PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai yesterday came face to face with army, police and intelligence chiefs who last year publicly vowed not to accept him if victorious in elections at the first meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) at Zimbabwe House in Harare.
The ice-breaking meeting chaired by President Robert Mugabe marked a major step forward in the hitherto stalled implementation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) and the beginning of the thawing of poisoned relations between rival camps led by Mugabe and Tsvangirai.
The NSC meeting was also attended by Vice President Joice Mujuru, Deputy Prime Ministers Arthur Mutambara and Thokozani Khupe, Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, State Security minister Sydney Sekeramayi, Home Affairs co-minister Giles Mutsekwa, Economic Development minister Elton Mangoma, Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet Misheck Sibanda, Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantine ChiwengaÂ (pictured far right), army commander Lieutenant-General Phillip Sibanda, air-force commander Air MarshalÂ Perence Shiri, deputy policeÂ commissioner-general Levy Sibanda and Central Intelligence Director Happyton Bonyongwe.
The NSC meeting is supposed to include vice-presidents, deputy prime ministers, and ministers of Finance, Defence and Home Affairs. The three parties in government also nominate a minister each to attend the NSC sessions.
The Minister of State Security, Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Secretary to the Prime Minister, Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, commanders of the army and the air-force, the Commissioner-General of police, Commissioner of Prisons and the Director-General of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) also attend.
However, Vice-President Joseph Msika, co-Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi, Finance minister Tendai Biti, Industry and Commerce minister Welshman Ncube (who is supposed to attend as a nominee of his party), police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri and Prisons CommissionerÂ Major-General Paradzai Zimondi did not attend.
Sources said the NSC meeting dealt with formal introductions and the basic mandate of the organ which is responsible for â€œreviewing national policies on security, defence and law and order and recommending or directing appropriate actionâ€.
Although army generals were spotted laughing during a photo opportunity and wore business suits for the meeting, sources close to the NSC meeting said their public postures belied their suppressed resentment of Tsvangirai.
Army commanders, led by Chiwenga, previously made it clear that they would not accept Tsvangiraiâ€™s victory in elections. They showed antipathy towards him and publicly denounced him.
Mnangagwa said in parliament on Wednesday that army commanders have no obligation to salute Tsvangirai unless as a matter of courtesy.
He was responding to questions raised by an MDC-T legislators on whether service chiefs still maintain that they will not salute Tsvangirai and also explain why commanders were absent at his swearing in ceremony in February.
After Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in the first round of presidential elections in March last year, the army was accused of unleashing a wave of violence and terror which forced the main MDC leader to drop out of the race. A list of army commanders and officers who were deployed around the country to push a paramilitary campaign for Mugabe was circulated on the Internet.
However, the army denied it was involved in terrorising and killing voters ahead of the bloody June 27 second round of the presidential poll last year.
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki sent a committee of retired army generals to investigate the violence. Mbeki refused to publish their report, saying they only made a verbal feedback.
Sekeramayi yesterday tried to paint a rosy picture of the NSC meeting, claiming it was â€œwarm and cordialâ€.
â€œIt was very warm, very cordial and very inclusive. Everybody who spoke, spoke on the centrality of national interest as the most important aspect of our nationhood,â€ Sekeramayi said afterwards.
However, a senior MDC minister said last night the meeting was a â€œcharadeâ€ because it sought to cover up the bitterness on the part of the leadership of MDC over atrocities of the past and resentment of Tsvangirai on the part of security chiefs.
â€œJust like the National Healing meeting last week, there is a lot of public relations being done to present a picture of unity among leaders, but we know that our leaders are bitter over the violence and killings of the past,â€ the minister said. â€œWe also know that the generals deeply dislike the prime minister.â€
Mugabe is making concessions to allow implementation of a numbers of issues in the political accord which led to the inclusive government ahead of the Sadc summit next month.
Tsvangirai is expected to meet South African president Jacob Zuma on the sidelines of an investment conference this weekend.
Mugabeâ€™s move to unblock progress on a number of issues is designed to stem potential censure at the Sadc summit of his leadership for deliberately stalling the implementation of a series of issues agreed upon as part of the unity government.
The array of reforms which Mugabe has allowed include lifting of bans on Â public demonstrations, the licensing of newspapers, allowing the return of international broadcasters such as CNN and BBC, implementation of the provisions of the political agreement on the sharing of ambassadors and provincial governorsâ€™ posts and sitting of the NSC.
This week alone saw a raft of reforms which are rare in Zimbabwe, the country still trying to recover from years of repression and economic ruin.
However, there is still a long way to go before democracy firmly takes root in Zimbabwe. MPs from the MDC, Mugabeâ€™s rivals, are currently facing a vicious crackdown led by their Zanu PF adversaries. Five MPs have been convicted and a number of others face arrest for alleged crimes ranging from abductions, violence, corruption to rape.Â
BY DUMISANI MULEYA