Former president Robert Mugabe, who died in Singapore last Friday, offered Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga to take over from him at the height of the coup, the Zimbabwe Independent can reveal.
In an interview with the Independent at his house in March 2018, Mugabe revealed that 48 hours after the military had taken over key institutions, he offered Chiwenga to take over power, as he believed he was the power broker behind President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
However, Chiwenga refused, fearing for his security, as he thought accepting the offer would put him in the crosshairs of military commanders who would view the act as betrayal. Mugabe said he knew Chiwenga was the kingmaker, while Mnangagwa was the political front.
However, prior to the coup, Mugabe had preferred the Sydney Sekeramayi, who was then Defence minister.
In the interview with the Independent, Mugabe revealed that he sent former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono to speak to the army on November 17, 2017.
Initially, Roman Catholic priest father Fidelis Mukonori had been the emissary between the army and the Mugabe family, but on this specific mission he sent Gono.
Gono's mission was to understand the military's issues and grievances.
The reason why Mugabe was offering power is that he had been made to understand that there was a planned march on his Blue Roof residence, which was to be on November 18, where a mob would be allowed to lynch him Gadaffi-style.
Even at the 11th hour, Mugabe was totally opposed to Mnangagwa taking over from him, and this is despite their long history together. During negotiations between Mugabe and the military at State House, Mugabe kept on flagging to Chiwenga to take over from him. That softened Chiwenga, resulting in the former commander of defence forces (CDF) being convinced (around the time of the "Asante Sana" speech), that Mugabe should at least stay on until Zanu PF's December congress or, better still, until the end of his five-year term.
Mugabe had tried to use the same strategy to lure Mnangagwa back from short exile in South Africa so that they could have a discussion on the coup and succession. Mukonori said in one of the interviews that the two leaders had spoken on the phone for about 10 to 15 minutes during the negotiations between the military and Mugabe.
Mugabe, after having established contact with the army, some long hours after it had launched its operation, entertained the thought that the situation could still be managed, particularly after the intervention of South Africa, which sent a delegation that included then State Security minister Bongani Bongo and Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
He thought the tide could be reversed.
However, sources close to him say that after Mugabe attended the Zimbabwe Open University graduation ceremony, he came back to his home completely changed after realising that the army had virtually taken over. This was because during the graduation ceremony, he had an opportunity, for the first time after the military takeover, to be briefed by senior members of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), who told him that, clearly, the coup was complete and that, after all, some intelligence officers had been killed.
"After the graduation ceremony, they gave him a list with nine names of people whom they alleged had been killed. That shocked him and, when he got home, he started thinking differently from the path of negotiation," a source said.
"He then reached out to several heads of state in the region to intervene, but they refused."
The South Africans, who were key to the process -- not least because of their economic and regional power, but also because the then president Jacob Zuma was the Sadc chairperson -- refused to intervene, but made it clear that if the army had invaded Mugabe's house, as they were threatening repeatedly in the background, South African troops were going to be in Harare within minutes.
"Mugabe also tried to reach Vladimir Putin, through former vice-president Phelekezela Mphoko. He asked Mphoko to call Putin to come and quash the coup. That did not work because African leaders did not prefer that route," another source said.
After the May 2017 "Mexico Declaration", which heightened Mugabe's succession war within the splintered Zanu PF, the G40 faction hastily formed a special committee led by the then party's political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere to introduce Sekeramayi across the country's 10 provinces as the veteran leader's preferred heir apparent.
Mugabe's project to install Sekeramayi as his successor failed due to an array of reasons: his lack of gravitas, weak support from the deposed veteran leader, as well as from the Zanu PF commissariat and critical party structures. Insiders told the Independent in May 2018 that Sekeramayi proved to be a reluctant and weak candidate, as he appeared rather too timid to provide leadership to the G40 faction which had coalesced around Mugabe and his wife Grace at the zenith of the Zanu PF succession battle.
Prior to Sekeramayi, Mugabe had wanted his former Vice-President Joice Mujuru to take over from him after the 2004 Zanu PF congress.