HARARE - The burglars that broke into Acting President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office presumably on Wednesday night left enough perplexing clues behind to cause some head-scratching about the motive, amid escalating fear it was part of an elaborate plot to bug the offices.
In desperation, as investigations hit a dead end, Information minister Chris Mushohwe contrived to link the reported break-in to the Daily News’ supposedly negative media reports on the embattled VP, a former security chief with strong ties to the military and intelligence apparatus.
It is not clear why Mushohwe usurped the role of the Home Affairs and State Security portfolios to comment on the sensitive probe, raising further questions about the “dodgy” break-in.
Currently, there are no suspects, no arrests and no one is certain what time exactly the break-in occurred, amid fears the offices may have been fitted with spying equipment.
Police spokesperson Charity Charamba told the Daily News yesterday: “I know they are working on it. They are tied up with the matter, they are working.”
Police earlier confirmed a ceiling panel in Mnangagwa’s office had been removed.
The break-in — said to be the sixth by President Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba — has drawn high-level attention to the VP office’s security amid questions whether the alarm system was working properly.
Sloppy officials “disturbed, contaminated and tampered with” crucial evidence at the VP’s office, with the crime scene not cordoned off.
The door locks got a thorough review by police even though the doors were not tampered with, according to Virginia Mabhiza, the permanent secretary in the Justice ministry.
The burglars did not seize a huge stash of confidential documents in the VP’s office, did not remove anything, but security sources said records kept in his office are “not of a sensitive variety” although there are “financial records and other such information.”
Our security source said there were two open file drawers, and the official conjectured that the burglars had photographed the contents.
Yet despite a massive police hunt, into which State security and police threw several agents, the perpetrators of that audacious break-are yet to be identified.
The security official said the burglar had carried out the perfect political crime, and got away scot-free.
Security sources said the burglars could have been wearing rubber surgical gloves, after the Radiation Protection Authority of Zimbabwe and cops with sniffer dogs swept the office for bugs or fingerprints but could not find anything.
There are fears that the offices could have been bugged with sophisticated devices capable of picking up and transmitting all talk, including telephone conversations.
Mnangagwa — an ex-guerrilla fighter who spent a decade in colonial jails with President Robert Mugabe for fighting the white minority government — has long been seen as a possible successor to the 91-year-old president.
He was frequently at the president’s side during critical moments of Mugabe’s long, often tumultuous rule, and held important posts such as minister of State Security, Defence and Finance, as well as Speaker of Parliament.
One security source described the burglary as “professional” and “clandestine”.
The burglary raises serious questions given accusations that rival Zanu PF factions are aggressively spying on each other.
But a key Mnangagwa ally doubted theories that the crime was politically motivated.
“If someone was doing this kind of break-in, they wouldn’t want you to know,” he said.
But the disarray in the offices was apparent. There are fears the purloined materials could have found their way into hostile hands.
A senior Zanu PF central committee member, who declined to be named citing protocol, told the Daily News yesterday that the burglars hoped that they would be hitting the overweening VP where it hurt most, but he appeared unperturbed.
During a Press visit to his offices late on Wednesday, Mnangagwa was laughing heartily, seemingly unmoved by the burglary.
Mnangagwa, 69, named in December 2014 as one of two new vice presidents in a shake-up following the sacking of the former vice president Joice Mujuru — once viewed as Mugabe’s heir apparent, also suffered an attempt on his life just after being elevated, with the burglary slammed by Mugabe.
“The office of Mnangagwa was broken into last night, and poisonous powder spread all over the desk and so on,” Mugabe said in the wake of the break-in at Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF HQ just after he became one of two VPs.
“That powder, which when the door opens, there is that flash of air, would be blown up and then he would breathe it.”
But his secretary opened the door instead, inhaled the air, and was rushed to an intensive care unit in a Harare hospital, he said.
“For what? What wrong have we done? Why? Why, why, why?” Mugabe thundered while pounding the podium with his clenched fist to loud gasps from Zanu PF’s 300-member central committee.
“I am just warning you that it’s not always those who smile at us who are our friends,” Mugabe added.
Just like this latest burglary, police’s special unit attended the scene but the perpetrators of the offence were never apprehended.
Mnangagwa served as Zimbabwe’s State Security minister in the 1980s, during Mugabe’s crackdown on an uprising in the country’s Matabeleland and Midlands provinces.
The so-called Gukurahundi massacres, carried out by a crack military unit trained by North Korean military advisers, resulted in the killings of
20 000 civilians, according to an estimate by the rights group Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe.
A lawyer by profession, Mnangagwa has a reputation as a hardliner and was Mugabe’s chief election agent in the 2008 and 2013 elections, both of which were tainted by flagrant rights abuses and accusations of ballot theft.
Mnangagwa’s combative defence of Mugabe’s nationalism and socialism has made him a favoured protégé.