By Emelia Sithole-Matarise
HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa appointed senior military officials to top posts in his first cabinet on Friday in what was widely seen as a reward for the army’s role in the removal of his predecessor, Robert Mugabe.
Sworn in as president a week ago after 93-year-old Mugabe quit in the wake of a de facto military coup, Mnangagwa made Major-General Sibusiso Moyo foreign minister and handed Air Marshal Perrance Shiri the sensitive land portfolio.
The new president, who later on Friday spoke publicly about the need to draw on local expertise and skills to put the economy back on robust footing, also brought back Patrick Chinamasa as finance minister despite his chequered record in that post previously.
Most Zimbabweans remember Moyo as the khaki-clad general who went on state television in the early hours of Nov. 15 to announce the military takeover that ended Mugabe’s 37-year rule.
Shiri is feared – and loathed – by many Zimbabweans as the former commander of the North Korean-trained ‘5 Brigade’ that played a central role in the so-called Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland in 1983 in which an estimated 20,000 people were killed.
The land portfolio is a sensitive but economically crucial one since land reforms in the early 2000s led to violent seizure of thousands of white-owned farms and the collapse of the nation’s economy.
“For most observers, this (the new cabinet line-up) looks like a reward for the military – or more specifically like the military asserting its authority,” London-based political analyst Alex Magaisa wrote on Twitter.
Mnangagwa, a former state security chief known as ‘The Crocodile’, dropped allies of Mugabe’s wife, Grace, but brought back many Mugabe loyalists from the ruling ZANU-PF party, disappointing those who had been expecting a break with the past.
“Zimbabweans were expecting a sea change from the Mugabe era. After all, had there not been a revolution, or so they thought?” Magaisa said.
New information minister Chris Mutsvangwa, leader of the powerful liberation war veterans, was not immediately available for comment.
Mnangagwa’s opponents from Grace Mugabe’s ousted G40 faction derided the line-up as old wine in a khaki bottle.
“Even #Nigeria didn’t have so many commanders in Cabinet in its coup days!” former information minister and G40 leader Jonathan Moyo, who remains in hiding, said on Twitter.
Chinamasa, a lawyer by training, had been finance minister since 2013 until he…