Zimbabwe: Who’s who in Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga’s inner circle 

By Farai Shawn Matiashe

Posted on Thursday, 18 August 2022 13:36
photo by TAR

Constantino Chiwenga, Zimbabwe's vice-president, has been on a journey: first as staunch backer of former President Mugabe, then deposing him in coup and installing current President Mnangagwa. He now has presidential ambitions of his own, but who are his key allies? We take you on a trip through his inner circle, from his military connections, to his political supporters and business partners.

As one of the top leaders of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), Chiwenga is likely to challenge President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the ruling party’s congress slated for October this year. He was one of the key army figures in a military coup that ousted Mugabe in 2017.

A likely successor of Mnangagwa before or after the 2023 general polls, his trusted contacts and confidants in the military, party, business and government have helped him lead a faction that is pushing the president out of power.

His influence in Zanu-PF political spheres dates back to colonial rule, but was weakened when he was enlisted into the newly-formed army just after independence.

Chiwenga commanded the First Brigade in Zimbabwe’s second-largest city of Bulawayo in 1981, and is accused of participating in a genocide – the Gukurahundi massacres that saw about 20,000 Ndebeles in Matabeleland and Midlands Province killed by a North Korean trained Fifth Brigade.

To date, Chiwenga and his associates have not yet formally apologised.

A trusted Mugabe confidante, Chiwenga became a commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces in 2004 after having led the Zimbabwe National Army since 1994.

Chiwenga is also tapping into a disgruntled old guard removed from the government by Mnangagwa,

The military supported the ‘Lacoste’ faction of the ruling party, led by the then Vice-President Mnangagwa. In November 2017, Chiwenga successfully led a military coup that toppled Mugabe and put Mnangagwa in power.

He retired from the military to become vice-president in late 2018. However, his relationship with Mnangagwa became frosty when the latter started showing ambitions to lead the country beyond the 2023 harmonised elections.

Insiders say before the coup, there had been an agreement that Mnangagwa would lead the country for one term and then step down for Chiwenga to take over.

Although Chiwenga supports Mnangagwa in public, it is certain there are now two factions in Zanu-PF: one led by the president and another by his deputy.

Chiwenga has massive military support, but he is also tapping into a disgruntled old guard removed from the government by Mnangagwa, as well as some supporters and leaders of the exiled ‘Generation 40’ faction that was led by former First Lady Grace Mugabe.

Here are some of his closest associates – in the military, business and politics.

Chiwenga consults Anselem Sanyatwe, an ex-Presidential Guard (PG) commander, on both personal matters and matters of national interest.

With his military personnel from the infantry battalion and the PG, together with the Mechanised Brigade stationed at Inkomo Barracks in Harare, Sanyatwe played a critical role in the 2017 coup.

The PG, which is trained for urban warfare, is responsible for providing security for the president and his deputies as well as protecting Harare.

Sanyatwe’s PG killed six unarmed civilians on 1 August 2018, when they were deployed to quell demonstrations that erupted in Harare after the electoral body delayed announcing election results.

The US and the UK have since imposed sanctions on Sanyatwe and other security chiefs.

In 2019, Mnangagwa retired Sanyatwe from the army and posted him as ambassador to Tanzania, a move seen by many as weakening Chiwenga’s power base in the military.

Chiwenga and Sanyatwe, who are both Catholics, served together in the military during the colonial era and after independence.

In November 2019, Sanyatwe flew into the country from Tanzania to give Mary Mubaiwa’s family a divorce token of $100 known as Gupuro in the Shona language, a traditional way of terminating marriage unions.

In early August, Chiwenga – accompanied by his new wife Miniyothabo Baloyi – graced the wedding of Sanyatwe and his wife Chido in Nyanga, 271 kilometres from Harare.

Lieutenant-General (Retired) Engelbert Rugeje, was retired from the military by Mnangagwa after the coup in December 2017.

Chiwenga and Rugeje are close allies. He influenced Rugeje’s deployment to Zanu PF headquarters where he held the post of national political commissar, an influential position within the party.

He lost this post in mid-2019 after Mnangagwa appointed his loyalists to consolidate power, elbowing out Chiwenga’s allies.

Rugeje, who hails from Masvingo Province, has been using his influence to ensure members from the Chiwenga camp take control of the province.

Chiwenga has visited Masvingo several times this year.

Caleb Dengu is a prominent businessman who hails from Wedza, the same area where Chiwenga comes from. A war veteran, Dengu supported Mnangagwa before and a few years after the military coup.

In independent Zimbabwe, Dengu worked in government ministries, including the finance ministry, before venturing into the private sector.

In his book The Bridge — Pathway To New Zimbabwe, which was published in September 2020, Dengu, a managing partner in CDF Trust and Consulting BV (an investment advisory platform and private equity management firm) called on Mnangagwa to step down for a younger leader to take over the reins of power.

Dengu believes Mnangagwa’s ascension to power renders him an illegitimate leader.

A medical doctor and current deputy health minister, John Mangwiro is one of Chiwenga’s close associates in government.

Mangwiro was appointed to the health ministry portfoli0 in September 2018, deputising Obadiah Moyo who was sacked in July 2020 on allegations of using his influence to award a $60m worth tender to a United Arab Emirates-based company. The firm, which was linked to Mnangagwa’s family, was to supply personal protective equipment and Covid-19 test kits.

Mangwiro is Chiwenga’s personal physician and a political ally.

Sources say Chiwenga is even blocking Mangwiro’s arrest by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) on allegations that in 2020, the deputy health minister abused his office by directing NatPharm, a state-owned medical supplies entity, to award an inflated $5.6m Covid-19 tender to a Chinese company in which he had a personal interest in.

The Judiciary plays a significant role in Zimbabwean politics. Justice George Chiweshe is Chiwenga’s confidant in the judiciary.

A former war veteran and ex-military general, Chiweshe is currently a Supreme Court judge.

Chiweshe was chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission in the 2008 elections when opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won before losing to Mugabe in a bloody rerun.

He was elevated to the Supreme Court after the three judges he appointed to hear the case of Justice Luke Malaba’s tenure renewal ruled that the latter’s tenure had expired. Malaba is a Mnangagwa ally and the president needs him in the 2023 general elections.

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