Military commander now at his boss’ mercy
ZIMBABWE Defence Forces (ZDF) commander General Constantine Chiwenga’s employment contract is about to expire or has already expired amid indications President Robert Mugabe will not renew it.
By Bernard Mpofu
The expiry of the contract would give Mugabe a golden opportunity to remove Chiwenga, a strong ally of Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is battling with First Lady Grace over the veteran leader’s succession.
At a meeting with war veterans in Harare yesterday, Mugabe publicly sought to make a case for the removal of Chiwenga when he announced that security chiefs, including Chiwenga, Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri and Prisons Commissioner-General Paradzai Zimondi, were now serving at his mercy after their original contracts expired.
“Totenda mawar veterans, the military also, they played their role. Ndosaka takachengetedza varume ava vanga vasvika paku-retire kuti tirwe hondo neopposition, tikabva tabuda shudhu (We are grateful to war veterans and the military for playing their role. We extended their contracts when they had reached retirement so that they could assist us in fighting the opposition, hence we came out good),” Mugabe told war veterans.
Asked to comment on Chiwenga’s contract status yesterday, Defence secretary Martin Rushwaya referred questions to the Defence Services Commission (DSC).
DSC secretary Pretty Sunguro could, however, not be reached for comment at the time of going to press.
During yesterday’s meeting, Mugabe ordered Chiwenga to stand up in front of thousands of war veterans gathered at City Sports Centre in Harare, before telling the crowd that the military under his leadership as commander-in-chief helped Zanu PF to win overwhelmingly the 2013 general elections. This was a stunning admission of the politicisation of the army and the role the military played in the disputed 2013 polls as consistently reported by the Zimbabwe Independent during the time.
Mugabe also said he had extended the terms of office of service chiefs after the formation of the unity government in 2009 to fight political battles, particularly the opposition MDC.
Security sector reform during the unity government era and clarity on the role of the military in the new constitution were necessitated by the army’s interference in politics, especially during election periods.
Mugabe’s public acknowledgement of Chiwenga and his colleagues’ role in winning elections for Zanu PF in the face of a strong opposition was in sharp contrast to what he said at a rally in Bindura recently where he suggested the ZDF boss as a mere appointee leading the army instead of suggesting to him by his official title.
Military sources said while Mugabe was keeping his cards close to his chest with regards to Chiwenga’s tenure in the army, indications are that he would not renew the contract.
“In this scheme of things, Chiwenga’s contract issue has now become a thorny issue for the President. A balancing act has to be struck in handling this sensitive matter,” a source said. “Chiwenga is likely to remain at work without a contract for political reasons even though that might be illegal.”
Officials, however, say Mugabe has become uncomfortable with Chiwenga’s political manoeuvres and dabbling in Zanu PF succession politics.
Military sources say should Mugabe decide not to extend Chiwenga’s contract, Zimbabwe National Army commander Lieutenant-General Philip Valerio Sibanda, could replace him although Air Force of Zimbabwe commander Air Marshal Perence Shiri is the preferred candidate on political considerations.
Sources say Mugabe, whose wife Grace is leading the G40 faction, is not happy that Chiwenga is meddling in Zanu PF succession wars siding with Mnangagwa.
Besides Chiwenga, Mnangagwa also enjoys the support of the bulk of top military bosses and war veterans. The army and war veterans have been Mnangagwa’s pillar of strength in his battle with the G40 faction, with war veterans in particular standing up to Grace’s manoeuvres.
The military’s involvement in politics has irked the First Lady so much that at a rally in Chiweshe in February, she openly accused military bosses of plotting to bomb her dairy in Mazowe. She also said the army was plotting to kill her last born son Bellarmine to instil fear in the First Family.
Her remarks stoked up tensions between the army and the First Family, forcing Mugabe to hold a number of meetings with military bosses over the issue and to address the nation on state television.
In December last year, while addressing the Zanu PF conference in Victoria Falls, Mugabe lambasted security service chiefs for interfering in his party’s internal affairs and succession, saying: “The military, police and the intelligence are now involved and split as well. Let’s stop this. We do not want factions. Nobody has people. We are all Zanu PF.”
After Mugabe’s remarks at the conference, security chiefs sought an emergency meeting with him the same day in Victoria Falls to explain themselves, clear the air and reaffirm their political neutrality.
In 2014, in the aftermath of the 2013 polls, Mugabe gave a new lease of life to military generals, many of whom were nearing the retirement age of 60 when he gazetted a statutory instrument extending the retirement age for freedom fighters within senior ranks in the army to 65.
According to Statutory Instruments 134 and 135 of 2014, the new regulations by the Defence Forces Service Commission now allow officers who either are war veterans or have served continuously to retire at the age of 65.
“Provided that a member who is a war veteran as defined in the War Veterans Act (Chapter 11:15) (No 11 of 1992) shall continue to serve for further periods, not exceeding twelve months at a time, until he or she retains the age of sixty-five years,” the regulations say.
“A member who has continued to serve in terms of subsection (5) shall retire on attaining the age of sixty-five years.”