AS high-level political clashes between Zimbabwe and Botswana resurface and intensify, it has emerged President Ian Khama dispatched an intelligence delegation to Harare led by his spy chief to convey Gaborone’s annoyance with government’s accusations that the neighbouring state is providing paramilitary training to opposition MDC-T bandits to destabilise the country.
Informed intelligence sources told the Zimbabwe Independent this week Botswana’s retired colonel Isaac Kgosi, the director-general of the country’s Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS), a close ally of Khama, was in Harare on August 30 and 31, to engage his counterpart, Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) boss retired Major-General Happyton Bonyongwe, on the volatile issue.
The rumblings of displeasure and growing agitation behind the scenes exploded into the public domain two days ago when Khama said President Robert Mugabe no longer has the capacity to provide effective leadership and must go.
This triggered a stormy reaction yesterday by Zimbabwe’s Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo who, said Mugabe would not be unconstitutionally stampeded out of office by regime change crusaders whom he said included local opposition parties, civil society groups, regional leaders like Khama and Western governments.
“As such, the Khamas of this world and their hopeless lot must be told in no uncertain terms to go hang,” Moyo said.
“This is because their stance seeks to subvert constitutional democracy in Zimbabwe by overturning not just constitutionality in terms of the letter of the law, but also by undermining constitutionalism in terms of the spirit of the law and its supportive conventional practice. The new constitutional position in Zimbabwe is that only the people can tell President Mugabe to go through a national plebiscite. Anything else from malcontents outside the constitutional process, is just mumbo jumbo.”
Intelligence sources said DIS and CIO liaisons are meant to defuse mounting tensions and avoid nasty public confrontations like these between the two countries which in 2008 escalated mutual hostilities until Botswana feared an imminent invasion.
If the Americans, as revealed in WikiLeaks cables, had agreed to Gaborone’s request for arms the two countries could have drifted to the brink of a first-time war.
According to leaked secret US Embassy diplomatic cables, Botswana asked the US to supply military equipment to ward-off a Zimbabwean military assault.
“Major-General (Gobuamang) Tlhokwane (now retired), then the Deputy Commander of the Botswana Defence Forces, is said to have approached a defence cooperation official at the US embassy in Botswana on July 14, 2008, and claimed that Zimbabwe had massed military forces on the border,” the cable said.
“Tlhokwane asked the US to help with global positioning systems, anti-tank missiles, short-range air defence systems, F5 under-wing tank system and helicopter gunships to help Botswana prepare for the expected attack. The requests for anti-tank missiles and a short-range air defence system make sense in the context of the current situation as Zimbabwe has more numerous and more advanced tanks and aircraft in their inventory than Botswana.”
US envoys, however, advised against giving Botswana weapons, warning provision of the equipment could harm America’s interests in the region and trigger a regional arms race.
“This mission is mindful of how a closer US government and (Botswana) security relationship, with possible provision of new arms and equipment, might impact our on-going diplomacy in Southern Africa and beyond,” the cable said. “We should examine ways to enhance institutional ties and other support for the government of Botswana and the Botswana Defence Forces where appropriate, but also in a manner that will not harm overriding US interests in Africa.”
Khama on Wednesday said Mugabe’s misrule was a burden to the entire region which is accommodating millions of economic refugees from Zimbabwe.
Renewed conflict between Harare and Gaborone came as it also emerged the white farmer, Mark McKinnon, who was evicted from his Domboshava farm months ago alongside his father Geofrey Kelly McKinnon amid state media reports that an arms cache had been found on their farm, is a well-known professional shooter who has represented the Zimbabwe National Shooting Team since 2000.
The official media story was carried to lend credence to reports that the opposition was preparing to arm bandits at a time civil unrest and protests were spreading.
Intelligence sources said in the aftermath of Harare’s renewed claims of destabilisation from Botswana an infuriated Khama dispatched Kgosi to meet Bonyongwe to convey his displeasure.
In 2009 MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, then prime minister in the unity government, wrote a letter to Sadc chairperson and former South African president, Kgalema Motlanthe, complaining about “fabricated allegations of banditry training” against the MDC-T.
Bonyongwe and Kgosi’s meeting in Harare came three days after Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo claimed the MDC-T is training a terror outfit to destabilise the country.
“There is intelligence which we are gathering, and indications are that these people have been trained outside Zimbabwe to carry out these acts,” said Chombo. “In due time, we will expose what they have been doing behind the scenes leading up to these protests because a lot has been happening.”
Chombo’s claims came after a series of protests rocked the country. Since July 1, Zimbabweans have been taking to the streets to vent their anger over the country’s plethora of problems.
The Botswana delegation raised a number of concerns, including what they called false accusations against their government and country.
“The intelligence team of Botswana, other than dismissing claims of training bandits to destabilise Zimbabwe, encouraged proper communication channels and good relations between the two countries,” an intelligence source said.
“Basically the meetings were to defuse tensions and rebuild bridges.”
The information department of Botswana’s embassy in Harare, in an emailed response to enquiries from this newspaper, said: “We acknowledge receipt of your email and the office is currently consulting relevant authorities in Botswana.”
Botswana government spokesperson Jeff Ramsey yesterday said he had also forwarded questions from the Independent to the relevant offices.
In 2008, then Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa said government had evidence Botswana was providing military training to MDC-T members as part of a plot to topple Mugabe.
“Botswana has availed its territory, material and logistical support to MDC-T for the recruitment and military training of youths for the eventual destabilisation of the country with a view of effecting illegal regime change,” Chinamasa said.
However, the MDC-T and Botswana dismissed the accusations.
Meanwhile, allegations that the McKinnon family had an arms cache on the farm have proven false. It turns out that Mark is a gun enthusiast and professional shooter who has represented Zimbabwe in several shooting events, including at the International World Championships in Italy in July this year.
He was a member of the Mashonaland Gun Club.
Mark, who now stays in Canada with his family after being evicted from the family farm a few months ago, said all his firearms were registered.
“All our firearms were licensed as was the reloading equipment. I have shot all over the world for Zimbabwe and I have been in the national team since 2000,” he said from Canada. “In July we were in the world championships in Italy where Zimbabwe came 19th out of 40 countries. Who was shooting there? I have shot in South Africa, Zambia, Dubai, Kuwait to name just a few.
Moyo said: “Let Khama mind the desert that is Botswana’s troubled business while we mind our own challenges and exploit our country’s opportunities by taking seriously Mugabe’s call that the time has come for us to work together to industrialise and modernise Zimbabwe.” independent