HARARE – President Emmerson Mnangagwa yesterday effected yet another major shake-up of the top brass of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) — retiring four top military bosses this time, in a move which political analysts said was a sign that he was further fortifying his political power.
Since taking over the country’s political reigns from ousted former president Robert Mugabe in November 2017, Mnangagwa has been systematically effecting root and branch changes to Zimbabwe’s security sector, which is key in both the ruling Zanu PF’s and national politics.
Chief Secretary to the president and Cabinet, Misheck Sibanda — who announced the retirement of the powerful military chiefs — said the long-serving senior officers would join the Foreign Affairs ministry, before being redeployed to diplomatic missions.
Sibanda also said the reassignments of the four securocrats — major generals Martin Chedondo, Douglas Nyikayaramba, Anselem Sanyatwe and vice air marshal Shebba Shumbayawonda — was in line with the government’s “critical global engagement and re-engagement strategy”.
“Government will release accreditation details for each of the senior officers once various bilateral consultations are concluded,” Sibanda added, before thanking the four officers for serving “their country with honour and dedication in the ZDF”.
Sanyatwe had been brigadier general and the head of the Presidential Guard until last December when he was promoted to the rank of major general — weeks after he controversially absolved his troops of the killings of six civilians on August 1, 2018 in Harare, when the army used live ammunition to break ugly demonstrations in the capital city’s central business district.
He did this during the hearing into the August 1 killings by a commission of inquiry which was chaired by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe.
Reacting to the changes, political analysts told the Daily News yesterday that Mnangagwa was “clearly” moving to consolidate his political power both in government and in Zanu PF.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, said the retirement of the powerful generals was consistent with Mnangagwa’s ongoing re-configuration of the security services, to fortify his power and to reflect his own political image.
“He (Mnangagwa) is reconfiguring his power base … We know that those who facilitate your rise to power can also cause your fall.
“He is effectively ring-fencing his power and doing so when his deputy (VP Constantino Chiwenga) is away … probably so that this becomes a fait accompli (irreversible).
“It was known that Nyikayaramba was no longer in good books with the powers-that-be, but I am not sure about the others.
“What is clear is that he (Mnangagwa) is shielding himself against any potential threat because there is an ever present threat of a coup, particularly for a leadership that came to power through the military,” Masunungure added.
“Those who removed Mugabe are still there and Mnangagwa is keenly aware of that threat and that his term could thus be aborted. Those fears are real even though they may be exaggerated,” Masunungure further told the Daily News.
Senior consultant at the International Crisis Group, Piers Pigou, said the retirement of the military chiefs was significant but should not necessarily be seen as signifying potential flashpoints in Zanu PF politics.
“With respect to the appointment of the four generals into the diplomatic corps, with their retirement from the military, certainly it is a … way of removing them from the domestic political scene.
“Unless you are a professional diplomat, this has the hallmark of a political move by Mnangagwa to consolidate his political position with respect to certain individuals he wants to move aside.
“It appears Mnangagwa has been trying to consolidate his position and of course with the absence of Vice President Constantino Chiwenga who is in India, people will see this as moving while Chiwenga is away.
“However, it seems to me unlikely that he might have done this without some kind of consultation with Chiwenga,” Pigou said.
“I also think that a most important point to lay on the table is that it may have implications internally for Zanu PF and the dynamics between the military and Zanu PF.
“Still, this does not provide us with any forward looking insights with respect to the central problems of the absence of proper civilian control over the military and of course the blatant continuing political partisanship of the military,” Pigou added.
Mnangagwa succeeded Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s second executive president following the fall of the long ruling nonagenarian who was dethroned from power in stunning fashion when the military staged a soft coup on November 15, 2017.
That military intervention was code-named Operation Restore Legacy, and saw Mugabe and his then influential wife being placed under house arrest.
The nonagenarian later resigned moments after Parliament had started damaging proceedings to impeach him.
Several Cabinet ministers linked to the G40 faction, which had coalesced around the erratic Grace, were also targeted in the military operation.
The annihilated G40 — with the visible help of Mugabe and Grace — was, before the military intervention, locked in a bitter war with Mnangagwa and his supporters for control of both Zanu PF and the country.