Row over partisan army chiefs intensifies

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THE acrimonious row over security sector reforms and the role of the military in the next crucial general elections has intensified with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai upping the ante on the issue by lobbying Sadc leaders this week, while MDC-T defence secretary, Giles Mutsekwa, fiercely hit back at those attacking him for disclosing he has been engaging army commanders ahead of the polls.

Report by Staff Writer.

Confrontations among parties in government over the issue, which was part of their Global Political Agreement (GPA) negotiations, are escalating as it becomes clear the military would play a critical role during the watershed elections.

Article XIII of the GPA, dealing with state organs and institutions, says these organiations, including the army, police and intelligence services, do not belong to “any political party and should be impartial in the discharge of their duties.”

This was brought up by sensational public remarks by army commanders before the 2008 elections and their subsequent involvement in the polls. The issue is part of the elections roadmap although the parties are deadlocked on it.

Tsvangirai this week raised the matter with Sadc leaders, particularly Sadc facilitator on the Zimbabwe dialogue, South African President Jacob Zuma, and chairman of the Sadc troika on politics, defence and security, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete. He was due to raise the same issue with Sadc chairman, Mozambican President Armando Guebuza, and Namibian Prime Minister Hage Geingob whose president also sits on the troika.

Debate on the security sector reform issue heightened after the Zimbabwe Independent last week reported Mutsekwa, a retired major who served in the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) and fought in the Mozambique civil war after being integrated into the new army in 1980 following service in the Rhodesian forces, has held talks with hardliners in the military, including Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander General Constantine Chiwenga, ZNA chief of staff (general staff)

Major-General Martin Chedondo and chief of staff (quartermaster) Major-General Douglas Nyikayaramba.

Mutsekwa also confirmed on record said he had also engaged police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri.

This however triggered angry reactions from Chihuri who attacked Mutsekwa, while threatening Independent journalists for reporting on the issue. President Robert Mugabe’s spokesman George Charama also reacted albeit temperately.

Charamba dismissed Mutsekwa’s assertions as “a major lie coming from a Rhodesian major”, while Chihuri said service chiefs had no time to engage “confused malcontents”, after which he threatened to arrest journalists for writing the story.

However, Mutsekwa this week held firm, insisting he had been holding talks with service chiefs although he said he no longer wanted to go into the details about the issue.

“First of all, I want to state that Charamba is not the spokesperson of the ZDF; he has never been in the army and does not know how it operates,” said Mutsekwa this week. “He is the secretary for Information and Publicity, and spokesperson for the president, but does not have the jurisdiction to speak on behalf of the ZDF which has its own structures.”

Mutsekwa went further: “The second thing is that remarks by Chihuri were expected but the nation should not read too much into his statement.”

Mutsekwa said the fact he served in the Rhodesian Army does not hinder him from negotiating with the security service chiefs and has a legitimate right to engage because he also served in the ZNA, is a cabinet minister and the defence and security secretary of the MDC-T.

He also said Tsvangiari was right to lobby Sadc to support the realignment of the security sector, saying it was part of the GPA. “We have never doubted that they are properly trained, but what is at stake is that over the last 33 years, Zanu PF has abused the security sector and made it part of its structures in violation of the constitution and laws of this country. There is need for realignment so that they know that we are in a democratic dispensation,” he said.

“We also know that it is a few people who made subversive statements and these statements must never be made by a person in uniform. We are willing though to inherit the security sector lock, stock and barrel although there is need for realignment.”

Several Zanu PF bigwigs, including Mugabe, Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and State Security minister Sydney Sekeramayi have said their party would not allow security sector reforms.

The military –– whose senior commanders have benefited a lot materially since Independence in 1980 –– is Mugabe and Zanu PF’s pillar of strength and survival. ––

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