PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has been extensively restructuring the army ever since assuming power through a millitary coup in 2017, confirming that the security apparatus remains deeply steeped in the country’s body politic and the quest to retain political control.
By Tinashe Kairiza
The army, then under the command of General Constantino Chiwenga, now Vice-President, orchestrated “Operation Restore Legacy” that toppled long-time ruler Robert Mugabe, leading to the ascendency of Mnangagwa.
However, as deep fissures between Mnangagwa and Chiwenga began to widen, the president has vastly been transforming the complexion of the army since the coup to maintain his grip on power while clipping the wings of his rival.
During last month’s Zanu PF conference in Esigodini, Mnangagwa was endorsed by delegates to run for the presidency in 2023.
In December, Mnangagwa promoted two key players in the 2017 coup — Presidential Guard commander Anselem Sanyatwe from Brigadier-General to Major-General, as well as Head of Military Intelligence Thomas Moyo, also from Brigadier-General to Major-General. .
Sanyatwe, who commanded the army units which gunned down six civilians on the streets of Harare on August 1 last year in the aftermath of the disputed July general election, is believed to be very close to Chiwenga.
As commander of the Presidential Guard, he had the responsibility of securing Harare as well as providing protection to the President.
His promotion will ensure that the critical unit, based in Dzivaresekwa, will have a new commander.
As head of military intelligence, Moyo played a critical role in gathering intelligence ahead of the coup.
Other central players in the coup have also left the army including Chiwenga, who demanded the vice-presidency after Mugabe’s ouster, with the aim of succeeding Mnangagwa in 2023.
Retired Lieutenant-General Sibusiso Moyo, who announced Operation Restore Legacy on national television, was moved from the army into government as Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister.
“The changes we are seeing in the military are part of Mnangagwa’s power consolidation process,” a government official said.
As a result of the changes, the command element of the army has also changed, with former Zipra commanders assuming more senior positions ahead of their Zanla counterparts, unlike during the Mugabe era.
The Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) is now under the command of Phillip Valerio Sibanda, a former Zipra commander, while the Air Force of Zimbabwe is being commanded by Elson Moyo, also a former Zipra cadre.
Before the coup, Mugabe had begun making changes in the army after getting wind of plans to oust him.
Former Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) Chief of Staff (General Staff) Major-General Trust Mugoba was moved to the African Union (AU) to command a millitary wing of the bloc’s force, weeks before the coup.
His redeployment was an attempt to neutralise the potential threat of the military which was perceived to be backing the then under-fire Mnangagwa who was leading a faction angling to succeed Mugabe. The move was part of Mugabe’s coup-proofing strategy.