President Robert Mugabe’s son-in-law, Simba Chikore, has viably taken control of Mugabe’s close security unit (CSU) amid worries that the long-time leader’s protection could be compromised, national security sources uncovered.
The development comes at a time Chikore has also taken over the day-to-day running of ailing flag carrier Air Zimbabwe, (AirZim) relegating chief executive officer Ripton Muzenda to a figurehead.
As Mugabe, 93, becomes increasingly sensitive to matters of security due to the intensifying factional fights in Zanu PF, Chikore has become involved in his father-in-law’s security protocol despite not having any known training in VIP protection. The development is unsettling security chiefs who believe he is compromising the president’s close protection by interfering with the work of his security and protocol officers.
Security sources who spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent said Chikore, who is married to Mugabe’s daughter Bona, has previously attempted, at some of the president’s official functions, to give orders to security and protocol personnel.
“If you have noticed lately, Simba has been moving around with security earpiece headsets and in some cases a two-way radio which he uses to communicate with other CSU personnel when the president is around,” a source said.
“During the president’s birthday celebrations hosted by staff in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Chikore took a leading role in protocol. This did not end there; he was also a key member of the security team when the president visited Matopos to celebrate his birthday. What is creating headaches for many in the system is that he has no training or experience in such duties.”
Security officials say Chikore is sowing confusion in Mugabe’s close protection team which thrives on strict discipline and organisation.
“We want things to be done properly because if there is a security lapse he won’t take responsibility. That’s the major concern,” a top security officer said.
Security officials say they faced similar problems with Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko’s son, Siqokoqela, following his father’s appointment.
“Siqokoqela was also overzealous like Simba, but he has stopped his behaviour after some officials talked to him,” the official said. “There are many examples that can be cited, including the president’s birthday celebrations at his Munhumutapa offices last month, where he interfered with security details despite the fact that the President’s Office was in charge of the event. He was also all over the show at Mugabe’s birthday bash organised by the Zanu PF Youth League in Matobo, resulting in some officers complaining that they were failing to do their duties.”
Meanwhile at AirZim Chikore has rendered Muzenda redundant as he is now directing the day-to-day running of the parastatal. Sources said Chikore is taking major decisions, including those which should be the prerogative of the CEO.
“Chikore has effectively overshadowed Muzenda because of his proximity to the first family and the direct communication he has with Transport minister Joram Gumbo.
Sources also said the dysfunctional relationship between Chikore and Muzenda has paralysed the struggling parastatal, which is on the verge of collapse.
The state-owned airline has been struggling to claw back its market share in the face of intensifying competition from players and has recently made several changes in its management in a desperate attempt to grow the business.
Muzenda, according to sources, was supposed to implement managerial changes which would have resulted in the retrenchment of some senior officials as the technically insolvent airline seeks to trim its bloated wage bill.
Chikore, as chief operating officer (COO), was appointed to assist in implementing a turnaround strategy of the perennially loss-making state entity with a mandate to acquire as much as seven new aircraft by the end of 2017 to replace the airline’s ageing and depleted fleet.
Information at hand suggests Chikore, who is believed to have recommended Muzenda for the top post at the beleaguered airline, is now running the show, bypassing his boss.
Sources say Muzenda’s job is on the line amid indications the AirZim board of directors, chaired by Chipo Dyanda, is unhappy with his performance.
Complications that resulted in the government leasing a plane for Mugabe’s Asia trip to seek medical attention is among the latest incidents widening the rift between Muzenda and Chikore, sources said. “Muzenda was away on the day. He claimed he was too tired after travelling from Bulawayo for Mugabe’s birthday bash and Chikore had to run around,” added the source.
Muzenda was appointed AirZim CEO in August, while Chikore was appointed COO in October.
AirZim’s restructuring is, according to insiders, expected to bring new birds into the sky and see the airline pushing volumes. The airline’s balance sheet, currently saddled with ballooning debt now exceeding US$330 million, will also be cleaned up through various means.
The strategy is expected to crowd out smaller private players who cannot sustain losses, unlike AirZim which is backed by government and has incurred perennial losses.
Apart from the recapitalisation, the restructuring is expected to cost the bulk of AirZim’s idle workforce their jobs.
“The minister strongly feels we can’t have few aircraft paying wages for hundreds of employees, most of whom never report for work,” a government official, who requested not to be named, said.
“This is not an easy thing, given government’s stance on job cuts, but it has to be done because it’s the only way to save the airline … Gumbo must be seeking cabinet approval on such things by now,” the source added.
AirZim’s envisaged structure is informed by the need to have a leaner management with a focus on core elements of the business.
The airline has been facing various challenges, among them delays in flight schedules and revival of lucrative regional and international routes and improvement in employees’ welfare.
Efforts to get comments from Chikore failed as his personal assistant, who refused to identify herself, said her boss was not in the office. She said she did not know when he would report for duty.
Muzenda’s mobile phone went unanswered. He did not respond to text messages sent to him although they were delivered. The receptionist at the AirZim switchboard said he was not in his office.
Dyanda’s mobile was also not being answered. She did not respond to text messages.