VICE-PRESIDENT Constantino Chiwenga turned down an offer by the late president Robert Mugabe to take over the presidency at the height of the coup as he feared it might be a trap to rubberstamp the military take-over in November 2017, a senior government official has claimed.
As reported by the Zimbabwe Independent last week, Mugabe offered Chiwenga to take over the presidency as negotiations between him and the army ensued during the coup.
However, a senior government official said on social media Chiwenga did not turn down the offer out of fear, but he was able to see through Mugabe’s plan to use him to prove to world leaders and the African Union (AU) that indeed he had been toppled in a coup.
In a Twitter thread which confirmed Zimbabwe’s 37-year-ruler was willing to hand over power to Chiwenga and not President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Jamwanda 2, whom government officials confirmed was a senior government official in the Office of the President and Cabinet, said intense negotiations were held at the time over the issue.
Government officials said Mugabe approached Chiwenga through one of his emissaries when he realised power was slipping though his hands.
Intercession between the military command element and late former president had three strands, according to the senior government official.
The official said characters involved in the negotiations included presidential spokesperson George Charamba, Central Intelligence Organisation then acting boss Aaron Nhepera and Roman Catholic Bishop cleric Fidelis Mukonori.
Former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono was another strand after he was sent by Mugabe on a one-man mission with the offer of the presidency to Chiwenga who was the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander.
The man, who in death more than in life has been described as an African icon, tried in vain to get the AU to denounce the military operation, while seeking intervention by other African leaders.
“Offer of presidency to then CDF (Commander Defence Forces Chiwenga) by the late (Mugabe) was not by choice. It was a desperate act to save the situation which had grown dangerously fast-paced; wearing down a part of the late’s family,” the official (Jamwanda) wrote. “But there was also a bit of political baiting which the late hoped would turn the tables, at the very least diplomatically. Recall that commanders had declared they had not, and would not, overthrow the constitutional order, a development which would have set them on a collision with the AU position on coups. The late (Mugabe) hoped the then CDF (Chiwenga) would swallow the bait, thereby putting paid to claims by commanders they had not overthrown the constitutional order.
“The hope for (the) late (Mugabe) was that the AU, which by the way was still very confused by the whole situation and how to fit it within its theoretical taxonomy on coups, would then have no option, but to describe it as a coup, in which case calls for military intervention would then have credence. That was the spirit and calculation within which the offer was made.”
Officials said Mugabe made the move when he realised that the defence forces were no longer ready to protect him.
They said Mugabe was forced to write a resignation letter after the military had warned the strongman that he risked a Gadaffi-style lynching. Military bosses told him they would not turn their guns on citizens if they marched to his Blue Roof residence. And at that instant Mugabe had two desires, to save his family and also to prove that the military had taken over power,” the official said.
“The then CDF and commanders correctly read (the) calculation. The emissary (Gono) of that desperate message was told — through a powerful metaphor — that isu tiri vemakwapa-makwapa (we belong to the sect of camouflages, that is, the military); we are not politicians or (in) political competition,” the senior government official said.
Government officials say the army had communicated to other military bosses in the region through attachés who were in Zimbabwe that their intentions were not to topple Mugabe, but to deal with “criminals” around him.
Mugabe also tried to use the same strategy to lure Mnangagwa back from short exile in South Africa so that they could have a discussion on the coup and succession.
Mukonori said in one of the interviews that the two leaders had spoken on the phone for about 10 to 15 minutes during the negotiations between the military and Mugabe.
Apart from negotiating with the army, Mugabe also sought help from the region.
The South Africans, who were key to the process — not least because of their economic and regional power, but also because the then president Jacob Zuma was the Sadc chairperson — refused to intervene, but made it clear that if the army had invaded Mugabe’s house, as they were threatening repeatedly in the background, South African troops would have arrived in Harare in no time.
“Mugabe also tried to reach Vladimir Putin, through former vice-president Phelekezela Mphoko. He asked Mphoko to call Putin to come and quash the coup. That did not work because Putin and African leaders did not prefer that route,” a source told the Independent.