AMID renewed intense factional fights in Zanu PF, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa is reportedly moving to consolidate his power base by piling pressure for security sector changes in addition to sustained push for a cabinet reshuffle.
Sources said security service chiefs, particularly Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) Director General Happyton Bonyongwe, Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, Air Marshal Perence Shiri and Prisons Commissioner-General Retired Major-General Paradzai Zimondi, are facing purging as Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his allies push for their removal.
The most vulnerable of them all appears to be Chihuri and Bonyongwe.
In the clearest sign last November security chiefs could be removed over the succession battle, First Lady Grace Mugabe singled out Bonyongwe as someone linked to ousted vice-president Joice Mujuru in an address to small and medium enterprises and cross-border traders at her Mazowe farm.
Grace said Mugabe one day had a meeting with Bonyongwe in the morning where he told him that she was not feeling well as she had an ear infection. Grace said Bonyongwe then called in the afternoon to ask her how she was feeling, while in the company of Mujuru without telling her, suggesting he betrayed his boss and herself because of succession wars.
Sources said Chihuri was also one of the main targets because of his close relations with Mujuru. They said although Zimondi and Shiri are also linked to Mujuru they may survive purges not because they are wanted but as a result of concerns of the instability mass their removals might unleash.
Those suggested as Bonyongwe’s possible replacements include presidential guard boss, Brigadier-General Nhamo Sanyatwa, and current CIO deputy Aaron Nhepera, who is linked to Mnangagwa.
Possible alternatives to Chihuri are understood to be deputy commissioners-general Levy Sibanda and Innocent Matibiri.
“Chihuri and other police officers’ jobs have been on the line since Mujuru’s demise,” said a senior government official.
“There is a strong push for him (Chihuri) to be relieved of his duties not only because he is sympathetic to Mujuru, but also because the system believes he was updating the former Vice-President on progress made during investigations into her alleged corruption.
“Bonyongwe is also a Mujuru person and owes his position to his good relations with the general (the late Solomon Mujuru who was husband to the former vice -president).”
WikiLeaks diplomatic cables a few years ago linked Bonyongwe to Mujuru.
The sources said changes in the security sector would not be as brutal as the purges in Zanu PF ahead of the congress as unwanted service chiefs were likely to be pushed out through the non-renewal of their contracts.
They said although police deputy commissioner-general Godwin Matanga was the most senior at his level he was unlikely to get the post if Chihuri is pushed out as Mnangagwa reportedly prefers Sibanda. Matanga is also said to be loyal to Mujuru.
“By virture of being related to the president, Matibiri is also in the reckoning although it seems Sibanda to be a firmer favourite.”
Meanwhile, the Mnangagwa camp also wants Information minister Jonathan Moyo moved from the ministry because of perceived hostility to the vice-president, while Higher Education minister Oppah Muchinguri and Energy minister Samuel Undenge could be moved from their portfolios ostensibly for being incompetent to lead other ministries.
Education minister Lazarus Dokora and Sports minister Andrew Langa, believed to be aligned to Mujuru, are also in the firing line.
Mujuru lost her position during the divisive Zanu PF congress in December last year before being fired from government a few days later. She was removed alongside several ministers and party heavyweights, among them Presidential Affairs minister Didymus Mutasa, Energy minister Dzikamai Mavhaire, Labour minister Nicholas Goche and Information Technology minister Webster Shamu, while several provincial officials lost their positions in the biggest purge in the history of Zanu PF. She was also later expelled from Zanu PF.
Long time Mnangagwa ally Patrick Chinamasa, who was last month attacked in public by Mugabe for announcing a freeze in civil servants bonuses, could also be moved from the Finance portfolio.
The Mnangagwa camp is, however, said to be pushing for the re-appointment of former Indigenisation minister Francis Nhema, who lost his position in the December cabinet reshuffle because of his links to the Mujuru faction.
Mnangagwa has been courting Nhema, who like him also hails from the Midlands province, for some time and even bestowed him with honorary life membership of the Midlands Agricultural Show late last year.
Mnangagwa, who by virtue of being vice-president meets Mugabe on a regular basis, has been pushing for a reshuffle for a long time but his boss balked on the idea after being convinced he would appear a disorganised leader if he frequently changed his cabinet.
Mugabe reshuffled his cabinet in December and was expected to make further changes soon after coming from his annual holiday in the Far East in January.
Mnangagwa’s push comes at a time the rift between him and party officials with whom he joined hands to shipwreck Mujuru’s presidential ambitions continues to widen following his rival’s ouster.
Senior Zanu PF officials said to be working against Mnangagwa, include political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere, Moyo and Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao, among others. They reportedly believe Mnangagwa has not grown out of being a factional leader and is indecisive on leadership.
Moyo’s interview with the BBC’s HardTalk broadcast this week confirmed factionalism is worsening as the battle to succeed Mugabe, 91, intensifies.
During the interview Moyo became emotional when presenter Stephen Sackur referred to Mnangagwa as Mugabe’s heir-apparent, a view which is shared by most Zimbabweans though politically rather than constitutionally grounded.
Moyo immediately interrupted and retorted that Mnangagwa was not the anointed one, but merely one of the two vice-presidents appointed by Mugabe to assist him implement his agenda.
Moyo’s remarks angered Mnangagwa’s allies who viewed his statements as further evidence that he is opposed to his ascendancy.