By Gift Phiri
Several names are being bandied around as possible candidates to replace Happyton Bonyongwe as the country’s top spy.
A new director-general of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) is expected to be named as early as next month, according to authoritative sources in the President’s Office.
President Robert Mugabe is said to have begun the search for Bonyongwe’s replacement as the intelligence community is still absorbing his decision to move the nation’s top spy to the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs ministry.
Highly-placed sources told the Daily News that candidates being considered for appointment include Aaron Nhepera, who is the deputy director-general of the CIO.
Also tipped for appointment is Trust Mugoba, the Zimbabwe National Army chief-of-staff (general staff) and Gift Machengete, the director of Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz).
Nhepera was appointed deputy director-general in July 2011 following the death of the late national hero Maynard Muzariri, who died in April 2011.
He climbed up the ladder of the intelligence service to the position of director of security before he became the deputy director-general.
He is one of the longest-serving directors in the CIO.
Nhepera is a holder of Masters in Business Administration (MBA), which he attained in the United Kingdom and is a dyed-in-the-wool war veteran who served Zanu PF’s military wing Zanla when he joined the liberation struggle in 1974.
Machengete, the director of Potraz, is seen as a dark horse, and serving at the pinnacle of such a powerful telecoms regulator is a remarkably powerful position for any man.
Machengete’s rise is particularly notable — and to some, downright troubling — given his CIO-sponsored training, his long tenure as an intelligence officer, his alliance with the Mugabe regime, his deep and ongoing relationship with the spy agency and his long service in the diplomatic service.
He is also an entrepreneur and thinker.
A former CIO director of finance and administration, Machengete is a holder of an MBA.
He has served in Zimbabwe’s diplomatic missions in China and Malaysia either as deputy ambassador or commissioner.
Asked when the president will fill the vacant CIO director-general post, presidential spokesperson George Charamba told the Daily News yesterday: “To the extent that it is a critical service, the president does not want it to go unmanned for long.”
Asked when exactly he was likely to announce a replacement, Charamba said: “It will come when it will,” adding that the appointment was “the prerogative of the head of State”.
“We are talking about the intelligence service, it’s a sensitive area, the final word comes from the president,” Charamba said.
Asked to confirm the names being bandied around, Charamba said: “The only person who has names to throw around is the president. Unless you have a way into the president’s mind, maybe you can guess.
“I’m not in a position to hazard a guess. There is only one person in power, and it’s the president. The only time you can speculate is after we have disclosed,” he said, tongue-in-cheek.
He said he cannot tell the “when and who”, adding “only VaMugabe and VaMugabe alone, as the appointing authority, can put the speculation to rest.”
Finding a permanent replacement who can win and earn the trust of rank-and-file CIO agents will be a tall order for Mugabe.
There is speculation that Mugabe could cross a long-standing tradition of natural succession.
Several CIO agents were reportedly outraged by the removal of Bonyongwe, who was known among operatives as “Headmaster”.
Insiders claimed Bonyongwe was removed on orders of First Lady Grace Mugabe, who never forgave him for letting her husband fall down a flight of stairs on his return to Zimbabwe from Ethiopia in February 2015, in an incident captured on camera despite the best efforts of his security team.
Mugabe was making his way down from a raised podium at the airport when he appeared to miss a step and fell to the ground.
Bonyongwe and his security team were quick to step in, surrounding the president and helping him the rest of the way to a parked limousine. Daily News