ZANU PF internal political dynamics are expected to play out when President Emmerson Mnangagwa appoints the new Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) commander following the death of Edzai Absalom Chanyuka Chimonyo two weeks ago.
Chimonyo, who was re-assigned from the diplomatic service and appointed ZNA chief after the 2017 military coup which ousted long-time leader Robert Mugabe, was a dark horse. His appointment came as a surprise to many and critics viewed it as Mnangagwa’s coup-proofing strategy.
The age factor, experience and allegiances, according to insiders, will influence Mnangagwa’s appointment of the next army commander.
Following Mnangagwa’s takeover, there has been concern that the President has reserved key posts for people from only two provinces—Midlands and Masvingo— dominated by his ethnic Karanga tribe.
This, sources said, has unsettled some Zanu PF apparatchiks such as Mnangagwa’s deputy Constantino Chiwengwa, a retired military chief.
Phillip Valerio Sibanda with the late ZNA commander, the current Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commader, Isaac Moyo, the country’s top spy and Air Force of Zimbabwe boss Elson Moyo are all from the Midlands province.
Another army general, late Sibusiso Moyo, who was the face of the coup before being appointed Zimbabwe’s top diplomat, was also from the Midlands.
Chimonyo was from Masvingo province.
This week, The NewsHawks spoke to security sources and looked into the country’s laws to see whether or not Mnangagwa would spring another surprise.
Who are the big names?
Chimonyo’s appointment brought to the fore how Mnangagwa as Commander-in-Chief flexed his muscle by appointing a general who was not active instead of those who had played a leading role in wresting power from Mugabe.
Unlike previous army boss Constantino Chiwenga, who was ZNA chief before being appointed Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander following the death of Vitalis Zvinavashe, Chimonyo, whom insiders said had been close to Mnangagwa from the dark days of the Gukurahundi genocide, was largely seen as a dark horse.
“After being appointed ambassador by Mugabe, Chimonyo always wanted to identify himself as a soldier first then diplomat,” a source said.
“Mnangagwa made sure that Chimonyo was brought back into the military.”
His ascendancy has heightened speculation that Mnangagwa, who is known for playing his cards close to his chest, may consider retired servicemen who are in diplomatic service.
Zimbabwe, according to official records, currently has three retired army generals who are serving in diplomatic service.
These are Lieutenant-General Martin Chedondo (retired) who is Zimbabwe’s ambassador to China, Lieutenant-General (retired) Anselem Nhamo Sanyatwe (ambassador to Tanzania) and Major-General (retired) Tando Madzvamuse.
Other ex senior military officers include Air Vice Marshal Shebba Shumbayaonda (retired), who is Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Egypt, former Air Force deputy chief Titus Abu-Basuthu, who is Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Japan and Colonel Christian Katsande (retired).
Brigadier-General Michael Sango (ambassador to Russia) is the only serving military man in diplomatic service at the highest level. Sango is understood to enjoy close links with Mnangagwa.
Another former high-ranking military man who was posted to diplomatic service until the time of his death was Lt-General (Rtd) Douglas Nyikayaramba (Mozambique).
Nyikayaramba, who was retired in the army and was believed to be close to Mugabe after having served as election administration chief, died early this year due to Covid-19 complications.
In terms of army hierarchy, Katsande, who was elevated to the rank of colonel after retirement and Madzvamuse, exited the army at lower rank than their compatriots in diplomatic service.
Sanyatwe, sources said, was unlikely to bounce back into active service as he is widely seen as a close ally of Chiwenga.
The former commander of the Presidential Guard was briefly promoted to the rank of major-general before being retired and posted to Tanzania. His former unit together with the Mechanised Brigade which is stationed at Inkomo Garrison played a key role in pushing Mugabe out of power.
Another name which has also been tipped to become the next chief by sources who believe that Vice-President Chiwenga may influence the process is Lieutenant-General Engelbert Rugeje, the former Zanu PF political commissar who left military service before being retired and appointed to run the governing party’s commissariat.
The generals within Zimbabwe
Sources said if Mnangagwa is to follow the principle of natural progression, either Chimonyo’s immediate subordinate, Major-General David Sigauke, who is the most senior army chief among Chimonyo’s three immediate subordinates, will take the job.
Sigauke, during his days as commander of the Mechanised Brigade, was slapped with a travel ban to New Zealand. He is the current ZNA chief of staff (general staff).
He works closely with another former Mechanised Brigade commander, Major-General Paul Chima, who is the chief of staff in charge of administration. The other major-general, Hlanganani Dube, is in charge of the army’s quartermaster roles.
Sources further said if Mnangagwa were to promote a senior general from the ZDF to succeed Chimonyo, Major-General John Chris Mupande would be the ideal candidate as his appointment is more senior than the ZNA chiefs. The ZDF is made up of the ZNA and the Air Force of Zimbabwe.
The ZNA, which has a statutory strength of 40 000 active personnel, is however the primary branch of the ZDF responsible for land-oriented military operations. ZNA reserves claim another 21 800, putting the combined component strength total at about 51 800.
“Mupande, just like Sanyatwe and Rugeje, are viewed by those around Mnangagwa as close to Chiwenga and this may minimise chances of their ascendancy. With the 2023 elections coming up, Mnangagwa would prefer a loyalist to fight from his corner. We may end up seeing the politics of clansmanship playing out,” a source said.
The age factor, sources said, will limit the chances of retired generals who are now mainly focusing on their business interests instead of politics.
What does constitution say about appointments?
Section 216 of Zimbabwe’s constitution speaks on the ZDF and services within the military.
(1) An Act of Parliament may provide that— (a) the Defence Forces are to be under the command of a single Commander; or
(b) each service of the Defence Forces, or any two or more of them jointly, are to be under the command of a separate Commander.
(2) Every Commander of the Defence Forces, and every Commander of a service of the Defence Forces, is appointed by the President after consultation with the Minister responsible for the Defence Forces.
(3) Commanders of the Defence Forces and Commanders of services of the Defence Forces, are appointed for a term of not more than five years, and a person must not serve in any one of those offices for more than two terms.
(4) A person who has served as Commander of a service of the Defence Forces may be appointed as Commander of the Defence Forces, but a person who has served as Commander of the Defence Forces may not be appointed as Commander of a service of the Defence Forces or to the command of any other security service.
(5) Every Commander of the Defence Forces, and every Commander of a service of the Defence Forces, must exercise his or her command in accordance with general written policy directives given by the Minister responsible for the Defence Forces acting under the authority of the President
About the ZNA
The ZNA was formed in 1980 from elements of the Rhodesian Army, integrated to a greater extent with combatants from the Zimbabwe National Liberation Army (Zanla) and the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (Zpra) guerrilla movements.
At Independence in 1980 and the cantonment of the Zanla and Zpra under Operation Midford, British Army trainers (the British Military Advisory Training Team, BMATT) coordinated the integration of guerrilla fighters into a unified army.