THE brutal attack on Zimbabwe’s state security service, Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) co-deputy Director-General Gatsha Mazithulela in late August has left him and his colleagues enveloped in bitterness as perpetrators have got away with murder.
Top CIO officers say Mazithulela was almost killed in the bloody attack by 15 suspected military intelligence operatives during a state operation to suppress a feared opposition revolt over disputed general elections in the early hours of 25 August.
This has created an air of acrimony in the corridors of the state security establishment as no one has been arrested and punished for the violent attack that left the CIO top dog lying prostrate in a pool of blood before he was rushed to Trauma Centre in Borrowdale by the owner of Zim Cafe where the incident happened in the early hours of that ill-fated day.
Mazithulela — who usually drinks at Zim Café, corner Kwame Nkrumah and Fifth Street in Harare — was attacked in the company of a senior Zimbabwean journalist who sustained serious injuries during the ruthless charge.
Two other journalists were also caught up in the raid of the popular bar with a restaurant inside. One was injured, while the other fled. One of the four journalists around, who was outside, fled the scene in a car before coming back to fetch colleagues.
“Mazithulela has now recovered, but there is still bitterness in him and some colleagues who feel that his assailants must be held to account for their dastardly actions. It looked like he was targeted and that makes the issue of accountability all the more important,” a senior CIO officer said.
“How does a whole director of intelligence at his level get attacked by some state agents, which speaks to impunity, and the case is just swept under the carpet just like that. Mazithulela is a senior intelligence official and must be not be abused for merely being found in a bar in the wee hours. Even there was a state operation, the situation could have been handled differently. Violence was not the answer. Even if he was a nonentity, he should never have been beaten up.
“It is the violence and brutality with which he was attacked that is appalling. He was beaten up so badly by the aggressive gang, which behaved like trained state agents or soldiers, and he had no chance of protecting himself. He is well-known for resorting to his guns, sometimes recklessly, when under pressure, but that day he had no chance as the assailants descended on him like a tonne of bricks. The journalist with him was also attacked viciously, but his situation was worse off. They were subsequently taken to Trauma Centre in bad shape. The situation could have been nastier as the CIO later reacted to the attack after they had been told of the incident.”
Prior to the Zim Café incident, the journalists had earlier been assaulted at Angie’s Bar in Belgravia, Harare.
They had run away from there into town, had drinks with colleagues at an office before passing by Zim Café where ran into another raid — this time deeper into trouble.
The victims of the attack were so shocked that it took them long to talk about the incident. Even workers, who hid in offices and other rooms there, were reluctant to discuss the issue.
The owner of Zim Café hid in one of the offices, while the raiders attacked Mazithulela, one of his patrons. He only emerged after the marauding gang had gone to rush him and his journalist friend to Trauma Centre.
“The issue was not taken well in CIO ranks because it reminded some comrades about what happened during Operation Restore Legacy in 2017 when the army attacked CIO officers, including senior officers. The incident opened old wounds which were still fresh anyway,” the senior CIO officer said.
During the November 2017 coup led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his military allies, the army targeted the CIO and police who were supporting the late former president Robert Mugabe.
The most prominent casualty of that nasty confrontation was Peter Munetsi who was killed during the coup.
The Mazithulela incident came amid growing political tensions and an acrimonious dispute over results of the recently held elections, particularly the presidential race in which Mnangagwa scraped through by a wafer-thin 2.6%, marginal y better than 2018, ahead of his close challenger Nelson Chamisa, the main opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) leader.
Mnangagwa got 52.6%, while Chamisa got 44%. Tensions between Zimbabwe and its regional neighbours, as well as the international community over the elections charade are also fuelling the situation.
Realising that the 23-24 August general elections had degenerated into chaos and a farce, government deployed secret units of security forces, mainly law and order police, military intelligence and civilian intelligence, to gauge the mood on the ground and manoeuvre to prevent a potential revolt.
This involved a security threat analysis of the situation on the ground by intelligence services which concluded that the post-election environment was volatile, especially as Chamisa and his supporters believe the election results were stolen.
One security team, thought to be a military intelligence unit, in plain clothes went around in Harare beating up people in bars and restaurants during those days. That is the team which brutalised Mazithulela.
The move became an indiscriminate pre-emptive strike against the opposition. Mazithulela, an academic who is one of the best scientists in the country and former pro-vice-chancellor at the National University of Science & Technology in Bulawayo, is CIO deputy Director-General at par with retired Brigadier-General Walter Tapfumaneyi, under their boss Director-General Isaac Moyo.
Mazithulela has held top private sector positions abroad at the level of chief executive, espe cially in the chemicals, petrochemicals and energy sector, and also worked in government on technocratic capacities.
Police confirmed a day after polling stations closed — on 25 August — that they were conducting patrols following an assessment of the political and security situation in the country, especially in Harare.
Police officers were conducting motorised and foot patrols in Central Business Districts, residential, industrial and other areas people during protests over fuel price increases.
An opposition CCC Harare MP Takudzwa Ngadziore and former Mabvuku-Tafara legislator James James Chidhakwa were abducted last week by state security agents for political reasons.
State agents accused of trying to fuel discontent against the government. State-sponsored human rights abuses have not yet stopped in the post-Mugabe era. The late former president Robert Mugabe was ousted in a November 2017 coup by Mnangagwa and his cabal.
Of late police units had been getting increasingly aggressive amid paranoia and panic — a siege mentality from authorities.
Law and order police agents in August tried to disrupt an opposition CCC press conference addressed by party spokesman Promise Mkhwananzi at Sapes Trust in Belgravia, Harare, leading to clashes with political activists and reporters.
State security agencies believed Chamisa replaced Fadzayi Mahere with Mkhwananzi, a former student activist and Tajamuka/Sesijilike leader, to cause trouble in the streets.
Mkhwananzi has been arrested many times for political activism. Police say they are now looking over a 2020 warrant of arrest.
Law and order police officers who stormed the CCC press briefing in August and grabbed a speech from Mkhwananzi – leaving him literally and metaphorically speechless – included Clifford Mugabiri, Jethro Tapererwa, Solomon Matambura and Panganai Gwati who led the aggression before they were repelled by the party officials and journalists.
Prior to that, the state agents had attacked a bar in Belgravia on Downie Road Angie’s Bar. The place is near Belgravia Sports Club close to the Malaysian Embassy.
Just like at Zim Cafe, the agents had arrived in plain clothes and violently forced their way into the bar.
They then randomly roughed up or beat up everyone, including some journalists who were drinking there.
The attack on Mazithulela has highlighted the problem of indiscriminate violence against innocent citizens and impunity.
Mazithulela seems to have been unlucky of late. Last year a man was shot dead during a break-in at his Harare home on Crichton Road in the Groombridge area of Mount Pleasant, Harare.
Three years ago, a CIO agent drunkenly pointed a gun at Mazithulela as he was leaving his farm in Norwood in Umguza, Matabeleland North province.
Those who drink with say he is also sometimes aggressive, although on the recent incident he was targeted from nowhere when he was minding his own business with a friend.
Given the high political stakes, unstable environment and the volatile situation, the security operation underway and abductions could trigger what they seeks to prevent: A reaction.