AIRFORCE of Zimbabwe commander Air-Marshal Perence Shiri is likely to replace Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander General Vitalis Zvinavashe who is retiring next month, it emerged yesterd
Military sources said Shiri would soon be appointed to take over after President Robert Mugabe confirmed Zvinavashe’s year-end retirement at a farewell party this week.
The Zimbabwe Independent revealed on October 3 that Zvinavashe would be quitting his military post in December.
Sources said Shiri – commander of the now-defunct North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade which massacred thousands of civilians during a campaign of repression in Matabeleland and Midlands in the 1980s – was the leading candidate to fill the powerful post created in 1994 when the army and airforce were brought under a single command structure.
Zvinavashe was the first ZDF commander after he took over the army in 1992 from General Solomon Mujuru who had retired together with Air-Marshal Josiah Tungamirai.
“Shiri is likely to be the next commander of ZDF because he is considered loyal and dependable by Mugabe,” a military source said. “If you look at the current crop of top military officers, he is Mugabe’s right-hand serviceman.”
As part of changes in the defence forces, Mugabe last week promoted Air Commodore Elson Moyo to Air Vice-Marshal, bringing to three the number of Shiri’s deputies. The other two are Air Vice-Marshals Henry Muchena and Titus AbuBasuthu.
Sources said this was an indication that Shiri was moving up. They said Muchena was expected to replace Shiri as airforce commander.
The sources said however ill-health might militate against Shiri’s appointment for a five-year term. His record as commander of the Gukurahundi that perpetrated the Matabeleland atrocities could also be a stumbling block in an era of political reconciliation.
“The other problem that could work against Shiri’s appointment is that former Zipra commanders in the army are becoming increasingly agitated by Mugabe’s noticeable preference for ex-Zanla officers,” a source said. “That is creating unhealthy tension and frustration.”
Sources said the appointment of Lieutenant-General Mike Nyambuya as Manicaland governor was part of the army restructuring exercise.
Another name mentioned in connection with Zvinavashe’s post is that of the Zimbabwe National Army commander, Lieutenant-General Constantine Chiwenga, who could soon be elevated to a full general.
Chiwenga is currently the acting ZDF commander because Zvinavashe in on leave pending retirement. Sources said Chiwenga was loyal and played a crucial role during last year’s presidential poll in garnering votes for Mugabe and could be rewarded for that.
“Chiwenga is also well-placed but his chances compared to those of Shiri are slim,” a source said. “Air-Marshal Shiri is senior to Chiwenga and that is important in the army.”
It is understood Chiwenga is close to Mujuru, and Mugabe, who is said to be ill-at-ease with Mujuru, might not give him the job for that reason.
There has also been mention of Zimbabwean ambassador to Cuba, retired Major-General Jevan Maseko, as a possible replacement for Zvinavashe. But Maseko has been out of the army for a long time on diplomatic service. This leaves him as an improbable candidate.
There has recently been speculation about Zvinavashe’s future with some reports linking him to a political career. While late Vice-President Simon Muzenda’s Gutu North seat is vacant, it is thought Tungamirai has a better chance there. Zvinavashe has been linked to the vacant vice-presidency. Such an appointement – although politically problematic – would at one stroke remove a dilemma for Mugabe while at the same time completing a process of militarising top posts which has been underway for several years.