I will have “difficulties” saluting Tsvangirai: Constantine Chiwenga
HARARE – Zimbabwe defence chief General Constantine Chiwenga has told military colleagues that he will have “difficulties” saluting new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, impeccable sources told The Zimbabwean on Sunday.\r\n
MDC leader Tsvangirai, President Robert Mugabe and Arthur Mutambara who heads the smaller
formation of the MDC, have formed a government of national unity that analysts say is critical to rescuing Zimbabwe from crisis but which continues to face deep resistance from many within the old establishment.
Our sources said Chiwenga – who is the top military commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) that comprise all of the country’s armed forces – said he remained opposed to Tsvangirai assuming any role in government.
But Chiwenga, who together with the other service chiefs boycotted the inauguration of Tsvangirai as premier, said that his views were personal and that he would not stand in the way of officers who may want to salute or show respect to the Prime Minister.
Suspicious of Tsvangirai
“Chiwenga made it clear that he was suspicious of Tsvangirai and the MDC,” said a senior officer in the army who attended a meeting where Chiwenga made his remarks.
The meeting held last Tuesday at the army’s KG IV headquarters was part of Chiwenga’s routine monthly meetings with fellow generals and other senior officers. The officer, who spoke on condition he was not named said: “He (Chiwenga) said he would not stop other officers from saluting Tsvangirai.
“In fact he made assurances that he is not going to victimise any officer who chose to salute or respect Tsvangirai. But he went on to say that personally, he is going to have difficulties saluting Tsvangirai.”
Chiwenga’s reluctance to accept Tsvangirai in government is not surprising. In the run-up to last
June’s controversial presidential run-off election Chiwenga and other top generals and security chiefs said that they would never salute Tsvangirai if he ever came to power – a declaration that at the time was viewed by many as a threat to stage a coup against the MDC leader if he won.
Following the utterances by their senior commanders, agents from the spy-Central Intelligence
Organisation, police, army, war veterans and Zanu (PF) militia embarked on a violent campaign
during the run-off that resulted in the death of about 200 MDC supporters, plus 10 000 injured and displacement of over 25 000 families.
The violence prompted Tsvangirai to withdrew from the race, but the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission went ahead with the run-off saying the MDC leader’s pull out had no legal effect. Mugabe won the one-man race by over 80 percent, but he was forced by the regional SADC alliance and the African Union to open talks with Tsvangirai and Mutambara to form a government of national unity.
Mugabe has remained in charge of security in the unity government although his Zanu (PF) and the MDC share control of the Home Affairs Ministry that oversees the police
It was not immediately clear whether Chiwenga’s views were shared by other top security commanders as other reports over the past week suggested that CIO director general Happyton Bonyongwe had urged his subordinates to support the unity government and work for its success.
Meet the Prime Minister
Other unconfirmed reports suggested that Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and co-Home Affairs Ministers Kembo Mohadi, National Security Minister Sydney Sekeramayi and the service chiefs will meet the Prime Minister this week as part of efforts to ensure better working relationships among all government departments.
Asked about Chiwenga’s reported comments, Tsvangirai’s spokesman, James Maridadi, disclosed that Mnangagwa and Mohadi had already met the Prime Minister last week and pledged their loyalty to the new government.
“The Prime Minister expects the ministers to make subordinates aware of their constitutional obligations. After all, the ministers pledged to uphold the rule of law during the meeting,” said Maridadi.
Chiwenga was not immediately available for comment on the matter while Mnangagwa refused to discuss the issue, switching off his mobile phone when our reporters called him on the matter.
Hamper new administration
Analysts do not expect military chiefs and others who may be opposed to the unity government to immediately cause it to fall but they say resistance from these still very powerful opponents could seriously hamper the work of the new administration and has potential to cause it to fail in the end.
Meanwhile sources said senior army officers who attended the Tuesday meeting with Chiwenga chronicled to him the poor living and working conditions of middle-ranking officers and ordinary soldiers that they said had reduced soldiers to “dangerous destitutes”.
One source said the soldiers were not happy with a US$100-monthly allowance that the unity government is dishing out to every government employee including soldiers saying they wanted
to be paid more cash which should vary with one’s rank.
“The meeting went well into the night,” said the source. “Senior officers openly told Chiwenga that soldiers were very near to a mutiny because of the conditions they are being subjected to.
Chiwenga was told to warn the government to meet soldiers’ demands because the situation in the barracks is deteriorating.”