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‘Army commanders now trust me’

MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai says the military no longer views him with suspicion and will not stand in the way of democratic change despite being a stumbling block in previous elections.

Owen Gagare

In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent this week, Tsvangirai said the dynamics which existed in 2002 — when the then Commander of the Zimbabwe Defences Forces (ZDF) Vitalis Zvinavashe declared that the president’s office was a “straight jacket” and that service chiefs would not salute anyone without liberation war credentials — and 2008 had changed.

In what was seen as a thinly-veiled coup threat directed at Tsvangirai on the eve of the 2002 presidential elections, Zvinavashe, who was flanked by other service chiefs, said: “We wish to make it very clear to all Zimbabwean citizens that the security organisations will only stand in support of those political leaders that will pursue Zimbabwean values, traditions and beliefs for which thousands of lives were lost …

“Let it be known that the highest office in the land is a straightjacket whose occupant is expected to observe the objectives of the liberation struggle.

“We will therefore not accept, let alone support or salute, anyone with a different agenda that threatens the very existence of our sovereignty, our country and our people.”

Since Zvinavashe’s statement, several security chiefs among them ZDF commander General Constantino Chiwenga, Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri and Major-Generals Douglas Nyikayaramba and Martin Chedondo have openly declared their loyalty to Zanu PF.

The military also unleashed a reign of terror during the 2008 presidential election run-off to rescue Mugabe, who had lost the first round of polling to Tsvangirai before coordinating the Zanu PF campaign in the 2013 general elections.

Tsvangirai, however, says variables have changed over the years.

“We have variables. You must understand that from those days even in 2008 that the intervention of the securocrats in the post-election outcome is something of very serious worry, but the variables have changed. The situation has changed,” Tsvangirai said.

“Perhaps the fears expressed then about the change of government in 2008 have changed. The circumstances have changed; the economic circumstances have changed. Whatever benefits may have been derived from keeping the status quo are no longer as applicable because the economic erosion has affected all of us and everybody is looking for an economic revival.”

Tsvangirai said his relationship with the military was based “on suspicion and not on fact”, but that has evolved with time.

“For instance, one of the issues being peddled was that Tsvangirai wants to return land to the whites; Tsvangirai is a turncoat and all those kind of things. They have now realised who I am and who we are as a party,” he said.

Tsvangirai refused to divulge whether he was engaging the military, saying: “You expect me to say that”.

However, he said: “Zimbabweans are talking across the political divide about their status.”

The MDC-T leader expressed confidence his party would win next year’s general elections on the back of Zanu PF’s failure to solve the economic crisis.

“… Why would anyone give them any further chance to destroy whatever little is left? When we talk about elections, we are talking about choice. If the people are given a choice, a free choice, would they really vote for a failed state like Zanu PF? Would they? I don’t think so.”

Tsvangirai said his party would participate in elections even if the playground was uneven, although he warned that the country would not move forward unless the elections are free, fair and credible.

He said should he win next year’s polls he will introduce reforms which will turn around the economy.

“In our view there are five critical areas of focus for the MDC. The first one is to change the governance culture of the last four decades. This governance culture of corruption, nepotism, elitism, the personality cult and the lack of distinction between the party and government. That’s a culture we need to change,” Tsvangirai said.

“Secondly, you can’t talk of transformation without an economy. Our albatross has become the economy but that economy has largely been dependent on a recovery path which has failed. We need to define a new economic narrative which then exploits the various positive areas for the country and define a new economic paradigm.”

He said there is a need to identify the strength of the economy and maximise on the potential of sectors such as agriculture and mining by, among other interventions, investing in new technology to enhance production.

“The third area we need to look at is social intervention. We are a social democratic party there is no way we can avoid intervening in social sectors. Your health, your education, your housing, your social welfare, your sanitation and all that. Those areas are very important for an MDC government,” Tsvangirai said. “The fourth issue is of course infrastructure, that goes without saying. Without a viable infrastructure there is no way you can talk of an economy. Look at our roads; look at our railways, they have collapsed. Look at energy, what else? Water supply and all that. Infrastructure is important for a modern-day economic thrust.

“Lastly, of course we can’t have an isolated economy. It is the isolation that has stifled foreign direct investment in this country. You need to build an international economy which is linked up to the global economy.”

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