Army generals feared for their lives after putting former president Robert Mugabe under house arrest as they believed the 93-year-old’s loyalists were plotting a counter operation, newly released secret details of last year’s dramatic events reveal.
By XOLISANI NCUBE
According to minutes of delicate meetings between Mugabe and the generals led by then Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, General Constantino Chiwenga, there was deep mistrust among the security forces during the so-called “Operation Restore Legacy” that toppled Zimbabwe’s long time ruler.
The generals told Mugabe former Justice minister Happyton Bonyongwe, then police chief Augustine Chihuri and former Airforce commander Perrance Shiri at some point plotted a counter offensive against the military takeover of government.
There was also fear among the generals that former Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo was holed up at Mugabe’s Blue Roof mansion and was advising him to dig in, the minutes revealed.
The documents were made public on Friday as Mugabe’s loyalists launched an audacious continental and regional offensive against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, challenging its legitimacy.
The minutes are part of a petition sent by “victims” of Mugabe’s ouster to the African Union and the Sadc leaders requesting that a commission of inquiry be set up to probe and establish the constitutionality or otherwise of the change of leadership in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe resigned in the midst of an impeachment process led by parliamentarians.
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Through a political outfit calling itself New Patriotic Front — the “victims” have dispatched a 79-page document through a Johannesburg-based lawyer, Marius van Niekerk. The document contains minutes of all meetings between Mugabe’s negotiation team and military commanders and reveals tension between the military and the other two security bodies.
The minutes contain reasons why the army launched “Operation Restore Legacy” that ended Mugabe’s 37-year rule and saw Mnangagwa taking over. It is alleged that Bonyongwe approached then Airforce head Shiri — who was outside the country — to come back so that they could mobilise a counter.
“The president was informed that the command element (military leadership) had made it clear that a counter-force against their operation would constitute an escalation which was bound to lead to a bloody outcome‚” read the minutes.
The papers state that a text message purported to have been from Bonyongwe to Shiri was intercepted “The president was informed about mounting tensions and concerns within the command element triggered by a mobile communication message attributed to the new minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and former director-general of the Central Intelligence Organisation [Rtd] General Happyton Bonyongwe to Air Marshal Perrance Shiri who is in Dubai on official business, allegedly urging him to fly back and join in efforts towards a counter operation whose backbone would be the police force commanded by Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri,” read the minutes of the meeting.
Bonyongwe has since disappeared into thin air while Chihuri was retired from the police force.
According to the minutes, Matanga attended one of the inaugural meetings held by top military bosses as they plotted to mount the military operation against Mugabe.
Matanga has since been appointed acting Police Commissioner-General while his other peers within the force who were perceived to be loyal to Chihuri and Mugabe have been retired.
After his ouster, Mugabe retreated to private life‚ but on Tuesday he held a private meeting with Joice Mujuru — an opposition leader — raising questions on his support of the new leadership.
According to minutes, the military bosses were also afraid that Mugabe wanted to charge them with treason for their acts — a threat which they alleged was being pursued by Bonyongwe.
When Mugabe was put under house arrest, the military tasked Catholic cleric, Father Fidelis Mukonori and then acting CIO director-general, Aaron Nhepera as well as presidential spokesperson, George Charamba to mediate between them and their Commander-in-Chief. The process resulted in Mugabe stepping down.
“The president was told, hard decisions could not be stalled any longer, and had to be made in the interest of survival of the party and its revolutionary traditions,” the minutes read.
The military according to documents, was worried that the G40 cabal had captured the intelligence and police commanders through Chihuri and Bonyongwe as they misinformed Mugabe through their briefings and made the National Joint Operations Command dysfunctional.
The military bosses, the minutes allege, were worried over non-availability of work contracts and threats that they would be fired from the military due to political allegiances.
“The Commander-in-Chief was informed that only the positions of the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Commander of the Zimbabwe National Army, Commander Airforce of Zimbabwe, Commissioner-Generals of police and prisons and the Director General of the Central Intelligence Organisation, had term limits in terms of the new Constitution. However, the command element could not understand why there seemed to be an attempt to invoke the term limits clause retrospectively, and in ways that selectively applied to the security establishment only,” the report says.
The minutes further alleged that Mugabe was accused by the military commanders that he was hiding Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasukuwere at his private residence. He was warned of dire consequences if he did not release them to the commanders who wanted to ensure that they were arrested on allegations of corruption and abuse of office.
The duo, however, resurfaced outside the country with Moyo claiming he was saved by angels and owed his gratitude to Mugabe and his wife Grace.
“His Excellency the president was informed of the anger and frustration of the command element following confirmed reports that both the ruling party’s political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere and Jonathan Moyo and their families had been granted refuge at the First Family’s Blue Roof residence,” the minutes read.
“The president was also told of the fears on the part of the command element that the duo’s continued stay at the Blue Roof represented its lingering hold and influence on the First Family at a time when delicate attempts were underway to reopen clogged channels of communication between the two sides.”
The army also reportedly stated that they were afraid that Zanu PF would lose the forthcoming general elections.
“In any case, Zanu PF needed to muster votes from all provinces for a resounding victory, and thus could not afford alienating entire communities and regions through divisive political rhetoric,” the minutes read.
While Bonyongwe and Charamba were not reachable yesterday, Acting Information minister, Simon Khaya Moyo dismissed the petition made to the AU by the new political outfit whose backers are believed to be G40 members.
“I can’t comment on a mirage. I don’t know who NPF is and the so-called party. I don’t know if the people you think are the authors of the document are real ones. So really, it would be impossible for me to comment on that,” Khaya Moyo said.