Mugabe in security crisis over deaths and illness of security Chiefs
HARARE –President Robert Mugabe is facing a security meltdown following a series of deaths and serious illness of key figures in the Military and State intelligence amid reports that the Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) General Costantine Chiwenga is said to be terminally ill and he has been airlifted to China.
Some unconfirmed reports say he is dead and the announcement has only been delayed for national security reasons.
Signs of the serious nature of General Costantine Chiwenga’s deteriorating health were reflected in the manner in which Defence Minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa on Thursday, moved quickly to shuffle the Defence forces command personnel with Air Marshal Perence shiri hastily moving to the position of Acting Commander Defence Forces and Air Commodore Sheba Shumbayaonda promoted to the rank of Air Vice Marshal.
The ailing ZDF Commander General Chiwenga is a key member of the notorious Joint Operations Command, a quasi-military government aligned to President Mugabe currently running a parallel government alongside the coalition.
Other members of JOC are: Emmerson Mnangagwa – Minister of Defence (Chairman), Lieutenant General Philip Sibanda – Commander of the Zimbabwe National Army, Air Marshal Perence Shiri – Commander of the Air Force of Zimbabwe, Commissioner Augustine Chihuri – Commissioner of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, Major General (Ret.) Paradzayi Zimondi – Head of the Zimbabwe prison service, Happyton Bonyongwe – Director-General of the Central Intelligence Organisation, Gideon Gono – Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe
This week President Mugabe’s Zanu PF was rocked by the death of the country’s most experienced intelligence officer, Menard Mazariri who died of what the State media said was a short illness, but sources said he has been ill for some time.
His death follows that of another long standing party loyalist and cabinet minister, Governor of Harare David Karimanzira who also died after a long illness although President Mugabe said he died of a tooth ache.
Muzariri was the longest serving intelligence officer in the Central Intelligence Organisation although over the years his seniors have been parachuted from the army to lead the State spy organisation.
The current Central Intelligence Organisation boss, Retired army Brigadier Happyton Bonyongwe and his predecessor, Retired Brigadier Elisha Muzonzini were recruited from the army.
Bonyongwe is also a close ally of Retired General Solomon Mujuru a fierce rival of Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa in the Zanu PF succession power struggles.
Analysts say Mugabe is now left in the quandary as he has been relying on setting the two rival camps of Bonyongwe and Muzariri pitted against each other.
In 1980, Muzariri joined the Prime Minister’s office as an intelligence officer.
In 2003, he was promoted to the rank of Deputy Director General in the President’s office, a post he held until the time of his death.
He was the main man behind the meteoric rise of Minister of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment, Saviour Kasukuwere, a former driver in the CIO.
Muzariri and Kasukuwere were related and both came from same village in Mt Darwin.
After Mugabe’s defeat in both the presidential and parliamentary polls in 2008, Muzariri went to address a rally in Chesa, Mt Darwin at Nyamahobogo Primary School.
There, in the company of Kasukuwere, he boastfully threatened poor villagers, "Mukasapota MDC ndinokubvisai vharufu!", meaning that he would MURDER anyone who dared support the MDC.
In November last year, Deputy Police Commissioner General in charge for crime in the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), and Barbara Mandizha, a close family friend of the First Family died in China after going there for medication. Mandizha was the first woman to be promoted to the rank of Police Deputy Commissioner, since Independence in 1980.
This week’s hastily arranged promotions and restructuring in the Defence Forces have also been made on the back of retirement of another veteran in the Air force, Air Marshal Henry Muchena is also reported not to be feeling well.
Also on the death bed is the Head of Prison Services, Retired Brigadier Paradzai Zimondi, and former Director of the Zimbabwe Military Intelligence Directorate and one of the key players of Robert Mugabe’s autocratic regime.
Zimondi has been in and out of hospital with undisclosed ailment and like most Mugabe’s loyalists, he has also been to China for medical treatment.
The Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF), Constantine Chiwenga, is reported to have been airlifted to China for treatment. His former wife Jocelyn Chiwenga is also reported to be seriously ill.
The Minister of Defence, Emmerson Mnangagwa, on Thursday confirmed to that the army chief had gone to China for medical attention.
"Yes, I can confirm that Chiwenga went to China to seek medical treatment," said Mnangagwa. "He will be coming back into the country tomorrow (Friday)."
However, Mnangagwa refused to confirm reports doing the rounds that when Chiwenga was airlifted, his condition was critical.
"What I know is that he had gone for medical checkups, we all go for medical checkups. Don’t you go for routine medical checkups yourself?" said Mnangagwa.
But, impeccable sources revealed to an independent newspaper that the army chief had eight days ago fallen seriously ill and was immediately airlifted to China.
Chiwenga was on Thursday absent from the burial of CIO boss Mernard Muzariri, and he has of late not appeared in public.
In a eulogy to the late Muzariri at the Heroes’ Acre on Thursday, President Robert Mugabe went to great lengths describing to mourners how some heroic characters, including current serving members of the ZDF, were battling illnesses incurred from injuries sustained during the struggle for independence.
"A lot of people incurred permanent mortal internal injuries during the war of liberation and some still suffer from different diseases, but we are happy that many escaped and are those we believe would fight the enemy," said President Mugabe.
Mugabe himself has been rushed to Asia for medication and he has travelled to Singapore already four times this year, including his annual holiday in January, sparking headline reports of mounting health problems.
His wife is also reported to be not feeling well and she is currently undergoing treatment in Singapore.
Last year, Mugabe lost his sister Sabina and the younger sister Bridget has been in the internsive care since August last year.
She is said to be diabetic and has suffered a stroke.
Staff at the intensive care unit (ICU) at Parirenyatwa Hospital, Harare confirmed that Bridget, is in the ICU, they said she is not able to talk.
She collapsed at the national shrine during the burial of Sabina on August 1 and was whisked away to hospital by ambulance.
While illness and deaths have ravaged the former Mighty Zanu PF, the Movement for Democratic Change led by the Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has been gaining momentum and in recent weeks its supporters, testing victory in the face of the declining Zanu PF, they have been fighting each other for positions ahead of the party’s congress to be held at the end of this month in Bulawayo.
Meanwhile, analysts have expressed fear at the rate in which the Zimbabwe security agencies are losing its commanders.