Bonyongwe appointment raises eyebrows

HARARE: The unexpected appointment of former Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) director-general Happyton Bonyongwe to head the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs ministry has sent tongues wagging among ordinary Zimbabweans and political analysts alike — with some claiming it is President Robert Mugabe’s “smart card” to guarantee his victory in next year’s eagerly-anticipated elections.

Bonyongwe, who until now has operated under the radar as Mugabe’s chief spy, was on Monday appointed as the country’s new Justice minister — replacing Vice  President Emmerson Mnangagwa — who has been performing the dual roles of VP and Justice guru since December 2015.

 The former CIO boss holds a law degree from the University of Zimbabwe, where he also won a Book Prize as the co-best student in his stream.

During his swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday, Bonyongwe said he was relishing the opportunity of serving in his new post.

“It is my hope that I will be able to make some positive contributions to my country. That is something that has always motivated me. I view it as a deployment by my leadership and therefore, I look at it from that context and I will go there and do my best,” he said.

But with the 2018 elections looming large — amid growing infighting and divisions in the ruling Zanu PF — analysts said yesterday that Mugabe’s choice of Bonyongwe to head the ministry was telling.

“He is an able legal mind and the hope will be that he will put it to good and productive use during his tenure.

“A former soldier and spy chief in charge of justice seems ominous, not just for Mugabe’s internal rivals, but also for the broader opposition movement. It (Justice ministry) is the political authority in charge of elections and will therefore have a huge influence upon Zec (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission),” said constitutional law expert Alex Magaisa on his blog.

“It represents yet another influential hand of the security structure in elections. And who knows, he could be a dark horse in the (Zanu PF) succession race and his transfer to the political arena should be carefully watched.

“Of the current generals, he is the one who boasted a more superior intellect although he was less known and is more discreet by virtue of his role in the spy agency,” he added.
Political analyst McDonald Lewanika said Bonyongwe’s appointment to the Justice ministry was not just unexpected, but could also be viewed from many other perspectives.

“Although a qualified and purported brilliant legal mind, his appointment ahead of elections suggests a takeover of the legal and electoral apparatus by the intelligence community.
“Speculation has been rife in the past that the CIO has deployed its members to occupy key positions in the Zec secretariat, and thus Bonyongwe’s ascension could ensure effective and close control of this critical body ahead of elections,” Lewanika told the Daily News.