A Zimbabwean businessman described as “a close embassy contact” told United States ambassador James McGee that five high ranking military officers were planning a coup shortly after the signing of the Global Political Agreement in 2008.
Fred Mutanda, who is said to be a former ZIPRA commander and chairman of the American Business Association of Zimbabwe, told McGee on 21 October 2008 that the coup was planned while President Robert Mugabe was away in Kampala.
He said the plan was to wait for Mugabe to leave that very day and then announce that he was not free to return to Zimbabwe. His close supporters would simultaneously be placed under house arrest.
He claimed that the coup plotters had discussed handing power to the Speaker of the House of Assembly. The Speaker at the time was Movement for Democratic Change chairman Lovemore Moyo.
Mutanda claimed that defence forces chief Constantine Chiwenga was aware of the plot and would not stand in the way.
Embassy officials felt however that although Mutanda had excellent contacts in ZANU-PF and the military a coup was very unlikely.
Viewing cable 08HARARE946, ZIMBABWE: REPORT OF PLANNED COUP ATTEMPT
DE RUEHSB #0946 2951342
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 211342Z OCT 08 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY HARARE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3592
INFO RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
S E C R E T HARARE 000946
AF/S FOR B.WALCH
STATE PASS TO NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR B. PITTMAN
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/21/2018
SUBJECT: ZIMBABWE: REPORT OF PLANNED COUP ATTEMPT
Classified By: Ambassador James D. McGee for reason 1.4 (d)
¶1. (S/NF) Fred Mutanda, a close Embassy contact and
prominent Harare businessman, told the Ambassador on October
21 that a group of about five high-ranking military officers
were planning a coup against Zimbabwean president Robert
Mugabe while he is in Kampala this week for a regional
economic conference. Mutanda said he had met with several of
the officers, who are from the Army artillery and infantry
and Air Force. Their plan was to wait until Mugabe leaves
Harare for Kampala on October 21, and then inform him he was
not free to return to Harare. The officers would
simultaneously place close Mugabe supporters under house
arrest and announce their actions on state television and
radio. Violence would be avoided. Mutanda emphasized the
officers were not interested in political power; they had
discussed handing power to the House of Assembly speaker and
asking him to constitute a government.
¶2. (S/NF) Mutanda believed that the officers, who hold the
ranks of general, colonel, and Air Force vice marshal, were
well-placed and could be expected to maintain control of
their service branches in the event of a coup. Opposition
could be expected primarily from Emmerson Mnangagwa, Gideon
Gono, and Defense Forces chief Constantine Chiwenga. Mutanda
said he and two of the coup plotters had spoken yesterday
with Chiwenga to gauge his feelings about the current
situation in Zimbabwe; they did not reveal their plans to
Chiwenga. Chiwenga, who admitted receiving patronage from
Gono, at the same time felt Gono and other politicians were
not doing enough to turn the country around. Mutanda opined
that Chiwenga would not stand in the way of a coup.
Likewise, Mutanda discounted the capacities of Mnangagwa and
Gono to resist military intervention.
¶3. (S/NF) Secrets are difficult to keep in Harare and we
have discreetly reached out to other contacts in an effort to
corroborate Mutanda. We have received no confirmation. We
note that according to Mutanda the only persons aware of the
plot other than he and the military officers involved are
officials of the U.S. Embassy and the UK Embassy with whom
Mutanda also spoke.
¶4. (S/NF) Mutanda is a war veteran and former aide-de-camp
of Joshua Nkomo. He has excellent contacts within ZANU-PF
and the military and his sharing of information with us in
the past has generally been accurate. Therefore, we believe
a coup has been discussed among high-ranking military
officers. We also believe the plans are plausible; we have
received reports for the last couple of years of disaffection
among the security forces, and it is not unreasonable to
believe that after a coup the military would fall into line.
Further, power in Zimbabwe is now maintained by a small
clique including Mugabe, Gono, and Mnangagwa. With Mugabe
out of the country, it is unlikely the others would be able
to hold out against a military coup.
¶5. (S/F) What we are much less certain about is whether
plans will be translated into action. Over the last two
years, there have been reports of possible military coups.
Nothing, obviously, has transpired. Despite widespread
discontent within the security forces and ZANU-PF, Mugabe and
his inner circle have managed to maintain power. This
compels a healthy skepticism that the military officers in
question will summon the courage to act now. END COMMENT.