THE unexpected move by army and airforce commanders to salute Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai during the Defence Forces Day on Tuesday after vowing never to do so followed high-level behind-the-scenes negotiations to improve poisoned political relations.
Informed sources said the discussions resulted in a political deal which is linked to the resolution of outstanding Global Political Agreement (GPA) issues that have continued to drive a wedge between President Robert Mugabe and Tsvangirai.
This followed the recent meeting of the National Security Council where army commanders for the first time met with Tsvangirai face to face in an ice-breaking encounter.
Sources said the hostility between Tsvangirai and army commanders had reached alarming proportions as shown by a â€œnasty incidentâ€ at State House during the visit to Harare of a North Korean delegation in May when a top general allegedly grabbed MDC minister Nelson Chamisa by his collar during a heated political argument.
During that same evening, Tsvangirai left State House in a huff after a clash with security guards over one of his vehicles to which they refused entry.
The clashes had heightened political temperatures to the levels of last year during a fiercely-contested election campaign when army commanders declared they would not salute Tsvangirai.
Sources said in exchange for military respect and support, it has been agreed Tsvangirai would drop some of the unresolved issues that would feature prominently during South African President Jacob Zumaâ€™s talks with Mugabe in Harare later this month.
Zuma is expected to officially open the Harare Agricultural Show which will run from August 24-29. The South African leader, who currently chairs Sadc, is expected in Harare on August 27.
Zuma recently held talks with Tsvangirai in Johannesburg and committed himself to contacting Mugabe and other regional leaders to tackle lingering political problems in Zimbabwe that might rock the Sadc summit expected during the first week of September.
The MDC whose national executive meets today said yesterday the outstanding issues â€“â€“ including the disputed appointments of Attorney-General Johannes Tomana and Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono â€” must be resolved urgently.
In exchange for the salute, the MDC will stop demanding the removal of either Gono or Tomana.
The sources said the salute by Zimbabwe National Army commander Lieutenant-General Phillip Sibanda and Air Force Marshall Perence Shiri was a result of ongoing secret negotiations which involved Mugabe and Tsvangiraiâ€™s political aides. The advisors met and also telephoned each other in marathon attempts to broker peace.
Only Sibanda and Shiri openly saluted Tsvangirai. Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantine Chiwenga (pictured) only greeted Tsvangirai, while prisons commissioner Retired Major-General Paradzai Zimondi and Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri did not have a public encounter with him.
CIO Director-General retired Brigadier-General Happyton Bonyongwe was also not spotted close to the prime minister. The generals have told colleagues they saluted Tsvangirai out of courtesy.
Chiwenga, Army Chief of Staff Major-General Martin Chedondo, Chihuri and CIO deputy Director-General Mernard Muzariri had vowed not to salute Tsvangirai. Several other generals had also made similar undertakings.
Zimondi even declared he would quit his job to take up arms to defend his farm should Tsvangirai win the elections. In 2002 the late overall commander General Vitalis Zvinavashe and others made similar threats just before presidential elections.
Sources said current negotiations were prompted by a realisation the issue had badly damaged political relations between Tsvangirai and commanders.
The Zimbabwe Independent has a full list of Mugabe and Tsvangiraiâ€™s advisors who negotiated the deal and details of the meetings.
Sources said the advisors negotiated to ensure Tsvangirai and MDC officials attended Heroesâ€™ Day celebrations and the burial of the late Vice-President Joseph Msika at Heroes Acre in Harare on
Monday as part of a build-up to the Defence Forces Day commemorations on Tuesday where the commanders would salute the prime minister as arranged.
The threats last year were condemned by Sadc leaders. Former South African president Thabo Mbeki sent retired army generals to investigate the root cause ofÂ Â political violence which hit Zimbabwe in the run up to the elections. Scores of people, mainly MDC supporters, were killed, while hundreds were caught up in the wave of terror.