Govt fears army, police hostilities

FEARS of explosive hostilities between the army and police, fuelled by Zanu PF’s succession-driven factionalism and infighting cutting across the security sector and other critical institutions of government, are mounting amid clear indications that the two pillars of state stability are fighting a hot cold war.

Elias Mambo

The Zimbabwe Independent understands from top military sources this destabilising situation has created growing suspicious and uncertainties within the security sector as shown by the Gushungo Dairy bombing saga in January that laid bare divisions between the army and the police.

The arrest of war veteran leaders over a sensational Mgagao-like communiqué demanding President Robert Mugabe should quit as he has failed and ruined the nation, as well as people’s lives, also exposed their mutual hostilities.

Since the Gushungo bombing affair — which has claimed the scalp of Prosecutor-General Johannes Tomana who sided with the military against the police — relations between armed forces and law enforcement agency bosses have been deteriorating.

Officer Commanding the Criminal Investigations Department’s law and order section Assistant Commissioner Crispen Makedenge on Friday last week made stunning revelations, suggesting battle lines between the army and police have been drawn over war veterans’ arrest.

This claim emanated from his affidavit which was presented in court by prosecutor Tapiwa Kasema as the state unsuccessfully pushed for war veterans’ spokesperson Douglas Mahiya, now out, to be denied bail.

According to the affidavit, in possession of the Independent, Makedenge warned: “If (Mahiya is) granted bail there is a likelihood of clashes between his sympathisers and those against his utterances.”

Pressed by lawyer Harrison Nkomo on who Mahiya’s sympathisers were, Kusema revealed the frosty relationship between the police and military.

“The war veterans fall under the Defence Act and they have always worked with the military,” he said. “If Mahiya is released then there will be clashes between the military and the police.”

Nkomo further probed the prosecutor to substantiate his claims but he could not provide the evidence, although the damage was already done.

Mahiya was arrested on Wednesday last week as part of a crackdown on war veterans following the release of their communiqué which described Mugabe as a manipulative, self-centred and failed dictator who has betrayed the ideals of the liberation struggle while destroying the economy.

The acrimonious relationship between the military and the police also filtered through security meetings in the aftermath of the stinging communique. The police’s narrative, backed by the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) reports, and military’s story over the origins of the document differed.

Police and CIO insist the war vets produced the communiqué which correctly reflected their position as shown by intelligence reports, while the army claims it was the product of a Fifth Column, a subversive force.

Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi and army chiefs have tried to push the subversive infiltration line, while police insist the war vets were behind the communiqué.

As a result divisions between the army and police have been playing out in public. The run-ins between the army and police, as well as the intelligence service, largely revolve around Mugabe’s succession.

The army has been backing war veterans who have stood firmly in support of Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s presidential bid, although last weekend he denied it publicly, throwing the ex-combatants under the bus.

The Mnangagwa faction is battling the Grace Mugabe-fronted G40 camp for the control of the heart and soul of Zanu PF mainly to influence succession and gain access to public resources.

While Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantine Chiwenga is said to be backing Mnangagwa, Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri and CIO Director-General retired Major-General Happyton Bonyongwe are seen as sympathetic to G40 by default. This is despite the fact that Zanu PF factional configuration dynamics keep on shifting and changing as the situation evolves.

Chihuri and Bonyongwe were aligned to the late retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru and his wife, ex-vice-president Joice Mujuru, expelled from Zanu PF in the aftermath of the acrimonious December 2014 congress.

Apart from tearing the ruling party asunder, this has resulted in deep divisions within the security establishment as some senior army commanders are said to be mainly behind Mnangagwa.

Mugabe accused security service chiefs of meddling in his succession politics during Zanu PF’s annual conference in Victoria Falls last year. This further widened the rift between him and Chiwenga whom he is said to be planning to remove anytime.

Mugabe last weekend travelled to Equatorial Guinea with Chiwenga in a move seen as a containment strategy rather than rapprochement.

Tensions between Mugabe and some army commanders also heightened in February after his wife Grace accused them of trying to bomb their family dairy in Mazowe and plotting to kill her son Bellarmine Chatunga to strike fear in their hearts and force them out.

The “bombing” affair around the Mugabe’s business empire sucked in the military with two soldiers Solomon Makumbe and Borman Ngwenya, as well as retired military intelligence officer Silas Pfupa arrested and arraigned on banditry and terrorism charges, among other charges. Makumbe and Pfupa became state witnesses on some charges, but are currently on bail on others.

Ngwenya has been acquitted, although the state has appealed. Little known Owen Kuchata, Zimbabwe People’s Front political party leader, was jailed for nine years.

The case resulted in Tomana, who sided with the army, being arrested by the police who rejected the military’s claim that their officers were on an official spying mission when they appeared to be helping Kuchata to attack Mugabe’s property instead of being accomplices.

Tomana has since been suspended and is now under a tribunal investigation for alleged abuse of office. It is said Mugabe was infuriated by his actions and fiercely lashed out at him for initially ordering the release of the soldiers in the convoluted case full of conspiracy and counter-conspiracy theories.

Following the war veterans’ meeting in Harare on July 21 which culminated in the release of the contentious communique, Mugabe summoned Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko, co-vice-president, Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, State Security minister Kembo Mohadi, Home Affairs minister Ignatious Chombo, Chiwenga, Chihuri and Bonyongwe to a crisis meeting at State House on July 22.

Sources said Mphoko accused defence chiefs of “selling out” by allowing war veterans to attack Mugabe, their commander-in-chief, while police and intelligence bosses dismissed the army’s claim of a Fifth Column being behind the war veterans’ plot.

The Independent understands Manicaland provincial affairs minister Mandi Chimene last week on Wednesday just before the Mugabe solidarity meeting with war veterans at the Zanu PF headquarters in Harare accused the military and its bosses of sponsoring the war veterans in their plot to oust Mugabe.

This is the charge which Mugabe was referring to when he said at the party headquarters rally that some of the things which had emerged at the heated meeting preceding the gathering could not be discussed in public.

The war veterans’ move to openly canvass for Mnangagwa has, however, backfired as their preferred Mugabe successor now finds himself cornered like a rat, while their entire executive has been sacked from Zanu PF. Four war veteran leaders were expelled from the ruling party at its politburo meeting on Wednesday. Their chairman and former minister Chris Mutsvangwa was kicked out before them.

In February, the former freedom fighters were involved in running battles with police who used tear gas and water cannons to disperse them as they prepared to protest against Grace for attacking their leadership and the military at her Chiweshe rally the same month. Grace had previously attacked war veterans at her other rallies, fuelling mutual tensions and hostilities.

The crushing of the war veterans’ protests by the police forced Mugabe to address the nation as an emergency in February and to the convening of a crisis indaba in Harare in early April. The meeting, however, failed to resolve volatile differences between Mugabe and war veterans loyal to Mnangagwa.

Mugabe recently lambasted the war veteran leaders describing them as “dissidents” while threatening to crush them before they hit back with their communiqué. This led to the current backlash by Mugabe; the arrest of war veteran leaders and their expulsion from Zanu PF, leaving the battle lines clearly drawn over the bitter succession fight.