HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Sibusiso “SB” Moyo, who gained prominence in 2017 as the military general who announced the coup against then-president Robert Mugabe on television, has died from COVID-19 yesterday morning while several ministers are reportedly ill, the government announced Wednesday.
He was 61.
Moyo, previously little known to the public, became the face of the coup when he announced that the military had placed Mugabe under house arrest as the military’s armored vehicles rolled into the capital, Harare. The coup ended Mugabe’s 37-year rule in Zimbabwe and he later died in Sept. 2019.
He was appointed foreign affairs minister after President Emerson Mnangagwa took power with military backing.
Moyo “succumbed to COVID-19 at a local hospital” on Wednesday, Mnangagwa’s spokesman George Charamba said in a statement.
Zimbabwe is experiencing a resurgence of the disease, with record numbers of daily confirmed cases and deaths.
The directive affects all ministries, government departments and agencies except health workers, that is only, those working under the Health and Child Care ministry.
The former army general, who had been battling a kidney ailment which required dialysis, was viewed as the face of the coup that ousted the late former President Robert Mugabe in November 2017. Then a major-general, Moyo announced the military deposition of Mugabe on the national broadcaster ZBC and critics argued that his appointment as Foreign Affairs minister confirmed that Zimbabwe was under military rule.
Other key military officers who swapped their military fatigues for civilian office include Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga and the late former Airforce Commander Perrance Shiri, who was Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement minister.
His “situation has moved to another level” speech was followed by tankers rolling into the streets of Harare as Mugabe was placed under house arrest. The “criminals” he referred to included former ministers Saviour Kasukuwere, Jonathan Moyo, Patrick Zhuwao and Walter Mzembi among others who were all part of a Zanu PF faction known as the Generation 40 that had coalesced around Mugabe and his wife Grace.
Moyo is survived by his wife, Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission chairperson Justice Loice Matanda Moyo and an unnamed number of children.
Moyo becomes the third minister to succumb to COVID-19 after his counterpart Shiri, also a former key military man died in July last year.
Manicaland Provincial Affairs minister Ellen Gwaradzimba, who died due to COVID-19 last week while unconfirmed reports suggest several key officials including Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi were critically ill due to the deadly virus.
NewsDay understands that Mnangagwa has cut-short his annual leave due to the escalation of the pandemic. COVID-19 deaths in Zimbabwe reached 60-a-day this week, with a recovery rate of 63,2%, according to the Health ministry.
Charamba was not picking calls so were acting Information minister Jenfan Muswere and Information secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana. Muswere and Mangwana did not respond to questions send to their mobile phones.
The country also lost liberation war hero Morton Malianga, who also reportedly succumbed to COVID-19 and will be buried together with Gwaradzimba at the National Heroes Acre today.
Observers and health experts said the country was paying a price for its complacency, including recklessness by some government ministers who threw parties during the Christmas holiday.
United Kingdom-based lawyer Alex Magaisa said: “Authoritarian regimes develop a false sense of superiority. Its members start believing they are immune from rules that apply to normal people. That’s why the likes of Nick Mangwana, Monica Mutsvangwa and Kuda Tagwirei thought they could hold parties while others were banned.”
Mutsvangwa reportedly lost her brother, but it was not immediately established whether it was due to COVID-19 or not.
Hours before Moyo’s demise, Gokwe-Nembudziya MP Justice Mayor Wadyajena (Zanu PF) had taken to Twitter blasting those who hosted parties, accusing them of spreading the virus.
“Make no mistake about it, his was a super-spreader event where many got infected and tragically some died, now dude fighting for his life and on oxygen. We have to be more responsible with our lives and the lives of those around us,” Wadyajena said, but without giving names.
The ruling Zanu PF party yesterday said it has been robbed of a luminary.
“The nation has been robbed of a dedicated veteran of the liberation struggle, a decorated military luminary and an accomplished academic whose service to the nation was indeed invaluable,” party spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo said in a statement.
“All will recall Lt General (Rtd) SB Moyo’s meticulous manoeuvres on the diplomatic front which have seen the party and the second republic’s reengagement drive bearing positive fruits.”
Khaya Moyo described the late minister as a principled revolutionary who was focused and courageous.
“He served his country’s pre and post-independence epochs with distinction.”