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President’s third-term bid up in smoke as army moves in



WHILE Zanu PF is gradually inching towards a two-thirds parliamentary majority through a by-elections backdoor opened by opposition CCC political activist Sengezo Tshabangu’s fraudulent recalls, the army has made strategic and tactical manoeuvres to block President Emmerson Mnangagwa from staying on beyond 2028, state security sources say.


Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF allies have of late been demanding “ED2028”, a political slogan similar to the one they came up with in 2018 saying “ED2023”, urging him to go for a second term, only five months into his first elected term.

Now they want him to go for a complicated third term, but the army and the constitution stand in his way.

He would need Napoleonic determination to overcome those hurdles, with a risk of that becoming his Waterloo.

Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba, a political ally of his rival Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, has denied the President wants a third term.

However, sources say from the beginning, Mnangagwa admired and wanted to adopt Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s model, including staying on for a third term.

Kagame won a third term in 2017 amid protests by critics, accusing him of running an authoritarian project. His supporters point to the country’s phenomenal economic growth and development to blunt that criticism.

The sources say Mnangagwa (officially 81 – some say he is actually 85) want to be like Kagame, but the Zimbabwean political and constitutional environment are different, making  it harder for him to manipulate the situation to cling to power even with a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

Even Mnangagwa’s international handlers during the coup wanted him to adopt the Rwandan model.There were active engagements and programmes to promote that. Interactions between Harare and Kigali dramatically increased after Mnangagwa came in through the coup.

In a wide-ranging discussion on the issue this week, state security operators told The NewsHawks that Mnangagwa had a real third-term ambition, but that has now been disrupted by military manoeuvres to take over in 2028 — preferably before — and a complicated constitutional arrangement.

 The army is willing take him head-on if he insists, the sources say.

To ensure a third term, Mnangagwa had put his ducks in a row through the controversial recent general elections he won by fair means or foul using the shadowy securocratic Forever Associates Zimbabwe (Faz) — not the military — and subsequent appointments of family, friends and cronies into critical positions to control the levers of state power.

Before the recent elections, the sources say, there was a strong move by Mnangagwa to get rid of the army to win the polls through Faz without risking internal sabotage by the military.

The military was not just removed from the electoral process, but also from running key government ministries and departments, particularly the ministry of Defence itself.

For instance, to get a grip on Defence House, Mnangagwa removed permanent secretary Grey Marongwe and deployed his trusted ally Aaron Nhepera, a former Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) deputy director-general.

Nhepera acted as CIO director-general after retired Major-General Happyton Bonyongwe was appointed Justice minister by the late former president Robert Mugabe in 2017 in the twilight zone of his rule – last days of his reign.

After that, Nhepera was appointed Home Affairs permanent secretary before being moved to Defence where he swiftly moved to purge military deployees there as part of coup-proofing and paving way for a possible, but complicated third term.

The ministry was used by Mnangagwa and his allies to coordinate the coup.
A security source said:

“When Mnangagwa came to power, he cleared state security agencies of Mugabe’s appointments and allies. There were wholesale changes in CIO and police, and later the army ranks. He then put his own people in charge.

“He then moved to remove Chiwenga’s military and political allies, especially army commanders who had spearheaded Operation Restore Legacy (the November 2017 coup) which brought him to power.

“That was the first phase of political power consolidation and retention. The second phase became coup-proofing to ensure there was no coup staged against him. After that, he managed to stay for a second term though the recent elections managed by Faz.

“Now, this leads us to the third term agenda. At heart Mnangagwa certainly wants a third term, but this is a far more complicated operation due to the constitution and military stumbling blocks. After being outmanoeuvred by Mnangagwa on the issue of two terms, particularly the 2023 betrayal, the army is now determined to take over in 2028; they want him to go before that. They want him to go voluntarily before his term ends just like they do or used to do in Botswana where an incumbent would quit two years before his term actually ends to ensure his incoming successor has time to learn the ropes and put one foot in before the elections.”

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Faz and army tensions

After Mnangagwa sidelined the army and used Faz as his electoral instrument of choice, tensions mounted within state security structures and government, as well as Zanu PF, over the role of the quasi-securocratic outfit which  had unconstitutionally seized control of the running of the 2023 elections to retain the incumbent in power.

Investigations by The NewsHawks before the elections showed senior army commanders, both serving and retired, were suspicious and resentful of the role being played by Faz which displaced them from their decades-old task and feeding trough, unconstitutionally and unlawfully running elections which came with substantial material and financial rewards.

Faz, which was well-resourced with money and cars, was led by CIO deputy director-general Walter Tapfumaneyi.

It had thousands of officers and volunteers working through intelligence structures with some army and police units running door-to-door campaigns, night vigils, community events, technology-based messaging and monitoring all stages of the electoral process.

Insiders said Mnangagwa — who operates more like a securocrat than a civilian politician — had deployed Faz to ensure his re-election as he feared being sabotaged by the army.

However, some senior army chiefs were against the idea, including the new Zimbabwe National Army commander Lieutenant-General Anselem Sanyatwe, who was ambassador to Tanzania.

Sanyatwe, former presidential guard commander who helped Mnangagwa to come to power before he was sidelined, is Chiwenga’s close ally.

His recent ascendancy signalled the rise of the military and their plan to take over using their own hierarchy, initially in 2023, but now 2028 after Mnangagwa’s betrayal.

