...Military tests the President’s resolve
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is reportedly still shocked and bruised by the fierce resistance which the military, the pillar of his strength, put up by using war veterans to protest the fierce crackdown by the Zanu PF faction coalesced around his wife Grace against her rival Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s camp in the ruling party’s relentless succession battle.
By Elias Mambo
This came amid reports Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) commander Lieutenant-General Phillip Valerio Sibanda has reportedly thrown Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko, who presides over the security sector in government, under the bus after he rejected his attempts to recruit him to support Grace’s ambitious Generation 40 (G40) project.
Instead, Sibanda is said to have reported the matter to Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander General Constantine Chiwenga before escalating it to Mugabe, the ZDF Commander-in-Chief.
Top military commanders who spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent this week said in the run-up to the tense April 7 meeting between Mugabe and the war veterans in Harare, Mphoko approached Sibanda, his junior in Zipra, for a meeting to discuss the current political dynamics and alignments within Zanu PF, but the ZNA chief was not impressed as he apparently retorted that he only serves the government of the day in terms of the constitution and the law, while loyal to his bosses not any other people. It is said that is why he then escalated the matter to his superiors.
Senior army officers said Mugabe’s meeting in Harare with war veterans has proved to be a watershed event, amid the intensifying succession conflict which poses the gravest danger to the Zanu PF regime yet.
While Chiwenga’s future remains uncertain as Mugabe, who brushed aside war veterans’ main demands despite being shaken by the army resistance, wanted to remove him for backing Mnangagwa, it now appears the April 7 meeting gave him a reprieve.
Although some army sources say his contract is about to or has expired and will not be renewed, Chiwenga’s close aides say it was renewed in June last year and is now open-ended, meaning he is just “serving at the pleasure of the Commander-in-Chief”.
Sibanda could not be reached for comment as his phone was unreachable the whole day, while Chiwenga refused to answer questions yesterday, referring queries to the ZNA public relations department.
“I am not going to comment on anything because I am not the army’s public relations officer. Ask those in the public relations department to give you a comment,” Chiwenga said.
Army spokesman Alphios Makotore was said to be in Bulawayo preparing for the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair official opening ceremony today. Mphoko was also unreachable.
This development also came against the backdrop of dramatic another incident in which Chiwenga was said to have told Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, who was associated with G40 before he started drifting away due to military pressure, at the Zimbabwe Defence College in Harare on February 19 during a visit by former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa, who gave a lecture at the military institution, that politicians “must put their house in order, or else…”
This was exactly the same day the Independent, in a lead story headlined Grace angers army chiefs, had reported that the First Lady had ruffled the feathers of senior ZDF commanders by her stinging direct attacks on Mnangangwa and military service chiefs, accusing them of plotting to oust Mugabe and to kill her son Bellarmine, at a time tensions were running high within the security forces over Mugabe’s succession combat.
Mkapa, Tanzania’s third president between 1995 and 2005, visited Zimbabwe on February 15 and toured the Mugabe family’s Alpha Omega Dairy, Grace’s school and a children’s home at their Mazowe business empire. Mkapa also officiated a Southern African Research and Documentation event and delivered a lecture at the Zimbabwe Defence College during his visit.
Sekeramayi was not answering his mobile phone yesterday. He also did not respond to text messages sent to him for a comment.
After Chiwenga’s chilling warning that politicians must put their house in order and pressure on him at Defence House, Sekeramayi seems to have subsequently turned his back on the G40 faction, which had been frantically trying to recruit him as the heavyweight candidate to challenge Mnangagwa on its ticket, military sources say.
Sekeramayi — who survived purging by a whisker during the acrimonious 2014 Zanu PF congress — as reported by the Independent on April 15 asked Mugabe to rein in the Zanu PF commissariat department led by G40 heavyweight Saviour Kasukuwere during a closed door briefing ahead of his meeting with war veterans.
G40 has been courting Sekeramayi to lead the faction as they sought a big-hitter with liberation war credentials, experience in government and links to the state security apparatus, qualities which are critical in the succession and power matrix.
Tensions between Mugabe and ZDF bosses rose after he attacked them at the Zanu PF annual conference in Victoria Falls for meddling in his succession politics.
In an unexpected charge, Mugabe on December 11 last year warned army, police and intelligence bosses against interfering in Zanu PF’s seemingly inexorable factional and succession wars.
During the evening of that day, army commanders met with Mugabe in the country’s the prime resort town to discuss the tense situation. Since then tensions have been rising within the military and war veteran ranks.
Military sources said Mugabe also met with army chiefs on February 4 in Harare to discuss the problem, fuelled by Grace’s attacks against Mnangagwa and army bosses at a rally in Chiweshe, Mashonaland Central province, on February 12. The sources at the time said in security briefings during that week army chiefs expressed anger at Grace’s remarks and her earlier attacks on war veterans at a gathering at Chimhanda Secondary School in Rushinga, Mashonaland Central, on October 14 last year.
Some senior army commanders and war veteran leaders then joined forces to back Mnangagwa and bombard Grace’s camp in a bid to halt the G40 political tsunami.
Searing rhetoric and a blitz by War Veterans minister Chris Mutsvangwa and ex-combatants leaders led by Victor Matematanda and Francis Zimuto against Grace and her allies showed the gloves were off, precipitating the April 7 meeting. The situation had been exacerbated by police shelling war veterans with water at high pressure from cannons and teargas to thwart protests against Grace and her camp on February 18, the day before Chiwenga’s ominous remarks to Sekeramayi.
The police crackdown on war veterans forced Mugabe on February 19 — again the very same day Chiwenga had reportedly confronted Sekeramayi at the Zimbabwe Defence College and the Independent had reported about the mounting tensions in the army — to address the nation after a meeting with Mnangagwa and Mphoko at State House to avert a looming crisis triggered by agitation within the army and war veterans ranks. Prior to that, Mugabe also on Valentine’s Day — February 14 — held a meeting with Grace, Mnangagwa and Mphoko who had poured fuel to the already raging succession fires by saying after ethnic Zezurus it does not mean Karangas are ordained to rule. The meeting was held at State House in the capital.
As a result of these events, there has been an inevitable a move towards brinkmanship as power struggles intensify and leadership positions come under threat, while testing Mugabe’s resolve and his regime’s durability.