Rt. Zimbabwe Defence Forces General Vitalis Zvinavashe dies

He died at an army hospital in Manyame, said Walter Mzembi, the MP for Masvingo South (Zanu PF).

Mzembi would not confirm the time of death, but Zanu PF sources say he died late Monday night.

Zvinavashe was one of top dozens of top Zanu PF officials who lost their seats in the March 29 general elections last year to a resurgent MDC which went on to claim a parliamentary majority for the first time since independence from white minority rule in 1980.

Following his defeat, Zvinavashe had been concentrating on his businesses — he owned a transport company, ran a number of private schools and was a successful commercial farmer.

One of the schools he owned, Tynwald Primary School, had the highest pass rate in Zimbabwe last year for Grade 7 results.

At the height of food shortages last year, thousands of Zimbabweans besieged his Cold Comfort farm where he sold the staple maize meal at comparably lower prices.

As an MP, the General made his most significant mark as a member of the Portfolio Committee on Lands and Agriculture, then chaired by Mzembi.

At one hearing, he clashed with then Lands and Agriculture Minister Didymus Mutasa saying it appeared that some in government were subortaging farming activities as it was "profitable to them" when there was hunger and Zimbabweans were relying on food aid.

More controversially, while still head of the army, Zvinavashe once vowed never to salute Morgan Tsvangirai if he defeated President Robert Mugabe in the 2002 presidential elections.

Zvinavashe said the country’s security organisations would only support political leaders who "pursue Zimbabwean values, traditions (and) beliefs for which thousands of lives were lost in pursuit of Zimbabwe’s hard-won independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and national interest".

"To this end, let it be known that the highest office in the land is a straight jacket 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," he said in comments carried on national television.

The statement implied that the security chiefs would not accept the results of the presidential election if the MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai won.

Tsvangirai is now Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister after signing a power sharing agreement with President Robert Mugabe last month.