Who really calls the shots in bloody Zimbabwe crackdown?

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By The Times (UK)

THE two girls, one 11 and the other 12, were on their street in the Pumula district of Bulawayo one afternoon, going between each other’s homes, when they made the mistake of peeping through the wall of the police station to see what had happened to their neighbours who had been locked up. They were spotted, dragged in by soldiers and raped in the courtyard.

“I’m losing faith in humanity,” said Nkululeko Sibanda, spokesman for MDC leader Nelson Chamisa, in tears after speaking to the girls. “What’s happening here is beyond my ability to process.”

Since exposing the scale of violence in Zimbabwe last weekend, The Sunday Times has been contacted by numerous victims and their families. The hairdresser in hospital after soldiers broke all her fingers. The teenage boy stripped naked with knives by soldiers then flogged after they could not find his uncle, a union leader. Every day more are added to the hundreds detained.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa returned from an overseas trip in the early hours of Tuesday, calling the violence “unacceptable”. The shootings may have stopped but the campaign of terror unleashed on Zimbabwe’s poor has continued.

While his Cambridge-educated finance minister, Mthuli Ncube, was posting pictures on Twitter Saturday of meeting investors in Zurich after attending Davos, soldiers in Zimbabwe were smashing up small businesses and menacing people on public buses.

So who is really in control just 13 months after Zimbabwe celebrated the end of 37 years of dictatorial rule under Robert Mugabe?

“It’s all about power,” said Beatrice Mtetwa, Zimbabwe’s leading human rights lawyer. “There can be no question but that Zimbabwe is under military rule — the army is in control.”

This is a battle between reformers and hardliners,” explained a close adviser to Mnangagwa. “Effectively we have two presidents.”

Mtetwa was referring to Mnangagwa and his deputy, General Constantine Chiwenga, who as army chief led the move against Mugabe in November 2017.

Those close to both men say there is little love lost between them and that Chiwenga has grown impatient with Mnangagwa for appointing people from his Karanga tribe and profiting from stakes in diamond mines and Zuva, the country’s biggest petrol station chain.

“[Mnangagwa] has become too greedy and people are fed up,” said a foreign businessman who has known both men for decades.

Diamonds, fuel . . . he hasn’t stopped collecting and putting pressure on people.”

Mnangagwa left the country earlier this month on an investment-raising tour after announcing that fuel prices would more than double. When fuel protests erupted and a nationwide stayaway from work began, Chiwenga decided to act.

The Sunday Times has learnt that, at the height of the street crackdown, there were plans either to impeach the president or launch a coup on January 18 — but Chiwenga failed to get enough support from fellow MPs in the ruling Zanu-PF party and the presidential guard remained loyal.

Some MPs publicly said they had been threatened by Chiwenga’s men.

“They threatened to kill me and harm my family,” tweeted one. “I stand by Mnangagwa. The plot is foiled. They lack numbers for impeachment.”

“The whole stay-away and protests was a pretext for the military to come out,” claimed the presidential adviser. “There are so many fissures within government, lots of people aligned to Chiwenga, also some with Grace Mugabe [the wife of Mnangagwa’s predecessor]. There’s also a tribal element It’s a complete mess.”

The adviser added: “It’s a battle for the control of Zimbabwe and control of resources, the fact that shit hits the fan the moment he is out of the country I don’t think is a coincidence.”

Terence Mukupe, a former Wall Street banker who was Mnangagwa’s deputy finance minister and has family ties to him, also tweeted that he was receiving death threats to switch sides.

“I will never sellout on my president,” he wrote. “You are wasting your time threatening to kill me and my family . . . I will never join your sick plot!!! Come get me and do as you please but my president is not going anywhere!!!”

Mnangagwa is himself no stranger to violence, having headed the feared CIO intelligence agency during a crackdown in the 1980s in which thousands were killed in Matebeleland.

Mukupe insisted to The Sunday Times that Mnangagwa has changed and his focus now really is on reopening the country for business. Referring to a prophecy made by a local pastor last year, he added: “He was told by his prophet if he directly orders spilling of blood, that would be the end of his presidency and he believes that.”

Mukupe said he had no doubt the army was behind the crackdown. “Look at it this way: he takes off to market the country and those on the ground start carrying out acts contrary to what he is preaching. It was clear sabotage.

The army believe it’s they who put the president in power so they should be the ones calling the shots,” he added.

Others disagree, arguing that this may be a “good cop bad cop” routine.

“I’ve known him many years and he hasn’t changed yet,” said the foreign businessman. “The only way [Mnangagwa] has been able to maintain control is violence on the streets, beating people up — that’s his raison d’être. He was trained by North Korea and, as head of CIO, was ruthless.”

Mtetwa also thinks it is too convenient to blame Chiwenga: “I don’t believe one man has the power to do this without others being in agreement. It’s the entire Zanu-PF system.”

Under the Mugabe regime, she was twice arrested and badly beaten three times, and represented scores of people who were detained and tortured. “These are days we thought we would never see again,” she said.

“Only this is worse. Using live ammunition, putting 14, 15 and 16-year-olds in custody, wholesale arrests without any evidence . . . We are seeing systematic denial of bail, trials without people even knowing the charges.

The courts are violating every rule in the book in what is clearly an orchestrated campaign.”

For the past 12 days, Fadsizai Chibanda has gone every day to Chikurubi maximum-security prison in Harare to try to visit her husband, Patrick, who was dragged from their home in a midnight raid at the start of the crackdown. She is borrowing money to pay the bus fares, $6 each way, with nothing coming in because the small pre-school she runs is closed down.

She saw him once in court, where he looked dirty and beaten and was, as with all those picked up, denied bail. When she tried taking food to the prison, it was rejected.

“They are deliberately starving them,” said Mtetwa, who is representing Evans Mawarire, a well-known pastor who was arrested after calling for non-violent protest against the fuel-price rises.

The prisons have no food and when we take things they refuse to accept (them), saying it might have cholera.”

No one knows where the crackdown is leading. Though there is clearly no love lost between the president and his deputy, they need each other, says Stephen Chan, professor of world politics at Soas, University of London (the School of Oriental and African Studies) and a regular visitor to Zimbabwe.

General Chiwenga and [Mnangagwa] are not a happy couple but they also can’t live without each other.”

Whatever the real reason for it, the violence is a huge disappointment for those who thought things would change post-Mugabe.

Among them is Kerry Kay, who knows only too well the scale of Mugabe repression after her husband, Iain, was beaten to within an inch of his life in 2002 by thugs carrying sticks wrapped with barbed wire, who forced them off their farm.

The last time I saw her was at the march in November 2017 to call for Mugabe’s resignation, where people cheered the soldiers who had arrested him. Then she was jubilant, hugging everyone and telling me she “felt 17”. Yesterday she was smuggling baby food to a woman who had been locked up with her 11-month-old child.

“I’ve documented hundreds of thousands of cases since 1998 and I can’t believe this is happening again,” she said. “These are evil bastards who have so much blood on their hands they could drown in it, and they will do anything to stay in power.”