PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa, currently on annual leave at a time Zimbabwe is battling the intensifying Covid-19 pandemic, including attendant deaths, was last week forced to abandon a trip to his Sherwood farm in Kwekwe after several security personnel and his farm manager tested positive, The NewsHawks can reveal.
This comes just a few months after Mnangagwa made drastic changes to his security team after nearly 20 soldiers from the Presidential Guard Brigade, including some that were deployed to his motorcade, tested Covid-19 positive a few days before the arrival of his visiting Malawian counterpart Lazarus Chakwera last October.
Zimbabwe this week recorded its highest daily death toll when 34 people succumbed to the infection on Tuesday. At least 13 more died the following day – Wednesday – bringing the total death toll to 431.
At least 15 more people died yesterday, meaning 446 fatalities.
While Mnangagwa was going away on leave, the rising Covid-19 cases and fatalities prompted co-Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, who also doubles as Health minister, to announce a 30-day lockdown last week which began on Tuesday.
Sources told The NewsHawks that four soldiers from 2 Presidential Guard, located in Harare’s Dzivaresekwa suburb, 10 Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) personnel and seven police officers from the Police Protection Unit underwent Covid-19 tests ahead of Mnangagwa’s Kwekwe trip. The tests were conducted last week on Wednesday at State House, sources said.
Mnangagwa’s security includes the CIO, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (VVIP Police Protection Unit) and the military which entails the Presidential Guard and the Special Air Service.
The yellow-beret military personnel from Dzivaresekwa provide security to the head of state when he travels outside the capital to places such as his Pricabe farm in Sherwood just outside Kwekwe.
“The President’s security team underwent Covid-19 tests at State House which involved inserting a six-inch-long swab into the nose (nasopharyngeal swab) for 15 seconds and rotating it several times,” a source in the Health ministry told The NewsHawks.
“It came as a shock when results came out. The President’s security team had been struck by the virus and thankfully most of them are asymptomatic at this stage. A farm manager who is also related to the President also tested positive. His trip had to be abandoned.”
Contacted for comment, presidential spokesperson George Charamba said he was not in the office, but referred this reporter to the principal director in Chiwenga’s office, whose phone was unreachable. Last year, Mnangagwa changed his security team when soldiers tested positive for Covid-19.
The drastic security changes came less than three years after he rotated the security personnel in the Presidential Guard Brigade subsequent to the 2017 coup that brought him to power before the elections.
Soon after the coup, Mnangagwa appointed former Presidential Guard commander Nhamo Anselem Sanyatwe to serve in the diplomatic service in Tanzania.
Sanyatwe, a key military officer who played a critical role in the ouster of the late long-time leader Robert Mugabe, was replaced by Fidelis Mhonda, who was first deputised by David Nyasha, recently promoted to Brigadier-General. Mnangagwa’s former aide-de-camp Never Jones Makuyana took over from Nyasha.
Following Mhonda’s appointment, commissioned and non-commissioned officers from 1 Presidential Guard Barracks were moved to the Dzivaresekwa Barracks in what key security sources said was an unprecedented move.
The then commander of 2PG, Samson Murombo, was deployed to 1PG before being briefly appointed Mnangagwa’s aide-de-camp. Murombo was later deployed to the All Arms Battle School after clashes with First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa.
Sources further said cases of Covid-19 have in the past few months been detected at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe School of Intelligence in Msasa Park, Harare, where more than 50 security service personnel tested positive.
A few months ago workers at Zanu PF headquarters, including high-ranking officials, were forced into self-quarantine after many people tested positive to the virus which poses a renewed threat to Zimbabwe.