HARARE – Vice President Constantino Chiwenga has said he arranged for the escape of then vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa in the wake of his abrupt removal from the post by fallen despot Robert Mugabe.
Speaking for the first time about the behind-the-scenes manoeuvres that enabled Mnangagwa to escape after his defenestration, Chiwenga told mourners in Gokwe South at the burial of Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander General Valerio Sibanda’s mother, Yowana Kubvoruno, yesterday that he played a huge role in ensuring the safety of Mnangagwa.
Sibanda’s mother died on Friday at Gokwe District Hospital at the age of 98.
Mnangagwa’s sacking was a culmination of intense vilification by Mugabe’s wife, Grace, who persistently accused him of harbouring a plot to dethrone her husband.
When he got fired, Mnangagwa lost no time in making good his widely publicised escape to South Africa via the Mozambican border.
“We are here to celebrate the life of Mbuya maDube who is a heroine in her own right. From her womb out came heroes like General Sibanda.”
“Today I want to say something I have never told anyone, a secret that has been kept between me and general Sibanda,” Chiwenga said.
“… Sibanda is truly a brave hero. When the then vice president was fired from government in November last year, I was away in China on national duty.
“… Sibanda called me to advise me of the sad development…I then told him that … Mnangagwa’s life could be at stake so please make sure he is safe.”
Chiwenga had left Harare on November 5 in a pre-arranged official trip to China, which wields significant influence as a major investor in Zimbabwe. Chiwenga’s visit was “a normal military exchange mutually agreed upon by China and Zimbabwe.”
A day later, Mugabe sacked Mnangagwa as vice president and purged him from Zanu PF.
“… Sibanda is the one who orchestrated our President’s escape through the Mozambique border and he sent two soldiers, one of them had no passport,” Chiwenga said.
“They managed to safely whisk him away through the border and they left him in Mozambique and came back using the same border. When I came back, we sat and insisted that we want this to be a peaceful operation. Sibanda coined the name Operation Restore Legacy.”
In an interview with an international publication concerning details of the escape, Mnangagwa’s son Emmerson Jnr has previously said he and his fugitive father traversed landmine-infested, rocky mountains on the Mozambican side of the border area.
Mugabe sacked his long-time ally on November 7 for showing “traits of disloyalty”, removing a favourite to succeed the 94-year-old leader and boosting the likelihood of Grace, the then first lady, becoming his next deputy and potential successor.
After his sacking and the subsequent withdrawal of security details assigned to him and his house, Mnangagwa skipped the Mozambican border, fleeing what he said were “assassins” for “a safe place” in neighbouring South Africa.
Just after he left, he said he had been “vilified beyond measure” and was being “hounded by minnows who have no liberation credentials”.
“I will return to Zimbabwe to lead you,” Mnangagwa said in a potent statement that came to pass after he was enthroned Zimbabwe President on November 24 after a military assisted ouster of Mugabe.