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Mugabe Turns Back on Makoni Allies

President distances himself from top officials suspected of backing his rival’s election bid.
By Hativagone Mushonga

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe now trusts no-one and is sidelining his top army and intelligence officers whom he suspects of involvement in Simba Makoni’s bid to oust him in the presidential election later this month, say senior ZANU-PF sources.

The sources say that Mugabe is relying on junior officers or brigadiers to report to him instead of to army chiefs. Director-general of the Central Intelligence Organisation, CIO, Happyton Bonyongwe, and his deputies have not been spared, either. Their junior intelligence officers are now said to be reporting directly to Mugabe.

Bonyongwe might face the axe because Mugabe is no longer sure where his allegiance lies, given his close links to former army commander General Solomon Mujuru, believed to be the chief architect of the Makoni project, say the sources. CIO director Elias Kanengoni – convicted of the attempted murder of political activist Patrick Kombayi in 1990 – is tipped to take over from Bonyongwe.

Kanengoni and his accomplice Kizito Chivamba were sentenced to seven years behind bars for shooting and injuring Kombayi, then the national organising secretary of the now-defunct Zimbabwe Unity Movement, ZUM. However, the pair never spent a minute behind bars as Mugabe immediately pardoned them.

Mugabe’s close security unit has now been tasked with attending public meetings and press discussions organised by Makoni, who shocked the ruling ZANU-PF party when he announced on February 5 his intention to challenge Mugabe in the March 29 election to the presidency, parliament and local government. This unit reports directly to Mugabe and not to the CIO director-general and his deputies.

Although the army chiefs’ tenures were extended, they are still being linked to the Makoni election challenge, which claims to have the backing of at least 90 per cent of ZANU-PF’s politburo members and senior army and top central intelligence officers who want to oust the 84-year-old leader.

It is not clear why Air Marshal Perence Shiri’s term of office, which expires in April, was not extended together with those of other service chiefs but he is believed to be a close ally of Mujuru. Both hail from the same rural area in Chikomba in Mashonaland East.

The tenures of General Constantine Chiwenga, chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, and Lieutenant-General Phillip Valerio Sibanda, Zimbabwe National Army commander, were extended to 2013.

A politburo member requesting anonymity told IWPR that if Makoni did not have the backing of Mugabe’s top intelligence officers, his announcement would not have shocked Mugabe and ZANU-PF the way that it did.

“Where was Mugabe’s intelligence when the idea was mooted to front Makoni? Several meetings were held over a very long period with most of Mugabe’s trusted comrades. What angers the old man is that he was being surrounded by people who were plotting to get rid of him.

“I don’t think many can truly stand up now and deny that they were never involved at one stage or the other. When Makoni’s people are talking about having the backing of senior army and intelligence officers, this is not a figment of their imagination.

“Truthfully, I don’t think the old man trusts anybody. People know that now and that is why they are all rushing to denounce Makoni and distance themselves from him. I know that the ones doing so and making the most noise are the guilty ones and they feel the need to exonerate themselves fast before President Mugabe turns on each one of them.”

At a recent rally in Bulawayo, former home affairs minister Dumiso Dabengwa came out in support of Makoni. He is the biggest heavyweight yet to have openly backed him.

Press reports have linked the following to the Makoni project - Mashonaland East governor Ray Kaukonde, former Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander Vitalis Zvinavashe, and former Masvingo provincial chairman Dzikamai Mavhaire.

Women’s League head Oppah Muchinguri has distanced herself from Makoni and is said to be part of Mugabe’s new inner circle. Despite reports that they were backing Makoni, ZANU-PF chairperson John Nkomo and Vice-President Joseph Msika have distanced themselves from him.

Zvinavashe, who retired a few years ago and is a successful businessman and a member of the ZANU-PF politburo, has always made public his feelings on the need for new leadership. “When we went to war we did not fight for a single person but for all of us. But what the president is doing now defeats the whole purpose of our having gone to war,” he told a Zimbabwean news site in January.

“By clinging to power Mugabe is betraying the essence of the liberation struggle. I may also want to be president one day, but if one clings on to power for too long, how do you expect youngsters to be leaders of tomorrow? The president has played his part and should go immediately, to give a chance to others whom we feel have the guts to shape a good Zimbabwe."

Mugabe launched his ZANU-PF election manifesto in Harare on February 29, questioning the loyalty of some parliamentary candidates representing the ruling party. The veteran Zimbabwean leader who is seeking a new five-year term at the polls at the end of the month, described those of Makoni’s backers who were still in ZANU-PF as “two-faced”.

At the launch, Mugabe also accused former colonial power Britain of using Makoni to sponsor a rebellion against him in the ruling party.

“You who are with us here, I hope we can trust you,” Mugabe told the crowd of about 4 000, including ZANU-PF candidates, at the Harare International Conference Centre.

“The traitors and sell outs, the political witches and political prostitutes, political charlatans and the two-headed political creatures must be confined to the dustbins of history.”

In giving a vote of thanks at the launch, Vice-President Msika distanced himself and a few other ZANU-PF heavyweights, including Dabengwa, from Makoni. But Dabengwa defected to the Makoni camp a day later.

Makoni has repeatedly stressed that he is working with people in ZANU-PF to bring political change to Zimbabwe. Speaking at the rally in Bulawayo on March 1, Dabengwa confirmed that Makoni did indeed have the backing of some of top ZANU-PF officials.

“We gave him our support and we found that there was no way out but to take this step,” he said.

Dabengwa became the first ruling party heavyweight to come out in support of Makoni. “Our condition today arises primarily from the failure of national leadership,” he said.

Dabengwa, who is 69, said that for a long time he had tried to work with fellow politburo members to facilitate a "smooth transition" after realising that the ZANU-PF leadership “was getting old”.

He said one such discussion took place in Cape Town, South Africa, where he met Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Makoni and they agreed that it had become urgent to replace the aging leadership. Chinamasa’s heart must have skipped a beat when he heard his name - he was always believed to be one of the few remaining staunch supporters of Mugabe in the politburo.

IWPR’s source in the politburo member said Mugabe feared being dumped at the last minute by his comrades, which might be the Makoni’s camp strategy for getting rid of the president.

Hativagone Mushonga is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.

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