WHEN Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa immobilised the military from running elections as they illegally had done mainly since 2000 at the height of militarisation of politics in fear of bhora musango (internal sabotage) and replaced it with Forever Associates Zimbabwe (Faz), a Central Intelligence (CIO)-controlled hybrid securocratic entity that eventually ran the polls, the big question subsequently became: What will the army do? Will it retreat or fight back?
Mnangagwa’s surprise appointment of Lieutenant-General Anselem Nhamo Sanyatwe (pictured) — the closest military ally of his main internal political rival Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga — as the new Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) commander, partly answers that question.
Sanyatwe replaced Lieutenant-General David Sigauke who retired recently. Sigauke had replaced the late Lieutenant-General Edzai Chimonyo in 2021.
Before Sigauke came in, Mnangagwa and Chiwenga had fiercely fought over the proposed appointment of Lieutenant-General Engelbert Rugeke as ZNA commander. Chiwenga wanted Rugeje, his close ally, to take charge, but Mnangagwa refused.
A compromise was reached to place Sigauke in charge for two years. So the coming in of Sanyatwe signals a victory for the military over Mnangagwa’s politics.
The unexpected appointment of Sanyatwe with immediate effect is part of a major fightback campaign by the army which had been aggressively forced to retreat by Mnangagwa through a series of redeployments, purges, and mysterious deaths, according to informed military insiders.
A military source told The NewsHawks this week: “When you were writing those Faz stories before the recent elections, we told you that there will be far-reaching ramifications of Mnangagwa’s political strategy and the biggest post-election issue to watch out for will be what will the army do. Is it going to retreat to the barracks or fight back?
“Mnangagwa sidelined the army and used Faz to seek re-election, and a possible third term, which is now complicated, but that was always going to cause a reaction; whether a retreat or a fightback. The issue of the unsettled leadership question between Mnangagwa and Chiwenga — and the role of the army — is explosive and won’t go away. This is where we are now.”
Sanyatwe, who is on United States and United Kingdom targeted sanctions due to his role in the 1 August 2018 election-related massacres of civilians in the streets of Harare over delayed poll results, is personally close to Chiwenga and the main commander that Mnangagwa does not trust, yet he was central to the November 2017 military coup and is now in charge of the army under the overall defence forces commander General Philip Valerio Sibanda.
The military source added: “Sanyatwe’s bouncing back certainly signifies a military fightback, not Mnangagwa’s consolidation of power. Mnangagwa might be the appointing authority and might also have appointed Sanyatwe’s wife Chido as deputy Home Affairs minister, but Sanyatwe is Chiwenga’s foot soldier through and through.
“Chiwenga helped him become Presidential Guard commander and to get quick promotions. When the coup took place, Sanyatwe was a Brigadier-General, he was promoted or perhaps kicked upstairs to become Major-General and then retired as a Lieutenant-General with other generals such as Martin Chedondo, Douglas Nyikayaramba and former Air Vice-Marshal Shebba Shumbayawonda.
“The most high-profile among those who were sidelined was him, Sanyatwe, as he led the Presidential Guard, drawing widespread criticism for telling the Kgalema Motlanthe Commission of Inquiry into the August 1 2018 Harare killings that one of his soldiers caught on video shooting into a crowd was firing into the air at a 45 degree angle.
“The Motlanthe Commission found that the military used ‘unjustified and disproportionate’ force, including live bullets, to quell the August 1 2018 unrest. That led to the US and UK imposing targeted sanctions on Sanyatwe.
“When it was found that the Zimbabwean security services were responsible for six deaths and 35 injuries during the 1 August 2018 protests, Sanyatwe was subsequently sacrificed and that served Mnangagwa’s expedient political agenda. The Motlanthe report concluded that the use of live ammunition on civilians was ‘clearly unjustified and disproportionate’, which was damning.
“A few months after that, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission found that law enforcement agents seemed to ‘resort to use of brute, excessive and disproportionate force in most circumstances, thereby causing avoidable loss of life and also worsening the situation’, resulting in the deaths of 17 people during the January 2019 fuel protests.”
A Human Rights Watch report also detailed allegations of rape and indiscriminate door-to-door raids by the Zimbabwean security services around the time. This left Sanyatwe and others in charge vulnerable to removal by Mnangagwa for political expediency, not due to concerns over human rights.
The source continued: “Further, Sanyatwe was the go-between in Chiwenga’s divorce with Marry Mubaiwa. He paid gupuro (Shona token of divorce). Besides, when he was ambassador in Tanzania, where he was sent to political isolation from Chiwenga, he frequently came home to keep in touch with the Vice-President and others in their military network.”
Military sources told The NewsHawks, which covered the Faz story extensively before, during and after the elections, that the situation could lead to a new political brinkmanship in the election aftermath even though Mnangagwa was aggressively consolidating power while Chiwenga was on the back foot.
