Foreign Affairs Minister Sibusiso Moyo told Western diplomats before and after making an intemperate rant against the United States ambassador last week that he was not the originator of the statement.
Moyo issued a signed statement on October 31 which he also read at a media conference, threatening to expel Ambassador Brian Nichols for alleged meddling in Zimbabwe’s domestic affairs.
Now diplomatic sources have told ZimLive that Moyo – a well-regarded figure in diplomatic circles – gave signals before and after the statement was issued that it had been foisted on him by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office.
Before raging against Nichols, the two men met in Moyo’s office.
“SB is good,” one diplomat said. “We are satisfied he didn’t originate the statement, it was sent down from Mnangagwa’s office for him to take ownership of it.”
The revelations point to deep divisions within the government on how to approach United States sanctions on Zimbabwe – with Mnangagwa favouring aggressive diplomacy.
Moyo has been leading Zimbabwe’s efforts to re-engage with Western countries whose earlier optimism about Mnangagwa’s regime has given way to the kind of belligerence that typified Western diplomats’ dealings with longtime leader Robert Mugabe, who was ousted by the military in 2017 in a conspiracy with Mnangagwa.
Moyo is anxious not to end up on a list of 142 individuals and entities subject to a United States travel ban and asset freeze.
In the statement, he threatened that Zimbabwe would expel Ambassador Nichols and stop all contact with the United States embassy.
He appeared particularly angry with comments by Nichols blaming Zimbabwe’s economic woes on official corruption, citing the specific case of Sakunda Holdings owned by Kudakwashe Tagwirei which is accused of looting billions of dollars. Tagwirei is a benefactor of the regime, bankrolling some of the broke government’s programmes, like the controversial Command Agriculture which a parliamentary committee recently said was a conduit for industrial-scale theft from state coffers.
A decision by the United States to impose sanctions on State Security Minister Owen Ncube, accused of overseeing abductions of government critics and shutting down the internet during fuel protests in January, also rattled the regime coming a day after Mnangagwa led poorly-subscribed anti-sanctions marches on October 25.
The United States embassy is treating the statement issued by Moyo as “bluster”, ZimLive understands.
Said a diplomatic source: “Try to imagine a visa office in South Africa, or USAID withdrawing from Zimbabwe. Can you? Can they (the government)? I suspect not.”
Government spokesman Nick Mangwana dismissed any suggestion that Moyo was denouncing his own statement.
“Firstly, as you can see from the statement, it was signed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Honourable SB Moyo himself. I can assure you that his signature was not forged.
“Secondly, the statement was certainly prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the President or his office did not have an input in its content or tone.
“And lastly, it is not correct that the minister disowned the statement. Any such suggestions are just mischievous as the circulation of that statement was done per his expressed instructions.”
Sibusiso Moyo would not be the first minister to be tasked with putting out a statement with potentially significant ramifications for his career, and country. Simon Khaya Moyo, as Information Minister in 2017, was put in front of cameras to announce Mnangagwa’s sacking as vice president.
Khaya Moyo famously said Mnangagwa had “consistently and persistently exhibited traits of disloyalty, disrespect, deceitfulness and unreliability.”
“He has also demonstrated little probity in the execution of his duties,” he added.
Within weeks, Mnangagwa had staged a coup with the help of the military and Khaya Moyo survived in government after telling Mnangagwa and the military junta that he had received the statement from Mugabe’s office and was directed to read it to the media.