THE GREAT ESCAPE :HOW NGWENA DID IT | There are aspects of stealthy manoeuvres, guns, money, confrontation and drama as well as suspense; a clear beginning, rising action and some sort of resolution — qualities of a good movie.
ED’s escape: The details
Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantino Chiwenga (right) inspects a guard of honour with Chinese General Li Zuocheng in Beijing on Wednesday.
This is how the story of former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa unfolded as his long political career in Zanu PF — spanning 54 years — came to a dramatic and crashing halt on a sweltering Monday afternoon in Harare.
After Mnangagwa was fired around 3pm on Monday, a series of events began unfolding behind the scenes. The day kicked off against a backdrop of ominous political clouds on the horizon.
Since the final push against Mnangagwa started on June 1, meandering through a rugged political landscape towards denouement, the stage had been set for his removal last Saturday when President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace went for broke at political rallies in Bulawayo and Harare to shipwreck the career of their long-term ally-turned-bitter-rival.
Informed sources told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that prior to firing Mnangagwa, Mugabe held a meeting with senior Zanu PF officials at State House to discuss his fate. The meeting was attended by senior Zanu PF leaders, including Ignatius Chombo, Simon Khaya Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere and Grace, among other key heads of critical departments.
“The fateful day for Mnangagwa started with a meeting convened by Mugabe at State House in Harare to decide his fate. It was also organised to assess the party situation and mobilise structures and members ahead of the extraordinary congress next month and next year’s general elections,” an informed source said.
“After hours of deliberations, the meeting resolved that Mnangagwa must be fired. Party spokesperson Khaya Moyo was then tasked with drafting of a letter of dismissal for Mnangagwa and a statement to announce that.
“A letter which had similar contents to the statement was then delivered to Mnangagwa’s office by (William) Gwatiringa from Mugabe’s office. Shortly after that, a press conference was called by Moyo at his Munhumutapa offices to announce the former vice-president’s dismissal.”
In the meantime, rumours and speculation had engulfed Harare, suggesting Mugabe would call a press conference at State House to fire Mnangagwa. Social media was also abuzz with the disinformation which created a tense environment.
At the press conference, Moyo read out the statement that was authorised by the meeting chaired by Mugabe earlier.
The sources said after being served with the letter, Mnangagwa, visibly shocked and anxious, hurriedly cleared his office before leaving. Soon after he also went on to clear his official residence in Borrowdale.
As a consequence of the dismissal, Mnangagwa suffered oesophagitis and gastritis, conditions which are stress-induced. Sources said army structures then moved in to assist him to leave the country under the guise of going to seek medical treatment in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“A senior army commander called Dr Jasper Chimedza, a military doctor in private practice, was asked to write a letter for Mnangagwa to seek medical attention in South Africa as a way of facilitating his emergency exit,” another source said.
“While those close to Mnangagwa said he was indeed stressed and sick, it also emerged that it was part of his escape plan. The leaked medical note was organised through army structures.”
After getting the medical letter, sources said, Mnangagwa contacted his business associates at the Moti Group in South Africa who have interests in chrome mining locally. Apart from mining, the group is also into real estate, aviation, security services, automotive industry and financial services.
“First to facilitate his exit, Mnangagwa contacted the Moti family to use their private jet, which was parked at the Harare International Airport, to fly out to Johannesburg, but they refused to give him the aircraft, saying they did not want to be entangled in Zimbabwean politics as they are only in the country for business,” an informed source said.
“As an alternative, Mnangagwa’s lingering protocol then went to Fly HAC (Halsteds Aviation Corporation) Zimbabwe, a local air charter service, to arrange for a flight for emergency evacuation. “Fly HAC, however, demanded to see the doctor’s letter. They also demanded that the patient be examined by their own doctors to ascertain the nature of the illness and determine the urgency of the issue, but Mnangagwa did not present himself.
“In the meantime, a Mr Bailey was asked to book the flight, but payment through his debit card could not go through. By that time, Mnangagwa’s associates had already contacted officials at Manyame Air Force Base to secure special and urgent authorisation for the private jet to leave, but permission was denied. They were told to clear the flight through normal procedures.”
