Tsvangirai, leader of the main faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, was sworn in as prime minister on February 11.
The military has been used for years by President Robert Mugabe to crush political opposition, but now junior officers, who are mired in poverty along with the rest of the population, are openly singing Tsvangirai’s praises.
Military sources in Bulawayo say the soldiers are setting themselves on a collision course with their superiors, who for years have been accused of propping up Mugabe’s increasingly autocratic rule.
It was military chiefs who reportedly masterminded a re-run of last year’s presidential poll. Early reports had indicated that Mugabe, who lost the first round to Tsvangirai, was ready to concede defeat.
In Bulawayo, low-ranking officers who for years have been subjected to poor remuneration and harsh working conditions are reportedly taking every available opportunity to openly voice their support for the new administration, and the new prime minister in particular.
One military source said during drills, for example, soldiers are chanting Tsvangirai-themed battle cries, while senior officers watch helplessly.
“They know they cannot be court marshalled for it,” a sergeant-major told IWPR. “It is deliberate and they are rubbing it in after years of living in fear of their superiors. You hear it in the officers’ mess where we meet everyday. No one is scared anymore.”
Discontent has been growing in the ranks for some time.
Late last year, this came to a head when soldiers went on a looting spree in the streets of Harare and confiscated cash from illegal money changers.
They had been promised payment in foreign currency but, unlike senior officers, were given worthless Zimbabwe dollars.
Soldiers also went on to pillage the farm of central bank governor Gideon Gono, claiming he owed them money.
Analysts here say they are not surprised by the latest move by junior officers to openly voice their support for the prime minister.
“It is as if they are cocking their nose at army bosses who for years have thrown them onto the streets to beat up opposition party supporters,” said Jacob Mpofu, a Bulawayo-based political analyst and a losing candidate in last year’s parliamentary elections.
"Junior [officers] know the suffering of the people, but we cannot expect anything more than [their] pro-Tsvangirai chants in the barracks during drills. Now the stage has been set for the army to show where its allegiance lies: is it country or Mugabe."
An army chaplain, who preferred not to be named, said junior officers are making sure they do not criticise Mugabe, but have made it obvious they welcome Tsvangirai.
The support for Tsvangirai “has always been there but was never this overt”, he said. “The formation of this new government changed everything.”
Soldiers’ backing for Tsvangirai follows commitments he made soon after being sworn in to pay the country’s civil servants in foreign currency.
But “it is not just about the salaries they have been promised,” the army chaplain told IWPR. “It is about what they themselves believe in without instruction from their superiors. They do not want to be associated with the old president.” – institute for war & peace reporting