Security chiefs split over Tsvangirai

perence_shiriHARARE The move by the commanders of Zimbabwes army and air force to salute Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has brought to the fore divisions among the countrys powerful security chiefs on how to handle the former opposition leader who they had previously vowed not to salute or recognise, analysts said. (Pictured:Air Force commander Perence Shiri Was first to s

Air Force commander Perence Shiri and National Army commander Phillip Sibanda last week broke ranks with fellow top commanders to salute Tsvangirai during the Defence Forces Day ceremony, in what analysts said was proof that there was never agreement within the security establishment not to recognise the Premier — despite public perceptions to the contrary.

There was never a common position on Tsvangirai in the security forces of the country, University of Zimbabwe political scientist Eldred Masunungure told ZimOnline last Wednesday.

General Constantine Chiwenga, who as commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces is overall in charge of the army and air force, last year led senior military and security commanders in pledging allegiance to President Robert Mugabe and vowing never to salute Tsvangirai should he win power because he was a stooge of the West.

Army chief of staff Martin Chedondo, police commissioner general Augustine Chihuri, Central Intelligence Organisation deputy director general Maynard Muzariri all promised never to salute Tsvangirai.

Defend the revolution

Prisons commissioner Paradzai Zimondi declared he would quit his job to take up arms to defend the revolution should Tsvangirai win a second round presidential election held in June last year and that the former trade union leader had looked poised to take after defeating Mugabe in the first round ballot.

The MDC leader later pulled out of the election because of violence against his supporters allegedly masterminded by top army and police officers.

Masunungure said it was important to note that when Chiwenga and other top commanders publicly voiced their dislike of the MDC leader, Shiri and Sibanda had not done so.

He said: When Chiwenga and Chedondo vowed never to salute Tsvangirai, Shiri never made a public statement, while Sibanda went on record to say the army should remain apolitical.

The respected Masunungure said it was also likely that Shiri and Sibanda could have been nudged to finally break ranks with their fellow commanders out of a realisation that Zimbabwe needed to move forward and that the only platform to do so was the inclusive government between Tsvangirai and Mugabe.

This might also be out of pressure they are getting from their juniors in the army and the air force who want a change in the countrys socio-economic affairs. The two commanders operate on the ground and could have gauged the mood of the soldiers, he added.

But whatever may have been the motive of Shiri and Sibanda in saluting Tsvangirai, clearly they did not share it with their top commander, Chiwenga.

Chiwenga did not salute

The ZDF chief saluted Mugabe and other top government leaders as they departed Gwanzura stadium at the end of the ceremony. But Chiwenga did not salute Tsvangirai.

Chihuru and Zimondi also did not salute the Premier, with state protocol officials saying the two were not obliged to do so because they were in civillian attire.

But army and government insiders insisted that there were widening divisions within the military and security establishment over whether to support the unity government and recognise Tsvangirais authority as Prime Minister.

Shiri, Sibanda and CIO director general Happyton Bonyongwe were in support of the inclusive government, while Chiwenga, Chihuri, Muzariri and Zimondi remained firmly opposed to it, according to sources.

The divisions in the security forces, the sources said, were the reason behind the delay in the inaugural convention of the National Security Council (NSC).

The council, which replaced the Joint Military Command (JOC), met for the first time only three weeks ago. The NSC is the new security think tank of the country. JOC was allegedly behind the bloody run-off election campaign last year to retain Mugabe.

John Makumbe, a political scientist and long time critic of Mugabes regime, said the move by Shiri and Sibanda to salute Mugabe was positive although it was a shame that they did it six months after formation of the inclusive government.

It is a shame they have only done this six months after the inauguration of the inclusive government. But he (Tsvangirai) has respected them by showing up at the Heroes celebrations and the burial of Vice President Msika, and today at the Defence Forces Day and so they should reciprocate, Makumbe said.

Analysts skeptical

Zimbabwes coalition government — that Mugabe and Tsvangirai agreed to form only because of pressure from southern African leaders — has done well to stabilize the economy and end inflation that private economists at one time estimated at more than a trillion percent at the height of the countrys economic meltdown last year.

But analysts remain skeptical about the governments long-term effectiveness, citing unending squabbles between Zanu (PF) and the MDC, refusal by rich Western countries to provide financial support and the administrations failure to win full backing from all security commanders who are critical to its ability to run the country.

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