VICE-PRESIDENT Constantino Chiwenga (pictured), who was the then commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, put his head on the block to rescue President Emmerson Mnangagwa before handing him power after the 2017 military coup, although his personal presidential and economic ambitions also influenced his decision.
Alongside other military commanders, Chiwenga risked being charged with treason by challenging the late former president Robert Mugabe’s authority before deposing him in a coup.
When Mnangagwa was fired from Zanu PF on November 6, 2017 before being dismissed from government two days later, the military sprang into action and whisked him out of the country to ensure his safety.
As revealed by Chiwenga during the funeral of Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander Phillip Valerio Sibanda’s mother in Gokwe in July 2018, he directed the then Zimbabwe National Army commander to ensure Mnangagwa’s safety. Chiwenga was in China when Mnangagwa was dismissed.
“Today, I want to say something I have never told anyone, a secret that has been kept between me and General Sibanda,” Chiwenga told mourners.
“General Sibanda is truly a brave hero. When the then Vice-President was fired from the government last November, I was away in China on national duty. General Sibanda called me to advise me on the sad developments.
“I told him that Mnangagwa’s life could be at stake, so please make sure he is safe. General Sibanda is the one who orchestrated our President’s escape through the Mozambique border and he sent two soldiers, one of them did not have a passport.
“They managed to safely whisk him away through the border and they left him in Mozambique and came back using the same border. When I came back, we sat and insisted that we want this to be a peaceful operation. Sibanda coined the name Operation Restore Legacy.”
Chiwenga arrived from China a few days later, amid contested allegations that his soldiers disarmed a crack team from the Zimbabwe Republic Police Support Unit — a paramilitary wing of the police — which had been deployed to arrest him on arrival at Robert Mugabe International Airport
. On 13 November, he held a Press conference where he declared that Zanu PF had been infiltrated by people seeking to reverse the gains of the liberation struggle.
He called for drastic immediate action, in what many people saw as a coup threat and a direct challenge to Mugabe.
“It is pertinent to re-state that the Zimbabwe Defence Forces remain the major stockholder in respect to the gains of the liberation struggle and, when these are threatened, we are obliged to take corrective measures,” Chiwenga said.
“. . . We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that, when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in.”
Following the statement, Zanu PF described Chiwenga’s statement as treasonous. The party however said it was unshaken.
“The statement issued by General Constantino Chiwenga purporting to speak on behalf of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) was not only surprising, but was outrageous vitiation of professional soldiership and his wartime record as a high-ranking freedom fighter entrusted with Command responsibilities in a free and democratic Zimbabwe,” said then Zanu PF spokesman Simon Khaya Moyo in a statement.
“Clearly calculated to disturb national peace and stability, the said statement by General Constantino Chiwenga which was not signed, and which did not represent the rest of the command element, suggests treasonable conduct on his part as this was meant to incite insurrection and violent challenge to the Constitutional Order.
“Indeed, this is what happens when the gun seeks to overreach by dictating to politics and norms constitutionally.”
Moyo said Chiwenga’s actions were unconstitutional, adding: “As the party running the democratically-elected government of Zimbabwe, Zanu-PF will not succumb to any threats, least of all those deriving from the conduct that is inconsistent with the tenets of democracy and Constitutionalism.”
The Zanu PF youth wing also blasted Chi wenga, with then youth leader Kudzai Chipanga saying the youths were prepared to die for Mugabe.
“We will not fold out hands to allow a creature of the constitution to subvert the very constitution which establishes it,” Chipanga said.
“Defending the revolution and our leader and president is an ideal we live for and if need be it is a principle we are prepared to die for.”
On 14 November, armoured vehicles were seen on the outskirts of Harare. Under the cover of darkness, the military took over strategic places in Harare during the night including the control of Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation building at Pockets Hill in Highlands, Harare.
On 15 November, Major-General Sibusiso Busi Moyo appeared on ZBC in the wee hours of the morning to announce that the military had moved in to deal with criminals around President Mugabe.
He emphasised that the president and his family were safe while insisting that the ZDF was not embarking on a coup.
Amid meetings aimed at persuading the president to go, the military organised a massive protest on 18 November where thousands of people marched on Harare’s streets demanding that Mugabe relinquish power.
The army, working together with Zanu PF leaders, put pressure on Mugabe by holding a central committee meeting on 19 November which resolved to remove Mugabe as party president, as well as reinstate Mnangagwa, who was elected interim president.
The central committee gave Mugabe until midday 20 November 2017 to resign as president of the country.
Mnangagwa arrived back in Zimbabwe from South Africa on 22 November and was inaugurated as President of Zimbabwe on 24 November, with Chiwenga and the army having done the dirty work for him. — STAFF WRITER