THE Zimbabwean military this week flexed its muscles to outmanoeuvre the Zanu PF politburo after it pressured President Robert Mugabe to declare Brigadier- General John Zingoni a national hero from where he is in Singapore on the eve of its extraordinary meeting to discuss the issue, it has has emerged.
Official sources say the move, which Zanu PF insiders said was a show of force by the army, was triggered by the politburo’s delay in declaring Zingoni a national hero. It has resulted in more questions being posed over the controversial manner national heroes are chosen.
Zingoni died on Friday but his status had not been determined by Tuesday, prompting the military to use its influence.
Mugabe has increasingly relied on the military to stay in power.
It has occasionally launched brutal poll campaigns to save his rule and publicly backed him ahead of last year’s general elections in flagrant violation of the Defence Act and constitution.
The politburo has been selecting heroes although some Zimbabweans believe the process should be more inclusive, but this time the decision was unilaterally made by Mugabe under severe pressure from the military, the source said.
Senior party officials told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that while many party officials did not object to Zingoni being declared hero, they were not happy the process was hijacked by the army.
“Basically we received communication this afternoon (Tuesday) that he had been declared a national hero and burial would be done tomorrow (Wednesday).
There was absolutely no consultation either by phone or otherwise, so it came as a shock, moreso because the politburo was supposed to meet tomorrow (Wednesday) to decide his status,” said a senior politburo member.
“It seems the military literally staged a coup against the politburo and influenced President Mugabe who is in Singapore on medical grounds to declare him a national hero.”
Zanu PF officials sweated on Tuesday while attempting to find the best way of communicating the hero status to the nation.
Party spokesperson Rugare Gumbo later issued a statement announcing that the status had been conferred by Mugabe. He also announced the extra-ordinary politburo meeting had been cancelled.
“The President and First Secretary of Zanu PF, Cde RG Mugabe has conferred national hero status on the late Brigadier-General John Zingoni who died on May 16, 2014,” Gumbo said.
“Cde Zingoni was conferred national hero status because of his immense contribution to the liberation and development of his country.”
Another official said because of the clumsy move by the military, Zingoni’s burial and that of Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi’s son Shungu, who died in car accident, fell on the same day.
As a result government ministers and officials divided themselves with the majority going for Zingoni’s burial.
“If there was proper coordination the burial days would have been separated so that we mourned with both families,” said an official.
Gumbo yesterday confirmed politburo members were not involved in the declaration but said everything was above board since Mugabe had made a decision.
“The issue was sorted out after the president declared him a national hero as someone who worked with him during the liberation struggle and in government. No one can question the president’s decision and I’m sure he consulted with the Zimbabwe Defence Forces because they knew him better,” said Gumbo.
The normal procedure, though controversial, is that the province from which the deceased originated applies for hero status through the Zanu PF secretary for administration, paving way for the politburo to sit and determine.
Gumbo however said in this case the army had made the recommendation “because no one in the politburo really knew him”.
“There are cases like this one where people don’t really know someone and in this case the army knew him better and they made a recommendation and supplied the information,” said Gumbo.
He said the decision was late in coming because Mugabe was out of the country.
Zingoni joined the liberation war in 1976 and received military training in Chimoio, Mozambique. He participated in the fight against Renamo rebels and was also involved in the Democratic Republic of Congo war.
At one time he was appointed Director Operations Sadc Taskforce Headquarters in Kinshasa.
Although there has not been much discussion over whether Zingoni deserved national hero status, controversy continues to dog the selection process with controversial Zanu PF characters like Border Gezi, Elliot Manyika, Cain Nkala and Chenjerai Hunzvi being buried at the National Heroes Acre despite public reservations.
Mugabe and Zanu PF’s double standards over the selection of heroes have been glaringly exposed as flawed, especially considering the cases of Thenjiwe Lesabe, Lookout Masuku, James Chikerema and Zimbabwe’s first president, Canaan Banana.
Lesabe, the one-time boss of the party’s women’s league, was denied hero status fuelling speculation that this was because she fell out with Mugabe after ditching Zanu PF to help reform Zapu with former Zanu PF politburo member Dumiso Dabengwa, now with Zapu.
Chikerema was similarly denied while former Zipra commander Masuku was only granted the status after the Unity Accord of 1987, having been earlier denied and kept in prison along with Dabengwa and other Zapu officials despite court orders for their release in the 1980s. There was also controversy over the Edgar Tekere issue since he had left Zanu PF to form his own party, Zum.
Mugabe’s lack of consistency is even clearer in the case of the Central Intelligence Organisation senior officer Elias Kanengoni who was declared a hero despite being convicted of the attempted murder of the late Patrick Kombayi in 1990 after he had contested elections on an opposition ticket.