According to sources in Harare, the new wave of instability is the work
of the Joint Operations Command (JOC), a five-man body comprising the
chiefs of the army, air force, police, prisons and intelligence.
Modelled on a secret command structure in the former Rhodesian regime,
the JOC was revived in 1997 when Mugabe launched the Third Chimurenga
(Struggle) to pacify liberation war veterans through patronage and
political backing for land seizures.
The cabal is made up of Defence Forces Commander Constantine Chiwenga,
prison services boss Paradzai Zimondi, Police Commissioner Augustine
Chihuri, CIO Director General Happyton Bonyongwe and Central Bank
Governor Gideon Gono. Sources say Minister of Defence Emmerson
Mnangagwa and Jonathan Moyo are the brains behind the action.
War veterans are said to be involved, with Chairman Jabulani Sibanda playing a mobilisation role.
The group has been meeting every day at a Farm in Mt Hampden where,
according to reports, a large stock of arms has been hidden. They are
said to be using communication systems at the Reserve Bank where there
is another cache of small arms in the basement.
Members of the group, which vets everything from the daily front-page
story in the Herald newspaper to monetary policy proposed by Gideon
Gono, are the most powerful men in the country. Members boycotted last
Wednesday's and Friday's swearing-in ceremonies for Tsvangirai and the
country’s new ministers.
[xhead]Arrest of Roy Bennett
The abduction, arrest and charging of MDC Treasurer General and Deputy
Minister of Agriculture designate Roy Bennett was planned and carried
out by aides close to army chief Chiwenga and backed by Gideon Gono.
Sources pointed to a small unit made up of personnel from the Military
Intelligence Directorate (MID), led by Colonel Mzilikazi, and the
Special Agency SAS, the torture unit of the army, led by a man
identified as Manene, reporting directly to Chiwenga.
A Toyota Hilux used to transport Bennett to Mutare was reported to belong to Chiwenga.
The chaotic first days of the new administration, in which cabinet
posts were shared between President Robert Mugabe's Zanu (PF) and
Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, culminated in the arrest
of Bennett, just as the cabinet was being sworn in at State House.
Bennett has now been charged with treason, reportedly in relation to an
alleged 2006 plot to overthrow Mugabe. Human rights groups also said
yesterday that scores of demonstrators were arrested in the southern
city of Bulawayo as they held a Valentine's Day protest calling for
reform. In the past few weeks, scores of Tsvangirai supporters and
independent rights activists have been detained.
One African diplomat said: The JOC is the real enemy of democracy. It
obeys no laws and wants to send the signal that the MDC should not
think that being in government offers it any sort of protection.
Tsvangirai condemned Bennett's arrest yesterday, saying: His arrest
… raises a lot of concerns. It undermines the spirit of our
But the new prime minister also hinted at hostile forces operating
behind Mugabe. He said: We have to budget for some residual resistance
from those who see this deal as a threat to their interest.
Lawyers say Tsvangirai’s pledge to secure the imminent release of 30
political prisoners puts him on a collision course with the JOC, which
is using the detainees as a human shield against reform.
Human rights lawyer Dzimbabwe Chimbga said the prisoners, three of whom
have been transferred to hospital, were hostage to the JOC, which is
more powerful than Mugabe as an individual or any institution of the
power-sharing government. Observers believe the JOC is keeping the
human rights activists in prison – by overruling successive court
judgments – to negotiate amnesties for their own crimes.
Bennett, who was picked up on Friday at the Charles Prince airport near
Harare, was one of the most provocative of Tsvangirai's ministerial
nominees. He had only just returned from three years in South Africa
after fleeing arrest on charges of masterminding a plot to kill Mugabe.
One of the most powerful members of the JOC is the Zimbabwe Defence
Forces Commander Constantine Chiwenga who controls the generals beneath
him and ensures the armed forces get first call on food and fuel which
are sold at favourable prices to parallel market operators who profit
from shortages. Chiwenga controls paramilitaries and the green bombers,
who invade farms and intimidate peasants.
The group suffered one setback last week when parliament, in which the
MDC has a majority, approved a law creating a new National Security
Council to be accountable both to the MDC and Zanu (PF). The creation
of the body was a condition of the South African-brokered unity deal
signed last September.
