PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa edgy administration, battling to contain a restive populace amid a worsening economic crisis, has engaged the Israeli government for possible deployment of security experts to Harare to train local forces in public order enforcement, among other security services, it emerged this week.
This comes at a time Zimbabwe’s human rights record has deteriorated sharply largely due to Harare’s heavy-handed approach when dealing with dissent.
Since grabbing power through a military coup that toppled long time ruler Robert Mugabe in 2017, Mnangagwa’s embattled administration has resorted to brute force to contain swelling civil unrest, which has resulted in the death of scores of civilians at the hands of state security agents.
In the aftermath of the disputed 2018 elections, state security agents shot dead six civilians while injuring a dozen others as they battled to contain protesters who were demanding the immediate announcement of results of the hotly contested polls.
Early last year, state security agents also killed 12 civilians as they battled to quash nationwide protests which flared up after government increased the price of fuel by 150%.
Zimbabwe’s honorary consul in Israel, Ronny Levvy Musan, this week told the Zimbabwe Independent from his base in Tel Aviv that following his consultations with Mnangagwa, efforts were underway to bring in the highly acclaimed Israeli security experts to train Zimbabwe’s military, police and intelligence on how to effectively contain civil disobedience.
Musan was appointed honorary consul in Israel by Mnangagwa in August as Harare sought to build cordial relations with Jerusalem.
Musan said: “Zimbabweans have a bit of problems on human rights because of lack of training of security forces. I am in touch with highly trained security professionals in Israel. We are working on plans to bring them. We will put our proposal to the Israeli security institutions. For now, I cannot mention them (institutions) by name. But the Israeli defence force has many departments.
“I spoke with His Excellency (Mnangagwa) about defence and we observed what we can do.
“We need approval from Israeli institutions. There are security professionals I am in touch with. I would like to bring them to Zimbabwe to train the police on how to control civilians,” Musan said.
The centrepiece of the envisaged training of local security forces by Israeli military and intelligence experts, Musan said, would crystallise with the establishment of a “defence academy” in Harare.
Harare already has a state-of-the-art defence college built at a cost of US$98 million from funds availed by China. Plans are underway to set up a special forces training school in Kariba by the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA). The school will help members of the army to undergo rigorous training in various fields.
“We are thinking of establishing a defence academy that will serve Zimbabwe and other countries in the region for purposes of training. This will create jobs for the people of Zimbabwe,” the diplomat told the Independent this week.
“For example, you have the Special Forces and army. They tend to use extra force on citizens. We have vast experience in that respect. We would like to bring them to (share their) knowledge. When you have security you have stability.”
Last week, Musan, while touring a military training site in Israel, said on microblogging site Twitter, he was working towards bolstering Zimbabwe’s security apparatus by tapping into the Israeli system.
“Greetings from somewhere in Israel. I cannot tell you where I am because it is classified. I can only tell you I am in a special army base somewhere in Israel. I came here to see up close how Israel’s Special Forces are training by the legendary trainer Ehud Dribben who is considered the number one trainer in Israel when it comes to counter terrorism, security and Special Forces and all kind of defence. We are actually examining this area in order to bring the knowledge and capacity … to provide the citizens and institutions of Zimbabwe with all security services we can bring them from Israel.”
State Security minister Owen Ncube did not respond to questions sent by this newspaper on the nature of security assistance Harare is seeking from Jerusalem, despite reading questions sent to him via WhatsApp.
He initially asked this reporter to identify himself, but did not respond to subsequent messages despite having read them as evidenced by the application’s double blue ticks which indicate that the recipient would have read the message.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba’s mobile phone was not reachable.
Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa’s mobile phone was being answered by an aide, who kept saying she was in meetings yesterday.
In what has become Harare’s landmark diplomatic stance towards thawing relations with Jerusalem, Mnangagwa met with Israeli Foreign Affairs minister Israel Katz last year on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly where the President was invited to visit the Middle East country.
The meeting, the first such high-level engagement between the two countries, followed two decades of Harare’s unflinching support to Palestine’s quest for independence.
Though Zimbabwe’s re-engagement agenda is off the rails as Harare dithers on rolling out sweeping economic and political reforms, Mnangagwa’s meeting with Katz was meant to reset frosty relations with the West.
Currently, government is rolling out a reform exercise within the file and rank of the Zimbabwe Republic Police broadly meant to equip officers with the latest policing trends and management systems that include crowd control skills.
In the aftermath of the deadly 2019 protests, Charamba told this newspaper as reported on February 1 that Zimbabwe’s police officers would undergo extensive re-orientation and retraining after the government realised that they are incapable of handling precarious situations such as violent protests.
At that time, a combination of police officers and the military had to be deployed to quell violent protests that had been triggered by the steep fuel price increase.
“The valid question is how we deal with the Chihuri (former police commissioner general, Augustine) legacy where there was a reorientation of the police force from their core mandate.
They need to be stronger. A weak police force wielding arms becomes the quartermaster of hooligans.
“These are assault rifles. You do not want those arms in soft hands. You do not want a situation where arms are in the wrong hands, never. That is why you are seeing the state getting robust in its quest,” Charamba said at the time.