THE commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) General Vitalis Zvinavashe, one of only three commissioned full generals after Independence, is expected to retire at t
he end of the year after more than 10 years at the helm, it emerged yesterday.
Official sources said Zvinavashe, who replaced General Solomon Mujuru as army commander before he was elevated to head both the Zimbabwe National Army and Airforce of Zimbabwe, would quit in December after two decades of service in the military.
Zvinavashe, retired ZNA commander Solomon Mujuru and former Rhodesian army chief Peter Walls are the only commissioned full generals since Independence.
News of Zvinavashe’s pending retirement comes against a background of controversy in which he was earlier this year implicated in a soft-landing plan to ease Mugabe out of office in a power-sharing deal with opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Zvinavashe and Zanu PF secretary for administration Emmerson Mnangagwa were named as the hidden hand behind retired Colonel Lionel Dyck’s approach late last year to Tsvangirai over the initiative.
Both Mnangagwa and Zvinavashe have denied allegations of an attempted palace coup.
Zvinavashe was also embroiled in controversy last year before the disputed presidential election in March when he announced at a press conference that the security agencies – the army, airforce, intelligence and police – would not salute an elected president who had no liberation struggle credentials.
President Robert Mugabe is understood to have referred to Zvinavashe’s departure during his recent visit to Havana, Cuba, for the sixth session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and Drought. Mugabe was in Cuba on September 1-6.
A diplomat who closely followed Mugabe’s trip said the president indicated that Zvinavashe was going during a meeting with Zimbabwean embassy staff and students at the ambassador’s house in Havana.
Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Cuba, retired Major-General Jevan Maseko, Environment and Tourism minister Francis Nhema, CIO director-general Happyton Bonyongwe, Information and Publicity permanent secretary George Charamba, and other members of the presidential entourage were present when Mugabe reportedly suggested Zvinavashe would be leaving.
Contacted for comment yesterday, Zvinavashe said he was not in a position to comment on the issue.
“If you heard the rumour just write but as you know I don’t determine that. Ask those at the top. If there is nothing official, then it means there is no substance to that,” he said. “It’s just like in a football match, players don’t determine the time of play, the referee does. I’m a player and not the referee.”