No guns, but this is still a military coup
Events here have been dramatic and are moving so fast that it is
difficult to keep track if you are not at the centre of things. A
struggle is underway – not with guns, at least not yet! But in every
other way this is street fighting – building by building, street by
street, close combat between two forces.
On the one side is the secret cabal that has run Zimbabwe since the
quasi-military coup in 2002, when the military chiefs stated that they
would not salute Mr Tsvangirai if he were elected president. On the
other side is a peculiar coalition of forces, led by Tsvangirai but
including elements of Zanu (PF), civil society and even the armed
The cabal was noticeably absent when the prime minister was sworn in –
as were a number of other key players; this was not a coincidence.
The commander of the air force has not been seen since the assassination attempt
on him in Shamva, the others were all busy making mischief. The most
serious issue remains what role is the state president playing in this
drama, if anything.
But however it is described, we are seeing a situation where a small
group is fighting back and trying to bring about a breakdown of the
transitional government which has just been sworn in and is starting to
The key elements in this shadowy force are the Reserve Bank (under
Gono), the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General's Office and
the military and police. Gono is the paymaster and is funding this
fight-back using the very considerable resources at his command. The
Ministry of Justice – or elements in the Ministry – is providing the
legal' justification and the armed forces, including senior elements
in the police, are executing the strategy and providing the muscle.
[xhead]Act of treason
The legal ruse is the allegation – now totally discredited – that
elements of the MDC are involved in treason', in that they planned the
violent overthrow of the state.
In fact, the real situation is that it is the armed forces chiefs
themselves who are trying to do so and in so doing are committing
treason against the state. For, no matter how you construct the
transitional government, Zimbabwe now has a democratically elected
government that is constitutional and legitimate. Any attempt
therefore, to overthrow the state by force, is an act of treason.
This fight is most clearly illustrated by the detention of Roy Bennett
at Charles Prince Airport. He was hauled off the plane, bundled into a
car and then driven at high speed to Mutare. The vehicles in which he
was transported were followed by volunteers so that he could not just
disappear in the same way that 42 others have in recent weeks.
When the news reached the prime minister, he was already in
consultation with regional leaders on another crisis regarding the
appointment of Zanu (PF) ministers and the matter was discussed. Senior
Zanu (PF) ministers agreed to order that Bennett be released.
The president of South Africa left the country thinking that this had
been done and that a major diplomatic and political crisis (among many)
averted. It was not so. Whether or not such an order was given, the
police and the CIO did not release Bennett; instead they announced he
was to be charged with treason.
If the ministers of State Security and Home Affairs did give the order
for his release, then the government agencies that are accountable to
them did not obey the order. If they did not give the order, they lied
to the South African president and the prime minister and are part of,
what is, in effect, a military coup.
[xhead]Battles being fought
The treatment of the 42 other abductees is further evidence of this
defiance of the new order. They were clearly abducted illegally, held
illegally in various state institutions, finally brought to court and
charged with various crimes involving absurd allegations, and denied
bail. A number are still missing and are unaccounted for.
In one of his first actions, the prime minister visited them in the
high security prison outside Harare and instructed that four be taken
immediately to hospital for treatment. Two of the four, including
Jestina Mukoko, are very ill with life-threatening symptoms. They were
then taken to hospital and, in the evening, they were taken by force
from the hospital back to prison in clear defiance of the prime
Many other battles are being fought.
The coup plotters have people in key places all over government and
they are clearly working together. The question is can they win this
struggle? I do not think so. They are up against the majority of the
people, a democratically elected government negotiated with the support
of the entire region, and they must now fight to defend their positions
from within government where they no longer have legal and political
The key player to watch in this struggle is Gono. If he goes, then the
flow of resources (except for illegal resources such as gold and
diamond sales) will dry up and they will not be able to sustain their
fight. If he stays, the new government will be seriously weakened, as
they cannot then secure the backing and support of important financial
players who simply will not work with the bank whilst he is still in
While this is going on, the looting of State assets and resources continue.
Right now they are trying to do a deal with a local firm to sell Tel
One – a major cellphone operator that is state-owned, for US$200m,
which they want to use to support US dollar denominated vouchers to pay
the civil service with, so that they can at least buy food.
The prime minister has instead instructed that the civil service be
paid in hard currency. Chinamasa defied him last week and insisted they
go ahead with the deal even though, after Friday, he was no longer
minister of finance.