Zimbabwe’s top military brass weighed into the political fallout in the ruling Zanu-PF party, leading many to question its loyalty to President Robert Mugabe.
The statement by Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, General Constantine Chiwenga Monday, that the army will step in if the instability in the ruling Zanu-PF continues to result in purges of those who fought for the country’s independence, has generated debate among citizens about the role of the army.
Addressing a press conference in Harare Monday, with about 90 other senior military officials General Chiwenga took aim at what he called “counter revolutionary infiltrators” who are behind the quote “current purging and cleansing of mostly members associated with our liberation history.”
Chiwenga’s statements come exactly one-week after the expulsion of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, and a few others seen to be loyal to him, all mostly war veterans.
United Kingdom-based political analyst Llyod Msipa said Chiwenga’s decision to weigh in is a direct attack on the pre-liberation Generation 40 or G40 group aligned to First Lady Grace Mugabe, which sparked Mnangagwa’s dismissal, claiming he was disloyal to the president and was plotting to overthrow him.
“The so-called counter revolutionaries he was talking about, these are the people who have not been in the war. They have literally taken over the party and everybody who is associated with what the preamble says, what the constitution says the respect of all the people who fought in the war has been done away with.”
Msipa says the presence of other senior military officers at the press conference aims to show President Mugabe that the army is united in calling for an end to the purge of its fellow war veterans.
“If Mugabe responds to this in a way that is not a political process, the army will step in. You see I don’t think General Chiwenga was actually bluffing when he maid that statement, because the instability in Zanu-PF has affected everybody, within and outside Zimbabwe.”
Spokesperson of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association, Douglas Mahiya, who was expelled in 2016 with other senior veterans after issuing a communique stating they no longer supported President Mugabe, said he welcomed Chiwenga’s statement.
“The remarks by Chiwenga are very welcome although they come late. But its better late than never.”
Mahiya said the army is simply trying to stop further suffering of not only the Zimbabwe people but those in the military as well who are not getting enough support from the state.
“If nothing changes, the people are disgruntled, the army is disgruntled. We had the other day the chief of staff in the army saying the uniforms are torn, the state cannot afford to buy them uniform and they have patches, and the rations have been cut down. The army is absolutely in a dire state. On the other hand, the whole population, the people have got problem, they cue everyday for $20 and are told its not there come back tomorrow. Everybody is disgruntled with the state of affairs in the country, this is why I say that when this happens, you cannot blame the army if it decided to take over and stop the rot that is going on.”
In his press conference, Chiwenga referred to the lack of meaningful development in the country in the past five years due to squabbling in Zanu-PF which he says has impacted Zimbabweans social, political and economic lives.
Not all are applauding Chiwenga’s stance, weighing it against the army’s seemingly mute reaction to the ouster of former Vice President Joyce Mujuru, also a veteran, in 2014. Mhaka, who only used his first name and is based in South Africa, questions Chiwenga’s motive in issuing the call for an end to purges, saying he is only protecting himself and Mnangagwa.
“He is not defending the country. He is defending his own interests and whatever he is organizing with Mnangagwa that only the two of them know about, protecting the country but Mnangagwa and whatever he and Mnangagwa is working out. He is the one causing chaos in the country.”
Echoing this position is a Zimbabwean based in Botswana who goes by the name Hussler. Hussler challenged Chiwenga on the point that they are for the people, reflecting on the 2008 elections which the Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai reportedly won in the first round. The army had declared they would not support him because he was not a veteran.
“When Mujuru was thrown out of the party, they didn’t step up so at the end of the day we are asking what revolution are they protecting? Is it for the people because the people in 2008 we spoke and we said we want new leadership but because it didn’t allow them to stay on the feeding trough they, in fact they stepped out and crushed us. And the same has happed. The man who was going to keep them at the feeding trough has been thrown out of Zanu PF.”
News of Chiwenga’s press conference seemed to catch many in the ruling Zanu-PF party by surprise. Reached for comment on Chiwenga’s statement, many in Zanu-PF and government, including Information Minister Simon Khaya Moyo, declined to comment.