A GROUP of handpicked soldiers from different army units led by commanders from the Mechanised Brigade based just outside Harare spearheaded the military coup that toppled long-time leader Robert Mugabe three years ago, fresh information about the plot that took Zimbabweans by surprise shows.
Investigations by The NewsHawks meant to shed light into the military operation that ended Mugabe’s 40 years in power in dramatic fashion, revealed that the military took several months to prepare for the putsch, including contracting a South African firm to refurbish its old tanks.
According to documents, the refurbishment of the Zimbabwe National Army armoured personnel vehicles was halted after a contractual disagreement with South Africa-based military contractor, Boomslang Logistics, before a local company was roped in to complete the project.
To set plans for the coup in motion, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) signed a US$20 million deal with Boomslang Logistics (Pty) Ltd to give the tanks that were used to take over government installations during the coup a facelift.
At the time of the coup, only three out of the intended 72 Brazilian designed Cascavel armoured vehicles had been upgraded but they still managed to do the job as Mugabe’s loyalists in the security forces did not put up any meaningful resistance.
During the coup one of the armoured personnel carriers was station at Munhumhutapa Building, which housed Mugabe’s office, another one was at the Chikurubi Support Unit Armoury while the third one was patrolling several locations in Harare, impeccable sources said.
The Mechanised Brigade, which was under the command of Brigadier General Steven Gwekerere worked closely with then Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander Constantino Chiwenga, former ZNA commander Phillip Valerio Sibanda and Major Generals Sibusiso Moyo and Englbert Rugeje, among other commanders who were stationed at King George VI Barracks (now Josiah Magama Barracks).
“Preparations had not gone to plan from a logistics point of view following a payment dispute with Boomslang and the new contractor,” a source familiar with the plot told The NewsHawks.
“While the plotters had put all ducks in a row in terms of preparedness, there were vulnerabilities.
“All the diplomatic work, which includes apprising military chiefs in the region had been done few weeks before the intervention, but logistically the operation was fraught with risks.”
When the coup was already in motion Mnangagwa’s allies were meeting aides of then South African president Jacob Zuma in Cape Town to inform them of the Zimbabwean military’s plan.
The positioning of armoured personnel carriers was said to be a symbolic statement to Mugabe, who l stepped down on November 21 as Parliament was on the verge of impeaching him.
Mugabe was caught by surprise as he later remarked that he did not know that Zimbabwe had functional armoured cars as he had last seen them soon after independence. The military had acquired arms for the operation behind Mugabe’s back.
“There is no paper trail showing how orders were flowing,” another source said.
“That highlighted how precarious the operat7ion was.”
Sources, however, said soldiers from the Mechanised Brigade knew as far back as November that a plan by their commanders to topple Mugabe was afoot and they remained on high alert.
The tension was heightened on November 14 when the Zanu PF youth leader Kudzanayi Chipanga dared the army to topple Mugabe.
“The guns will follow the politics and not the politics following the guns,” Chipanga told journalists at a press conference in Harare.
Within an hour after his statement was broadcast on ZBC’s lunch time news, soldiers from the Mechanised Brigade set out to prove him wrong.
Dozens of T69 and T72 tanks and armoured vehicles, which included the Cascavels rumbled out of the barracks and headed to Harare, the seat of power.
Halfway to the capital, on a road flanked by train tracks and fields, the tanks halted, apparently awaiting orders from commanders.
Pictures of the rolling tanks went viral on social media while Mugabe was chairing a Cabinet meeting, a few days after he fired his then deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Unbeknown to Mugabe, the presidential guards at State House and Zimbabwe House were already collaborating with the coup plotters.
The guards welcomed the octogenarian’s motorcade through the checkpoint, then sealed it and waited for reinforcements.
When he arrived at his Blue Roof mansion in Harare’s Borrowdale, Mugabe went to bed promptly. At around 9:30 PM, soldiers received orders to deploy into the Harare city centre and arrest top members of first lady Grace Mugabe’s faction, which was known as the G40.
Some of the armoured vehicles from Inkomo Barracks and headed to 2 Presidential Guards Barracks in Dzivaresekwa where they awaited orders. The following morning Mugabe woke up to soldiers that had switched their allegiances surrounding his mansion.
His head of security, Albert Nguluve did not show up for the usual morning briefing.
Nguluve had been captured and heavily assaulted by soldiers while on his way from Mugabe’s home on Tuesday evening, sources said.
Sources said at this stage it became apparent that Mugabe was under house arrest.
What followed was a week of drama and uncertainty that included mass demonstrations that were meant to force the then 93-year-old ruler out of power,
The announcement by Jacob Mudenda, the speaker of Parliament, that Mugabe had thrown in the towel nearly a week after army trucks were rolled onto the streets sent cheering crowds into the streets of the capital and cities across the country.Mugabe’s era had ended.