Mystery surrounds stunning claims emanating from South Africa that six Zimbabweans suspected of plotting to overthrow President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF government are being held by that country’s authorities following their arrest two weeks ago.
Determined efforts by the Daily News yesterday to get more information on the claims from both South African and Zimbabwean law enforcement agencies, to establish their veracity, failed to yield results.
Police spokesperson Charity Charamba politely declined to comment on the issue, saying she was still to be briefed on the case.
South African authorities similarly asked for patience from the media, adding that it was premature to make “definitive pronouncements” on the matter.
But with Zimbabwe fumbling on a knife edge that has seen growing citizen unrest over the past few months — due to a cocktail of challenges that include gross misrule by Zanu PF, the country’s dying economy and worsening poverty levels — Mugabe’s panicking government has been visibly on high alert, as seen in its heightening reliance on the security sector to crush dissent.
It is in this toxic climate that South Africa’s New Age newspaper, owned by the infamous Gupta family, which allegedly bankrolls and controls President Jacob Zuma, reported yesterday that the six Zimbabweans had been arrested by Pretoria’s crack law enforcement agency, the Hawks, on charges of plotting to topple Mugabe from power.
It said the suspects, five men and a woman aged between 22 and 34 years of age, were being held in custody in Limpopo Province, which borders Zimbabwe.
They were apparently arrested at the Grobler’s Bridge Border Post in Witpoort, near Lephalale, allegedly on their way to Mozambique to receive military training to force regime change in Zimbabwe.
“According to the Hawks, the suspects were arrested with the help of foreign military assistance. Their arrest comes shortly after claims by a Zimbabwean ‘terrorist’ group, ‘Smoke That Thunders’, that Mozambique’s Renamo bandits had offered them a military training base.
“The group claimed they were preparing to forcefully end Mugabe’s 36-year rule before Christmas. In a video posted online, a man who identifies himself as the group’s commander, Jeff Judah Hosana, said the Mozambique-based group was recruiting men between the ages of 20 and 45,” the New Age reported.
It also quoted Information permanent secretary and Mugabe’s spokesperson, George Charamba, saying Zimbabwe was yet to receive reports about the arrests, adding however that Harare was aware of claims that Renamo had offered training to the group.
“They (South Africa) may have communicated with our security cluster because they have their own way of handling such issues.
“There were claims that Renamo offered to train them, but we never took that seriously. But, in any case, they know what awaits them,” Charamba is reported saying.
The six suspects, who have apparently already appeared in the Lephalale Magistrates’ Courts, face charges related to terrorism and contravening South Africa’s Immigration Act.
A Hawks source told the newspaper: “It appears they were recruited to undergo military training in Mozambique in order to overthrow the Zimbabwean government”.
Another police source also told the newspaper that the suspects were still in the holding cells.
“The matter is being handled by the Hawks and they don’t want anyone near the suspects because they are still interrogating them,” the second source claimed.
Watering the story somewhat, Zimbabwe’s ambassador in Pretoria, Isaac Moyo, is quoted saying the issue had not been mentioned during a meeting that Harare had with a South African delegation in Harare last week.
“We have not heard anything regarding that matter from our South African counterparts. We had a meeting in Zimbabwe last week where these issues were discussed but this was not brought up,” Moyo said.
South African State Security Department spokesperson, Brian Dube, also said he was not aware of the arrest.
“Normally, when we conduct such operations we do them jointly with the Hawks, but I can’t confirm this one,” he said.
Zuma is due to travel to Zimbabwe next week, as a follow-up to economic and trade agreements signed by the two countries last year, when Mugabe visited South Africa.
Department of International Relations and Cooperation spokesperson, Clayson Monyela, refused to comment on the arrests ahead of Zuma’s trip, saying it was a police matter.
“It’s an arrest and it is being handled by the police,” Monyela said.
The stunning claims come after the commander of the Zimbabwe National Army, Philip Valerio Sibanda, indicated in August that the army was training its officers in cyber terrorism to counter the threat posed by social media.
Contacted by the Daily News last night, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, which has often been accused by Zanu PF of training insurgents, distanced itself wholly from the saga, with spokesperson Obert Gutu saying they had “no link whatsoever to any groups that operated outside the law”.
The shadowy group that goes by the moniker “Smoke That Thunders” has been posting videos online, threatening to take its war to Mugabe, in addition to asking for donations from the public to fund its anti-government cause.
“We are not intimidated by what you say Robert Mugabe. Where we come from we have traditional leaders and they have told us you are not one of us,” the self-styled commander of the group, Hossana, is recorded as saying.
In another video, Hossana appeals to well-wishers to fund their cause to remove Mugabe and even goes on to provide their banking details.
“These people (ostensibly Zanu PF) are demon-possessed. They have been in power for 36 years and they keep on wasting our time . . . we cannot keep millions of people jobless, so we want to remove these people,” Hossana, who claims that the intention is to create a new Zimbabwe based on Christian values, adds.
The group has also claimed that Renamo, which is presently involved in talks with the Mozambican government to reach a peace deal, had offered them military training.
In another one of his of videos — which have gone viral online — the group declares that Mugabe would be gone before this coming Christmas.