President Robert Mugabe has tightened security around himself and his family in recent months following massive demonstrations against autocratic regimes in several African countries in the past months, authoritative sources said.
The uprisings saw the demise of autocrats that never dreamt of the day when the political tide would turn against them. The sources said Mugabe has beefed up security details — that include police, CIO officers and soldiers — making his already huge entourage bloated, especially when traveling out of town.
The sources said the enhanced security was also necessitated by the fact that Mugabe no longer trusts his cronies following revelations by whistle-blower website, WikiLeaks, that most of them wanted him to go.
Some questioned his ability to continue to lead due to advanced age and failing health. Mugabe’s reinforced security was evident last week in Mazowe, about 40km outside Harare, where he officiated at the ground- breaking ceremony for the multi-million dollar Grace Mugabe Foundation Primary School.
The school was built on the same land that the First Lady grabbed from local residents who had built their houses on it. Some of the 62 affected families had built their houses while others were at foundation level.
Security details on Thursday were almost everywhere in Mazowe when The Standard news crew visited the area.
Armed and unarmed police officers and soldiers were deployed at a dirt road that turns from the main road along the Harare-Mazowe road from Blue Ridge Shopping Complex, almost 10km from the venue of the ceremony.
Heavily armed soldiers were also deployed in the mountains near Mazowe Dam and by midday some were visibly tired as they slept under trees.
The Standard news crew was prevented from covering the event by security manning the entrance who accused it of writing negative things about the orphanage and the First Lady.
Residents of Mazowe were afraid of walking freely because of the heavy security presence.
Some of the residents said they were told to minimize their movements a day before the event because the First Lady was visiting the area.
“I have not seen anything like this,” said one resident.
“How can one family have such security details around it? Is Mugabe really under threat?” The resident stopped talking after a police officer emerged from a service station shop where he had replaced the guard, who usually keeps check at the door.
They were taking turns to sit in the shop. Other details were deployed at the hotel and two shopping centres along a road that leads to Iron Mask Farm, a prime agricultural farm that the First Family grabbed from a white commercial farmer.
Sources said Mugabe’s security was enhanced soon after demonstrations that rocked Malawi in July. The fall of leaders such as Muammar Gaddaffi of Libya, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has shaken the 87-year-old leader, who has been ruling Zimbabwe to the core.
Efforts to get a comment from the Minister of State for State Security in the President’s Office Sydney Sekeramayi were fruitless as he could not be reached on his mobile phone.