STATE security agents, comprising the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and military intelligence, have increased surveillance on senior Zanu PF and government officials, leaving them jittery and wary of their communication, habits and movements, as the battle to succeed President Robert Mugabe intensifies.
By Owen Gagare
The development is occurring at a time divisions, fanned by Zanu PF succession politics, have also widened among top securocrats who have traditionally played a pivotal role in propping up Mugabe and Zanu PF.
The party has two factions — Team Lacoste, led by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the G40, fronted by First Lady Grace Mugabe.
The Mnangagwa faction is backed by Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantino Chiwenga, the war veterans’ leadership and several senior army commanders, while G40 is believed to be backed by police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, among others.
Chiwenga, who has been the most vocal security commander on Zanu PF succession issues, this week threatened unspecified action against Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo, who has been criticising the controversial implementation of command agriculture, a programme run by the army, but seen as Mnangagwa’s brainchild.
Moyo is a key G40 member, who has taken it upon himself to derail Mnangagwa’s charge towards the presidency.
High-ranking government officials told the Zimbabwe Independent that intelligence gathering by security agents has reached unprecedented and worrying levels as the succession battle intensifies.
Some of the intelligence gathered, officials say, is being used to promote factional agendas rather than to strictly advance the country’s security.
“You are no longer free to have a conversation on your phone because every conversation is listened to. You are not free to have a conversation in your car or office because they are bugged. Even our homes are bugged,” a cabinet minister said.
“We have become slaves to the system because you are forced to think about whom you meet, where to meet and what you say, even in private conversations.”
Apart from being trailed and closely monitored, some ministers believe spying tools have been installed in their homes.
“The purpose is basically to have knowledge of who you are meeting or talking to and what you are talking about, especially over the succession issue. I have no doubt that some of the spying is at the instigation of the factions, because there are some security agents doing work for certain factions,” the minister said.
“This has been happening for some time, but it has been growing as the succession fights intensify.
“The military intelligence’s role has been increasing over the years. I can tell you they played an important spying role on former vice-president Joice Mujuru, which eventually led to her ouster.
“They have not stopped since then and are doing a lot of work for the Mnangagwa faction. Some members of the CIO are also gathering intelligence for the factions, so in both camps people are being kept well-informed by security agents on their side.”
As a result of the close monitoring, some ministers have resorted to using WhatsApp voice calling or foreign mobile networks when discussing sensitive issues. Other ministers are using trusted third parties to relay messages.
Government officials say Zanu PF factions have been engaging and seeking the support of security chiefs over the years to bolster their chances of succeeding Mugabe.
Security chiefs are seen as pivotal since they control instruments of coercion, while they also have access to a wide array of intelligence tools and assets.
“They are also useful for scenario planning,” a senior government official said.
Besides spying on ministers and top civil servants, government has also increased its surveillance on citizens.
Government is working on a Computer Crime and Cybercrime Bill, which when passed into law, will allow government to remotely install spying tools onto citizens’ communication devices.
The bill establishes a Computer and Cybercrime Management Centre meant to allow security personnel from the CIO to monitor citizens’ use of the internet.
It empowers the state security minister, in consultation with the finance minister, to appoint members of the management centre, which will be headed by the State Security deputy director-general.
The committee will include members drawn from ministries of defence, science and technology, justice, ZRP, prison services, National Prosecuting Authority, director-general of the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority and two representatives from ICT organisations.
Zimbabwe already has a law, the Interception of Communication Act (ICA) 2007, which gives government significant powers of surveillance over the communications of its citizens.