading home for reassignment.
Nyikayaramba is expected to be reassigned to a diplomatic post in Mozambique, taking over from a fellow Major-General, Nicholas Mahuhuba Dube.
Shumbayaonda is reportedly set to be deployed to Sudan to replace Hilda Suka-Mafudze, who was appointed during the inclusive government as an MDC representative seconded by the now late Morgan Tsvangirai.
She remained in diplomatic service after the expiry of the coalition government in 2013, with indications that she had deserted the opposition for Zanu PF.
“The generals were feared by some close allies of the President. Some even suspect that what happened last month could have been engineered by some members of the army and some of these guys are being suspected,” a source said.
Unconfirmed reports have persisted of a second base of power within government allegedly led by Chiwenga.
Mnangagwa himself has denied a possible rift with his deputy at both government and party level, despite being forced to abandon his European tour to return home at the height of protests last month, amid talk of a possible coup.
Another source said the top commanders were seen as too loyal to Chiwenga, their former boss before the 2017 coup, and were seen as a threat to Mnangagwa’s hold on power.
“A lot of backbiting has been happening within the system. Sanyatwe was seen as too powerful and popular within the rank and file of the military because of his close association with the junior officers. While he was commander PG, he would interact with junior officers and knows how a military takeover could be executed,” a senior government official said.
Since taking over in 2017, Mnangagwa has been on a drive to appease the military bosses through promotions, although purging senior police and Central Intelligence Organisation officers, as they were seen as being anti-establishment.
At the height of their careers, some of the retired commanders courted controversy mainly through their statements in support of the ruling Zanu PF.
Just recently, Sanyatwe invited scorn on himself after he disputed video evidence of soldiers shooting at civilians on August 1.
He claimed that the soldiers were not targeting civilians, but were shooting at a 45 degrees angle.
Days later, he was promoted to Major-General.
Nyikayaramba, who had a brief stay at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and Copac, was widely accused of openly supporting and defending Zanu PF against the constitutional demands for serving army officers.
Although army commanders serve at Mnangagwa’s mercy, reports say he sacked the four for easy control of the military in the increasingly unstable political environment.