ZIMBABWE’S state security agency Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO)’s training centre in Harare’s Msasa suburb along St Patrick’s Road across Chiremba Road from Hatfield has been burnt down by fire in a suspected case of arson with political undertones, The NewsHawks has established.
CIO — the dreaded local spy network notorious for hounding civilians and brutality — is made up of a number of key branches where those under training are eventually deployed upon completing the course. Its branches are: internal and external services; counter-intelligence; training; close security unit; technical; administration; and another simply known as branch six.
“The CIO training school in Msasa was burnt down,” an intelligence source said. “It houses a training centre, a workshop and fuelling depot. It was gutted by a mysterious fire.”
This comes as CIO co-deputy Director-General Gatsha Mazithulela (pictured) had a suspicious break-in on Thursday night at his Groombridge home in Harare. Three robbers tried to raid Mazithulela’s home, but were attacked by his beefed up security, intelligence sources said.
“There was a break-in at Mazithulela’s house in Groombridge in Harare. Three would-be robbers raided his house, but were repelled by his security team, which has been beefed up of late. One robber was killed during the clashes,” another intelligence source said.
“It’s not an ordinary robbery; it’s a manifestation of a bigger political problem.”
The sources said the burning down of the CIO training school and robbery attack at Mazithulela’s house must be seen in the context of the upcoming Zanu PF elective congress later this month and next year’s general elections.
“The Zanu PF congress and the elections next year have created political tensions and rivalries, so these incidents must not be seen as isolated events, but part of political infighting within Zanu PF and state institutions,” a different source said.
Mazithulela, who was awarded a scholarship by the President’s Office in the 1990s to study overseas from the National University of Science & Technology (Nust), which explains why he eventually formally joined CIO, is also currently the chairperson of the National Authority of the Chemical Weapons Convention, Zimbabwe chapter.
The training centre is located a few metres away from the boundary between Harare’s Msasa and Hatfield suburbs along a path that links with the intersection of St Patrick’s and Chiremba roads. The busy Chiremba Road connects south-eastly to Epworth from Harare’s central business district through Hillside, Braeside, Cranborne, Queensdale and Chadcombe suburbs.
Sources said the fire at the CIO base, which is a major training centre for three separate squads of the spy agency, began at about 3pm on Thursday.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police said it was investigating the case, but had not concluded on any leads. The shock burning of the CIO offices came at a time when there was another disturbing event in the circles of the state security agents’ rank and file in a space of less than 24 hours.
The man who was shot dead during a break-in at Mazithulela’s Crichton Road residence in Groombridge around Mt Pleasant was from Chitungwiza. The two other suspected robbers escaped. The spy agents at the Msasa training centre have been undergoing three-month training sessions.
The current group commenced early this month. The training is for both newly-recruited members and seasoned ones who play the role of instructors. At the Msasa training base which was burnt, the CIO aspirants have also undergone mechanical workshop skills. Meanwhile, the attempted break-in at Mazithulela’s house has set tongues wagging. Mazithulela was appointed CIO deputy Director-General in 2020 from Nust where he was Pro-Vice-Chancellor for innovation and business development.
In November 2020, just months after his appointment, a CIO agent guarding his Matabeleland North farm drunkenly pointed a gun at him. Mazithulela was leaving his farm in Norwood in Umguza at about 7pm on 28 November when he observed Earnest Muleya, who was on guard duty at the property, staggering.
Suspecting the 38-year-old was drunk, Mazithulela demanded that Muleya hand over his AK-47 assault rifle which he was carrying. Instead of handing over the rifle, Muleya cocked it and pointed it at Mazithulela, who ran and took cover behind his vehicle before making a dash for his house where he barricaded himself inside.
Muleya was transferred to Harare and later died in a mysterious accident. However, his colleagues say the story that he pointed a gun at Mazithulela was fabricated as he only cocked the gun before de-cocking as required by practice.
The intelligence establishment has of late been rocked by controversy, with State Security minister Owen Mudha Ncube being suddenly removed and not replaced. Ncube, however, still enjoys state functions and protection. Besides being chairperson of the National Authority of the Chemical Weapons Convention, Zimbabwe chapter, Mazithulela is also a senior business executive with years of strategy and board-level experience in diverse high-technology industrial research environments, including large-scale nuclear, chemical and biotechnology energy industries.
Listed among his achievements are the Fogarty Aids International Training and Research Scholarship at Johns Hopkins University in the United States (2004), Rockefeller Foundation pre-doctoral fellowship (1995 to 1998), post-doctoral research fellowship at the University of Nottingham, and post-doctoral scientist at DuPont Incorporated in the United States.
He was awarded support from the UK-South Africa Science and Technology Research Fund in 1997. His interests extend to current affairs and military strategy. Mazithulela was born in 1971 and underwent his secondary education in Bulawayo.
He was among the 270 pioneers at Nust in 1991. He graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science (Honours) degree in biology and biochemistry in 1994. He received a scholarship from the President’s Office – under which the CIO falls – and later a Rockefeller Foundation doctoral scholarship to study genetic engineering at the John Innes Centre in the United Kingdom.
Mazithulela graduated with a PhD in genetic engineering at the age of 27 and worked in the United States and the United Kingdom.
He attained a Master of Business Administration degree in London. He also created his own piece of history by becoming the first Nust graduate to obtain a PhD in 1998 after accepting a challenge from the institution’s founding vice-chancellor, the late professor Phineas Makhurane.
Further, Mazithulela holds an MBA in the valuation of new technologies using real options in financial mathematics. He has served as an innovation manager for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s Biochemtek division, director of the South African Aids Vaccine Initiative at the South African Medical Research Council and was managing director of Secure Plan Investment Limited in the UK.
The Zimbabwean technocrat served as a board member for the Cape Biotechnology Trust, Anvir Biopharmaceticals (Pty) Ltd and chairperson of Elevation Biotechnology (Pty) Ltd. He also served as National Research Foundation of South Africa vice-president, Nuclear Technology Products (Pty) Limited, at the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation corporate development consultant.
However, Mazithulela left South Africa under a cloud of controversy. When he returned home, he became one of the successful farmers in Matabeleland region.
Before formally joining the CIO, Mazithulela worked for the government as principal director in the then senior minister Simon Khaya Moyo’s office when he was also Zanu PF chair. Mazithulela was also appointed Bulawayo special councillor after losing Zanu PF primaries in Bulawayo.