HARARE - Zanu PF hardliners are said to be taking fresh aim at embattled police commissioner general Augustine Chihuri, in a desperate bid to force President Robert Mugabe to relieve him of his post when the 90-year-old returns from his holiday in the Far East, for his alleged allegiance to former Vice President Joice Mujuru.
Speculation around Chihuri’s position, and that of other service chiefs such as intelligence boss Happyton Bonyongwe and prisons head Paradzai Zimondi, first hit the headlines during the turbulent build-up to Zanu PF’s damp squib “elective” congress in Harare late last year.
But while the heat appears to have cooled down somewhat around the other service chiefs, including Air Force commander Parrence Shiri, a dark cloud seemingly continues to hover around the beleaguered Chihuri — as fresh turbulence, emanating from fear and suspicion, threatens to wreak further havoc within Mugabe’s divided ruling party.
Zanu PF sources told the Daily News yesterday that the amiable police chief was “definitely a marked man”, with Mugabe’s wife Grace and party hardliners apparently continuing to suspect that he still had a close relationship with Mujuru — “hence the charges of alleged slow police investigations into Amai Mujuru’s cases”.
“That Chihuri, who has a complicated history in Zanu PF, is under pressure is not a secret, which is unfortunate as he is actually a nice, God-fearing and competent man who concentrates on his job rather than petty party squabbles.
“His sole crime is that party hardliners perceive him and other service chiefs to be very close to Amai Mujuru and thus want him sacked, as he holds a very important position in the running of the country.
“The suggestion is thus that when president Mugabe next re-organises his Cabinet on his return from his holiday, Chihuri and others (service chiefs) will also be cut loose,” the source said.
Another government official claimed that the mooted Cabinet reshuffle would also see many senior civil servants such as permanent secretaries either losing their jobs altogether or being assigned to “lesser important and influential” areas.
Another source said it was not by chance that Chihuri’s name had “once again started popping out for the wrong reasons” in State media, and ahead of Mugabe’s expected return from his holiday.
This was after government newspapers bemoaned the fact that there had been “no breakthrough in investigations” regarding Mujuru’s alleged plots to oust and assassinate Mugabe, as well as the highly suspicious “break-ins” that had recently been reported at the offices of top government officials.
This led newspapers yesterday to speculate that this raised “fears that something tragic could happen before the police makes (sic) any arrests”. It was also, allegedly, causing senior government officials to live “in fear as this apparent lack of progress in the cases has left them exposed”.
“Make no mistake about it, the issue is not about the police per se, it is about Chihuri,” the source said, adding that, “they are building the case for his removal as was the case with Mujuru and her allies”.
Last year, Chihuri was forced to publicly deny that he belonged to the Mujuru faction.
Police spokesperson Charity Charamba issued a damning statement after allegations levelled against the force by a reported politburo member who was quoted in a local weekly alleging the police was aligned to the Mujuru faction and that the law enforcement agency assisted in the rigging of the 2013 Zanu PF primary elections. The purported politburo member claimed Chihuri and Mujuru were “home-boy and home-girl.”
Charamba said “these frivolous and despicable allegations are nothing but hallucinations.”
“First and foremost, the ZRP’s association with the vice president is from the government point of view and not from a regional position,” Charamba clarified.
“Zimbabwe Republic Police does not elect or influence the appointment of anyone to leadership position in Zanu PF.”
Charamba added that “allegations that ZRP supports Mai Mujuru are mind boggling.”
“The ZRP would like to know supporting her against who, since she is the vice president of the country?”
She said Chihuri was “a Zimbabwean who comes from the same province, not village, with the vice president and he happens to be a national leader who is Zimbabwean.”
She said ZRP was not involved in any Zanu PF factionalism, “neither do they want to be dragged into some mudslinging by the alleged misguided Politburo member.”
Charamba said the ZRP “will not be intimidated from performing their role by unscrupulous and divisive elements who are hopelessly trying to drag the ZRP into their political fights.”
“Let it be known that the Zimbabwe Republic Police remains resolute against all adversaries and will not hesitate to apply the law when the need arises,” she warned.
Previous speculative reports have suggested that Chihuri, who has led the police force for about 20 years at the helm, is to be replaced by Trust Mugova, currently a major general with the Zimbabwe National Army.
It appears not to have served Chihuri’s case that he collapsed at a police pass-out parade last year, with his Zanu PF enemies now apparently also using this unfortunate incident to claim that he was no longer fit enough to lead the force.
Efforts by the Daily News to contact Chihuri yesterday did not yield results.
But the police chief quashed raging rumours late last year that he had resigned from his post, by continuing to execute his job beyond the end of 2014, when it had been said he would leave his post.
Social media was awash with stories at the time that Chihuri had left his post under pressure from Zanu PF hawks who were similarly accusing him of belonging to a party faction allegedly aligned to Mujuru.
Prominent academic and former adviser to MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, Alex Magaisa, said recently that Zanu PF’s brutal purges of the past few months were a harbinger of worse brutal infighting still to be witnessed in the divided party.
In an opinion piece, Magaisa, who is a law lecturer at Kent University in the UK, also said the party’s ugly factional and succession wars were engineered to benefit Mugabe who feared that his close lieutenants wanted to get rid of him.
“After all, he is nearly 91 and the country he leads is in dire straits. He has used divide and rule tactics over the years, letting the factions fight each other, hate each other and plot against each other — itself a good insurance policy for himself as his rivals focus on each other,” he said.
Magaisa also noted that expelled former Zanu PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo had in 1978, along with some of his comrades, been incarcerated by the party in dungeons after facing accusations of rebelling against Mugabe.
“This is the infamous incident that is known as the Vashandi Rebellion. Among his comrades who shared his fate were Dzinashe Machingura, Henry Hamadziripi, Happison Muchechetere, Augustine Chihuri, and Sobuza Gula-Ndebele,” he wrote then.