PLANS by President Robert Mugabe, who is also Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF), to retire ZDF commander General Constantine Chiwenga for dabbling in Zanu PF’s cut-throat politics and explosive succession battle have triggered tensions within the security sector amid intense lobbying for a political resolution to the problem.
Military sources this week told the Zimbabwe Independent that Chiwenga is, among other moves, trying to lobby Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa to convince Mugabe to extend his tenure of office which expires between now and January.
“Tensions are rising as military bosses, including Chiwenga, are trying to look for a possible political resolution to this matter via Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa,” the source said.
Constitutionally, Mugabe appoints service chiefs, hence Chiwenga’s admission in his circles that the president has the final say on his future. “Chiwenga knows that only the president can save him, but he also feels he is being politically targeted, like what happened to the late ZDF commander General Vitalis Zvinavashe.”
Zvinavashe’s retirement came against a background of controversy in which he was implicated in a soft-landing plan to ease Mugabe out of office through a power-sharing deal with opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
As first reported in the Independent in 2003,Zvinavashe was removed for that. Zvinavashe and Mnangagwa, then Zanu PF secretary for administration, were named as the hidden hands behind Retired Colonel Lionel Dyck approaching Tsvangirai over the initiative.
Like Zvinavashe, who in 2002 made a veiled coup threat by announcing “the highest office in the land is a strait-jacket, whose occupant is expected to observe the objectives of the liberation,” Chiwenga was also embroiled in controversy before the disputed March 2008 presidential election.
Chiwenga said the army would not support an opposition-led government, in the event of Mugabe losing the March 29 election.
“Elections are coming and the army will not support or salute sell-outs and agents of the West before, during and after the presidential elections,” Chiwenga said.
The army chief argued that Mugabe had sacrificed a lot for the country and deserved support. When questioned by journalists in 2008 about the role of the army in protecting a democracy, Chiwenga retorted: “Are you mad? What is wrong with the army supporting the President against the election of sell-outs?”
Top government officials privy to the developments within the security sector said Mugabe could soon remove Chiwenga as ZDF commander — a position he has held since 2004 — and deploy him to the Zanu PF politburo or government later on for political reasons.
The government officials say Chiwenga could be replaced anytime between the beginning of next year and the next elections in 2018. Officials say Mugabe was not happy with Chiwenga’s meddling in Zanu PF factional and succession politics, and is thus determined to ensure his party stays within its guiding Maoist philosophy that the “party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the party”.
Mugabe seemed to confirm this during the just-ended Zanu PF conference in Victoria Falls when he surprisingly lambasted security service chiefs for interfering in his party’s internal affairs and succession, saying: “The military, police and the intelligence are now involved (in Zanu PF factionalism and succession) and split as well. Let’s stop this. We do not want factions. Nobody has people. We are all Zanu PF.”
Following his remarks, sources say, Mugabe is increasingly distancing himself from the service chiefs who have always played a crucial role in previous elections.
“The remarks strained the relationship between Mugabe and the Joint Operation Command which brings together the army, police and intelligence chiefs, and has been key to Mugabe and his Zanu PF’s battle for political survival,” another source said.
“The security chiefs also feel Mugabe is being misled and taking the revolution to where it should not be and the blame is being put on his wife First Lady Grace Mugabe.”
A top military officer said this week: “There has always been a complaint within the military for some time now that Mugabe is increasingly being controlled and influenced by people who didn’t go to war.”
“Hazvisi izvo zvatakawirirana kuhondo, (This is not what we agreed to during the war).”
However, talks within the corridors of power suggest Chiwenga might be replaced by Zimbabwe National Army commander Lieutenant-General Phillip Valerio Sibanda, whose current three deputies are Major-Generals Douglas Nyikayaramba, Trust Mugoba and Sibusiso Moyo.
One of the three deputies could be elevated to replace Sibanda if Chiwenga goes.