ZIMBABWE Defence Forces (ZDF) commander Phillip Valerio Sibanda has ordered soldiers to be on high alert, warning the servicemen against taking bribes from politicians, after concerns that expelled Zanu PF officials are regrouping and attempting to woo the military.
By Bernard Mpofu
Amid heightening political and security fears, sacked Zanu PF officials announced last week that they would form a party, the New Patriotic Front (NPF), following the November 15 de facto coup that pressured former president Robert Mugabe to step down after 37 years in power.
The new party also wrote a petition to the African Union criticising the involvement of the army in Mugabe’s ouster last November.
The party is linked to G40, a former Zanu PF faction which was coalescing around Mugabe’s wife Grace. Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao has over the past few weeks intensified his acerbic attacks on the new government, criticising the military involvement. Sibanda, who has already addressed other army units around Harare, told members of the Presidential Guard unit in the capital on Monday that there are clandestine plans to foment disharmony within the military following the formation of the new political party.
The incoming militry chief is today expected to address soldiers at Inkomo garrison. Informed sources told the Zimbabwe Independent that Sibanda, who is on a cross-country tour of duty to address all army units, spoke on issues including the welfare of troops, the role of G40, the operation which led to Mugabe’s fall, and the plot to bomb the former leader’s dairy.
Sibanda, according to sources, was accompanied by incoming Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) commander Lieutenant General Edzai Absolom Chimonyo, army spokesperson Alphios Makotore and other senior officers.
“General Sibanda told military personnel that a meeting between Mujuru and former president Mugabe had resulted in the formation of a new political party. He said soldiers should guard against those trying to persuade them by offering large sums of money to join the new outfit,” a source familiar with the developments said.
Mujuru met Mugabe and at his Borrowdale mansion last week, where he apologised for hounding her out of the party. Mujuru was fired from Zanu PF in 2004.
Contrary to media reports, officials from Mujuru’s party said there are no plans to form an alliance with former G40 members, saying this was part of government propaganda.
Sibanda, another source said, narrated how Operation Restore Legacy gained momentum after the army foiled a police operation to arrest former ZDF chief Constantino Chiwenga (now Vice-President). Operation Restore Legacy led to the demise of G40 which had gained pole position in factional fights to succeed the ageing former leader.
“General Sibanda told the soldiers that he personally asked former Zimbabwe Republic Police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri why police were carrying out anti-hijack rehearsals at Robert Mugabe International Airport without involving the army. He also questioned why the police wanted to arrest Chiwenga at the airport when they were fully aware of where he resides. This, General Sibanda said, created mistrust between the police and the military,” the source said.
“Chihuri, according to the General, did not give a satisfactory answer, resulting in General Sibanda asking Transport minister Jorum Gumbo why this was happening. The attempt to arrest Chiwenga and public statements by Grace and former Zanu PF youth league secretary Kudzanai Chipanga are what triggered the army to react.”
Army spokesperson Alphios Makotore had not responded to questions sent to him by the Independent by the time of going to print.
Highly-trained Special Air Services commandoes foiled a plan to arrest Chiwenga upon his arrival from China after President Emmerson Mnangangwa, then Vice-President, was fired from government. Sibanda took over from Chiwenga in December 2017, while Chimonyo, the country’s former ambassador to Tanzania, was appointed ZNA boss.