Major General (Rtd) Douglas Nyikayaramba, one of the generals who led a military coup that ousted former President Robert Mugabe in 2017 has died.
He was 64.
Nyikayaramba, who was in 2019 retired by President Emmerson Mnangagwa and posted to Mozambique as ambassador, succumbed to Covid-19, according to George Charamba, the spokesman for the presidency.
Charamba wrote on Twitter: “I’m gutted to learn of the demise of Major General (Rtd) Nyikayaramba, our ambassador to the Republic of Mozambique. We have lost him to Covid-19. Yet another diplomat, commander, war veteran and patriot falls!”
Nyikayaramba was on leave in Harare and had been due to return to Mozambique soon.
Nyikayaramba was an ally of Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, and is the fourth of the coup generals to die from Covid-19 after former Air Force chief Perrance Shiri, ex-prisons boss Paradzai Zimondi and Sibusiso Moyo, who went on state television to announce the military takeover.
On Monday, the virus had killed 1,339 Zimbabweans out of 34,658 infections, according to official data.
Mnangagwa retired Nyikayaramba as the army’s inspector general along with three other generals in February 2019 in the first major shake-up of the armed forces since he took office in November 2017.
The quartet’s removal coincided with the absence abroad of Chiwenga – who was commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces when Mugabe was removed. Chiwenga, who reportedly harbours ambitions of leading Zanu-PF, is thought to retain the loyalty of most of the current and former senior military officers.
Also purged by Mnangagwa were Major General Anselem Sanyatwe, the man who led a deadly crackdown against post-election protests in August 2018. Sanyatwe, who commanded the Presidential Guard, drew widespread criticism for telling an inquiry into the post-election violence that one of his soldiers caught on video shooting into a crowd was firing into the air at a 45-degree angle. He is now ambassador to Tanzania.
Air Vice Marshal Shebba Shumbayawonda and army chief of staff Major General Martin Chedondo were the other two retired generals.
Nyikayayamba, a veteran of Zimbabwe’s independence war, was chief executive officer of the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC), the predecessor of the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC), when Mugabe won a disputed election in 2002 over rival Morgan Tsvangirai.
He left the role in 2008 and would become active in the drafting of a new constitution as a technical advisor, but he was forced out of the role in 2011 due to concerns from the Movement for Democratic Change.
He subsequently commanded Three Infantry Brigade in Manicaland before he was promoted to military headquarters as chief of staff administration.
A partisan general, Nyikayaramba once publicly affirmed his loyalty to the Zanu-PF party, stating: “I’m in Zanu-PF and Zanu-PF is in me, you can’t change that.”
While Nyikayaramba was widely considered a Mugabe loyalist, he participated in the coup to remove him out of loyalty to Chiwenga, according to Jonathan Moyo, a former minister in Mugabe’s government.
“His loyalty was to Chiwenga because I knew him as anti-Mnangagwa,” Moyo told ZimLive. “His death is very significant because taken with the other recent deaths, it leaves Chiwenga isolated. His death will fuel rumours that Chiwenga’s people are being assassinated.”
A military analyst said: “It feels like a decapitation, that’s how Chiwenga will see it. Why one side (of Zanu-PF factions)?”
When Shiri – who was now lands minister – died in July last year, Mnangagwa was forced to attend his funeral carrying his Covid-19 test results in a brown envelope in a bid to convince his supporters and family that he had not been assassinated.