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Chiwenga tightens army grip amid succession manoeuvres

by Staff reporter
21 Mar 2024 at 08:47hrs | Views
ZIMBABWEAN Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga - a politically ambitious retired commander of the defence forces - has formally tightened his grip on the military as new Air Force of Zimbabwe boss Air Marshal John Jacob Nzvede took over from outgoing Air Marshal Elson Moyo who retired recently.

Nzvede is Chiwenga's close ally, just like Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) commander Lieutenant-General Anselem Sanyatwe.

Nzvede and Sanyatwe were in Chiwenga's wedding committee in December last year.

Political insiders in Zimbabwe's corridors of power said Chiwenga's wedding to military intelligence officer Colonel Miniyothabo Baloyi (47), 20 years his junior, was a major political affair.

 The wedding had a serious hidden political dimension that may shape Zimbabwe's future in months ahead, particularly on the thirdterm debate.

 As reported by The NewsHawks last December, Mnangagwa's third-term plan is facing serious hurdles due to military and constitutional hurdles. Insiders say the wedding was a political statement and an endorsement of Chiwenga's power ambitions and strategic manoeuvres.

From the army, Sanyatwe — who was supposed to be the best man at the wedding — represented the military, while the Air Force was represented by retired Air Marshal Shebba Shumbayawonda, now ambassador to Egypt, and Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services by Commissioner-General Moses Chihobvu.

 The Military Intelligence Directorate, where Chiwenga's wife works, was represented by its commander Major-General Thomas Moyo. Shumbayawonda was retired by Mnangagwa in 2019, together with other military commanders, including Sanyatwe and Major-Generals Martin Chedondo and Douglas Nyikayaramba.

Together with deputy Senate president retired Lieutenant-General Mike Nyambuya and Sanyatwe, Shumbayawonda was part of Chiwenga's bridal team.

But it was the best man — retired Lieutenant-General Epaphras Denga Ndaitwah — who took pride of place among Chiwenga's groomsmen. Ndaitwah (71) is a Namibian diplomat and former military commander.

Ndaitwah is critical in terms of Chiwenga's regional power matrix and manoeuvres. He is married to Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Namibia's deputy Prime Minister and minister of International Relations and Cooperation, who is also the current Swapo vice-president.

In March 2023, the late Namibian President Hage Geingob named Nandi-Ndaitwah as the Swapo presidential candidate in the November 2024 general election.

 She will almost certainly become the new President of Namibia in November, barring a political earthquake in that country, a major boost to Chiwenga's political prospects. Chiwenga and his allies are making a big comeback.

Sanyatwe, former Presidential Guard commander, was removed with other commanders in 2019, but made a dramatic comeback last year, signalling a major power shift within Zanu-PF and the state.

This means Chiwenga now has a firmer grip again on the army after his allies were removed following the November 2017 coup which brought President Emmerson Mnangagwa — Commander-in-Chief — to power. Chiwenga is locked in a fierce power struggle and delicate political brinkamanship with Mnangagwa.

 The situation was triggered by Mnangagwa's apparent betrayal of Chiwenga and coup allies who wanted him to serve one term and allow his deputy to take over. But Mnangagwa sought and got two terms controversially.

Not only that, Mnangagwa now wants a third term, bringing the political standoff to the brink. This has set off alarms within the Chiwenga camp, prompting a move to block Mnangagwa's now open third-term pursuit.

In a bid to block Mnangagwa's third-term move, Chiwenga is putting his ducks in a row in the army using critical structures and processes to get his allies into influential positions to launch a major political assault for power at the opportune moment.

The strategic manoeuvring and positioning of political and military allies signifies a new succession battle in Zanu-PF, which is gradually intensifying. Mnangagwa came to power through a coup at the height of the late former president Robert Mugabe's cut-throat succession battle.

While Chiwenga is tightening his grip on the army to regain political clout and position himself for power, Mnangagwa still has control of the situation through Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander General Philip Valerio Sibanda, who is expected to leave the army anytime soon.

Mnangagwa tried to appoint Sibanda a member of the Zanu-PF decision-making politburo last year at the Zanu-PF annual conference in Gweru, but his political move was deemed unconstitutional and unlawful, forcing him to retreat.

The reason Mnangagwa wants Sibanda in the politburo is to reconfigure power, change political dynamics and manage his succession — preferably with him succeeding himself through a third term.

The President's allies are still in charge in the second layer of the ZNA command element, although there was an attempt to remove them recently through an internal corruption investigation.

The NewsHawks broke the story recently, but was pressured by some military elements to abandon it. The army, deeply involved in politics, has greatly influenced Zimbabwean political and military history at critical historical junctures — from the Mgagao Declaration in 1975 to the November 2017 coup.

The historiography of the liberation struggle and its impact is marked by the army and its political as well as its politicised role in the making of the new Zimbabwe.

 The military involvement and intervention in politics has left an indelible footprint on Zimbabwe's contemporary history.

 If Sibanda goes and Chiwenga gets his own ally to become ZDF commander — preferably for him retired Lieutenant-General Engelbert Rugeje — he will now be in full control of the military and shoo-in to become the next President after Mnangagwa.

Source - newshawks