Officials close to Mnangagwa say the process took up to around midnight until it became clear that no jet was going to be available.
“At the point, plan B then kicked in,” the source said. “This involved driving to Forbes Border Post en route to Beira. It is understood Mnangagwa set off for the eastern border post soon after midnight in a convoy of cars. By that time officials manning border posts countrywide were on high alert after being informed of Mnangagwa’s escape plans.
A security memorandum seen by the Zimbabwe Independent says one of Mnangagwa’s associates, Hosea Manzunzu, had earlier gone to Forbes Border Post at 5:30pm driving a silver Mercedes-Benz ML350 “which he wanted cleared for temporary export to Beira where he allegedly wanted to conduct business”. He was attended to by an Assistant Inspector Chivasa.
Before being cleared, Manzunzu decided to cancel his trip after receiving an urgent call.
The following day, Tuesday morning, Chivasa, according to the memo, received an instruction from a senior police officer from Mutare Central district to be on high alert and monitor movements of high-profile politicians at Forbes.
“That same day Manzunzu returned to the border post with the same vehicle and the same intention. During the verification of the occupants, it was discovered that (former vice-president Emmerson) Mnangagwa was in the vehicle. The other passengers included Tarirai David Munangagwa of Harare. There were also four other unidentified men in the car,” it says.
Following a heated argument, a scuffle ensued as Mnangagwa’s security aides blocked police officers from searching his car. During the brawl, a police officer was disarmed by Mnangagwa’s aides who were armed with pistols.
“After that they fled and approached Marymount border control post, which is manned by soldiers from 3 Brigade. That is where he negotiated and left,” the memo says.
Another source said: “Apart from being searched for political reasons, police had been tipped off that Mnangagwa could attempt to move out large sums of money and precious minerals like gold out of the country. Upon arrival in Mozambique, he got into a private jet and left for Johannesburg. He feared for his life and also wanted to take out his valuables.
“Following his expulsion from government, he received threats after his official security people were withdrawn. As if his gut instinct was correct, police have now opened a case against him. Mnangagwa also understood that with his office protection gone, he was vulnerable on a number of fronts; so he had to run.”
Commenting on his escape on Wednesday, Mnangagwa said: “My sudden departure was caused by incessant threats on my personal life and family by those who have attempted before through various forms of elimination, including poisoning.”
This came as security provided by the army at his official residence was withdrawn, leaving his family vulnerable. The withdrawal came after some military details had earlier been sent to monitor his residences.
Barely 24 hours after firing his deputy, Mugabe warned that those who wanted to overthrow him were on a treacherous path that could lead to death.
Mnangagwa’s associates also say he left so that he could be accessible to his allies while plotting his next move.
“In order to link up with some of his close allies to discuss and assess the situation, he had to be at an accessible place like Johannesburg. It would have been difficult for him to operate from Beira. He wants to link up with Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantino Chiwenga, July Moyo and Chris Mutsvangwa in Johannesburg to assess the situation,” another source said.
Chiwenga was sent to China last week on an official mission, although sources say this was part of Mugabe’s strategy to isolate Mnangagwa from key allies before firing him.
While Chiwenga was in China, Zimbabwe National Army (Chief of Staff-General Staff) Major-General Trust Mugoba — who is in charge of operations in the military, a critical department — also left for his new assignment at the African Union standby force. Mugoba left last Saturday when Mugabe and his wife were busy skinning Mnangagwa alive in Bulawayo.
“Chiwenga’s trip and Mugoba’s redeployment were part of Mugabe’s plan to fire Mnangagwa. This was necessary because of threats of military intervention,” a source said.
Mugabe has been on a confrontational path with security chiefs since 2015. In July, he warned the military to stop meddling in Zanu PF factional battles and succession issues.
“Since then, he has been manoeuvring to neutralise military commanders linked to Mnangagwa to ensure that they do not scuttle his succession plans to install Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi as his successor with Grace and Phelekezela Mphoko as his deputies,” a source said. “Grace will become new vice-president next month together with Sekeramayi and Mphoko, menaing three vice-presidents, as part of the process to resolve the succession issue.”