Under Chiwenga’s presidency, Sanyatwe is expected to become Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander.

General Philip Valerio Sibanda, who retires at the end of this year, could become one of the vice-presidents under Chiwenga, with retired Lieutenant-General Engelbert Rugeje as the other.

But before that, Rugeje might be deployed to replace Sibanda, although Mnangagwa does not want him as shown by how he removed him as Zanu PF commissar after he was imposed by Chiwenga and the army.

Mnangagwa also blocked Rugeje from becoming ZNA commander after the death of Lieutenant-General Edzai Chimonyo in 2021. Instead he appointed Lieutenant-General David Sigauke to take over from Chimonyo, before he was recently removed all of a sudden for Sanyatwe to come in.

A military source said before elections: “The move to sideline the army from the electoral process, replacing it with Faz, caused deep divisions and tensions within security forces.”
One military commander said Faz could become a Frankenstein monster — a thing which destroys its creator — for Mnangagwa.

“As the army, we don’t know anything about Faz, except what we read in the media. Who are these people? What is their agenda and what will happen after the elections? Since they are not a constitutional structure, what is the legality of what they are doing?”

After Faz helped Mnangagwa to win elections, military chiefs still complained in the background.

Faz was arbitrarily deployed to coordinate Zanu PF electoral activities on the ground, while at the same time checkmating the army that used to spearhead campaigns.

This created a strategic brinkmanship between the army and CIO on the ground.

Faz — which had millions of dollars and hundreds of cars for campaigns — was revived and deployed last year to unconstitutionally run or influence the elections and their outcome.

It was formed in 2010 by Tapfumaneyi in former State Security minister Didymus Mutasa’s office .

Elections in Zimbabwe are usually run by the army to rescue Zanu PF and its leaders.
Past elections were coordinated through the Joint Operations Command (Joc), which brings together the army, intelligence and police.

The military has been playing a key role in elections, most prominently after 2000 when the opposition became strong.

Fearing defeat, Mnangagwa brought in Faz and pushed aside the army and its front organisation Heritage Trust.

Just like the military which has Heritage and Fairhaven which owns Africom or Rusununguko/Nkululeko Holdings, the CIO also acts through various front organisations such as Faz, Chiltern Trust and Terrestrial Holdings.

However, Mnangagwa’s biggest stumbling block is not just the army but also the constitution.
Even if Zanu PF ends up with a two-thirds parliamentary majority, changing the constitution to allow a third term for Mnangagwa — which is currently prohibited — he would have a mountain to climb to extend his rule.

The constitution not only prohibits a third term but also bars an incumbent from amending it for his or her own benefit. 

To change the provision on term limits, the constitution also requires an amendment through a referendum and a popular majority.

Constitution stumbling block

Now that Mnangagwa has won a second term, the constitutional process he would need to get a third term requires not just a two-thirds majority in Parliament, but also a popular majority in a referendum as well.

As things stand, Mnangagwa is ineligible to stand for re-election in 2028 as he would have served his two terms of five years each.

The interregnum between November 2017 when he seized power from the late former president Robert Mugabe and August 2018 when he was sworn in does not count as a term as it is less than the minimum three years which count as a full term.

Section 91 of Zimbabwe’s constitution, which came into effect in 2013, limits a president’s tenure in office to two five-year terms.

Section 91(2) reads: “A person is disqualified for election as President or Vice-President if he or she has already held office as President under this Constitution for two terms, whether continuous or not, and for the purpose of this subsection three or more years’ service is deemed to be a full term.”

At the time of drafting the new constitution, Mugabe, who ruled for 37 years, had been in that position for more than 25 years, having first served as prime minister for seven years before that.

Mugabe’s extended stay in power, as well as his clearly insatiable appetite to retain it, was a key consideration for the constitution drafters.

The framers crafted a provision that effectively barred an incumbent president from changing the constitution to extend his or her stay in power.

So there is no incentive for Mnangagwa to change the constitution to remove the two-term limits as that would not benefit him unless he were to overhaul the constitution on those issues, removing all those provisions to clear the path for a third term, a mammoth task.

But Mnangagwa has already shown that he is willing to take the risk to maintain power as he did with constitutional amendment number one and number two.

The main effect of amendment number one was to change the procedure of appointing the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice and Judge President by removing the interviews process to allow the President to make the appointments in consultations with the Judicial Service Commission, opening room for arbitrarily deployments.

Amendment number two — widely known as the Malaba Act as it controversially benefitted Chief Justice Luke Malaba to extend his tenure after reaching retirement age — dealt with the removal of the running mates clause to deal with Chiwenga to avoid making him an elected vice-president who is difficult to remove, tenure of judges and their promotion, proportional representation of women in Parliament and delimitation of electoral boundaries.

Section 328 (7) of the constitution says: “Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, an amendment to a term-limit provision, the effect of which is to extend the length of time that a person may hold or occupy any public office, does not apply in relation to any person who held or occupied that office, or an equivalent office, at any time before the amendment.”

To provide further safeguards against presidential term limit extension, the architects of the new constitution came up with a provision stipulating that section 328 could itself only be amended through a referendum via a popular majority.

This constitutional stumbling block, combined with military manoeuvres to take over in 2028, leaves Mnangagwa’s third-term ambition up in smoke.

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