A HEAVY exchange of gunfire erupted in the usually serene Mt Pleasant suburb in Harare Sunday as security details at the home of former Zanu PF national political commissar, retired Lieutenant-General Engelbert Rugeje, engaged in a fierce two-hour gun battle with unknown assailants at the luxurious property.
One person was killed while five others were critically injured in the shootout. The former army chief was reportedly not at home when the incident happened.
The shootout, which played out in the early hours, comes at a time political temperatures are rising in the ruling party as heavyweights line up for positions in the impending internal elections.
Jostling for leadership positions, which observers said was taking factional lines, has intensified in recent weeks as the party prepares for district co-ordinating committee (DCC) elections.
Two distinct factions, one led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa and another by his ambitious deputy Constantino Chiwenga, have emerged since the former’s rise to power in the November 2017 military coup.
Zimbabwe Republic Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi confirmed the shooting yesterday, but ascribed the incident to crime.
“We confirm that there were some criminals who tried to get into retired General Rugeje’s residence. They tried to get access and there was a scuffle with the security and we confirm that one of the criminals was shot dead while five other people sustained serious injuries,” Nyathi said, adding that investigations were still ongoing.
“We will advise as new information on the criminals is available,” he added.
But Rugeje’s family members told NewsDay in off-the-record briefings yesterday that they were certain that the shooting was orchestrated by his political rivals.
“One of the soldiers manning the premises discovered that there was an intruder and opened fire. The suspect was shot in the leg and stomach and was pronounced dead upon arrival at hospital. This can only be an attempt on his (Rugeje’s) life by his political enemies,” a family source said.
The suspect, sources said, managed to crawl from Rugeje’s house, but died in a neighbour’s swimming pool.
Witnesses further said what made the situation more suspicious was the fact that at the height of the gunfire, a black Range Rover vehicle with heavily tinted windows pulled up and some of the injured assailants were quickly bundled into the car, which then drove off at high speed.
When NewsDay arrived at the property, along Cheshire Road, Mt Pleasant, a military police vehicle was parked outside while some heavily armed soldiers were milling around.
Rugeje, considered a Chiwenga loyalist, was appointed national political commissar at an extraordinary Zanu PF congress in December 2017 after which Mnangagwa retired him from the army.
He was roundly criticised for pursuing a factional agenda in the party’s chaotic primary elections to select legislative and municipal representatives ahead of the July 30, 2018 general elections.
He was, however, unceremoniously booted out by Mnangagwa soon after the elections and replaced by Gokwe Central MP Victor Matemadanda.
Mnangagwa has, since the 2018 election, been purging army generals believed to be aligned to Chiwenga.
In February last year, Mnangagwa retired three major-generals and an Air Vice-Marshal and reassigned them to the diplomatic service, taking them off active military duties and command. They include former commander of the Presidential Guard Anselem Sanyatwe, who directed the coup which toppled the late former President Robert Mugabe in November 2017.
He also commanded a standby force that quelled a post-election uprising on August 1, 2018 and killed six people and the civil unrest that rocked the country in January 2019 that claimed 17 lives.
Also discharged from the military were major-generals Douglas Nyikayaramba, Martin Chedondo and former Air Vice-Marshal Shebba Shumbayaonda, all of whom were posted to foreign mission postings.