One of the stories is republished in this edition (on Pages 4/5) for context and background purposes. The military, deeply involved in Zimbabwean politics since the days of the liberation struggle and in elections particularly from 2000, had run the 2018 polls that gave Mnangagwa a semblance of democratic legitimacy after the coup, although his legitimacy has always remained contested.
Now the military is vigorously pushing back against its Commander-in-Chief — Mnangagwa — in the post-election period in a bid to stop ruthless purges of its command element that brought him to the helm through a coup six years ago which is part of his coup-proofing strategy, insiders say.
Military insiders say the reaction by the army was triggered by Mnangagwa’s aggressive coup-proofing manoeuvres, particularly removal of the military from running the recent elections and replacing them with Faz. Sanyatwe is anti-Faz. Coup-proofing is a strategy of creating structures that make it hard for any small group to seize power through a putsch.
These coup-proofing strategies may include the strategic placing of family, ethnic, and factional groups in the military and other positions of influence; as well as fragmenting of military and security agencies by removals, redeployments and eliminations.
Analysts say Zimbabwe is currently a militarised authoritarian state in which Mnangagwa and Zanu PF remain in power through structure-induced stability. Security forces, particularly the army, are central to stability and keeping Zanu PF in power.
The shadowy CIO-run Faz, unconstitutionally and illegally funded through state resources, emerged at the centre of the recent elections amid charges of brazen manipulation of the whole electoral process — from voter registration, voters’ roll inspection, voting, collation and transmission.
This is what the army used to do under the late former president Robert Mugabe and Mnangagwa until 2018, especially after 2000 at the height of militarisation of politics.
Faz is also now involved in Zanu PF political strategies, including disqualification of opposition candidates before the elections and the current recalls of MPs, to ensure Mnangagwa remains in power and even gets a two-thirds majority to change the constitution to seek a third term in 2028 when his current constitutional second term ends.
Faz, which is registered as a private non-governmental organisation, did not make it a secret that its task was to help Mnangagwa to win re-election.
It took a lead role at campaign rallies and heaped praise on the 81-year-old despite his central role in Zimbabwe’s disastrous failure under 43 years of Zanu PF rule.
“God seldom packages and presents resilience, hard work, wisdom, experience, visionary caring leadership and good energetic health as in this candidate,” Faz said of Mnangagwa.
However, Zimbabwe’s opposition and civil society activists always said the shadowy group has a darker side, accusing it of intimidating voters and interfering in electoral processes, a reality exposed systematically in detail by The NewsHawks.
Once ensconced in power after coming in through a coup and having controversially won the bloody 2018 election, Mnangagwa unleashed a wave of shake-ups, clear-outs and eliminations to consolidate and maintain power.
He was also determined to unclasp Chiwenga’s grip on levers of power that he almost wiped out all his coup allies.
Through a combination of re deployments, removals and the political contingency of death, planned or natural, Mnangagwa appeared unstoppable, especially after the Zanu PF congress last year in October and the recent elections.
He used all the rules in the dictator’s playbook — from weakening and eliminating both internal and external rivals to personalising power and suborning state institutions. Mnangagwa rang in the changes in the military, police and CIO, targeting Mugabe and former first lady Grace Mugabe’s allies, before going for Chiwenga’s loyalists.
Key commanders — who pivoted the coup including Sanyatwe who was Presidential Guard commander — were removed in February 2019, while Chiwenga was battling ill-health in India.
Like his initial South African health mission, the Indian health trip in 2019 was unsuccessful, resulting in his seeking treatment in China, allowing Mnangagwa to consolidate.
Commanders retired for diplomatic assignments when Chiwenga was away included the late Zimbabwe National Army chief-of-staff retired Lieutenant-General Nyikayaramba, who was chief-of-staff responsible for service personnel and logistics, retired Lieutenant-General Martin Chedondo and retired Air Marshal Sheba Shumbayawonda.
In May 2019, Mnangagwa then appointed Sanyatwe Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Tanzania, while Nyikayaramba was posted to Maputo, Mozambique.
Chedondo was posted to China. Sanyatwe has a personal relationship with Chiwenga to the extent that he flew from Tanzania to assist him finalise his divorce proceedings with his wife Marry Mubaiwa by paying gupuro (token of divorce).
Another big blow for the Chiwenga camp was the removal of Rugeje, who was critical in the coup, from heading Zanu PF’s critical mass mobilisation political commissariat.
Rugeje operated in the war room during the coup. He was promised the job of the Zimbabwe National Defence University vice-chancellor, which did not come. Things got worse when he started criticising Mnangagwa everywhere.
Sources say the return of Sanyatwe — the key commander that is closest to Chiwenga and the one that Mnangagwa does not trust the most – signals the fightback by the army, and his clandestine third-term bid will be the new battlefront amid renewed fight for leadership as the political, economic and security situation continues to deteriorate, showing no meaningful change from the Mugabe era.