MBERENGWA – The Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, General Constantino Chiwenga has hit back at President Mugabe and his wife saying the country’s liberation was a result of a protracted struggle in which selfless men and women gave up their lives for the freedom the country enjoys today.
As simmering tensions, power struggle and internal strife within the ruling Zanu PF intensify, President Robert Mugabe, who is also Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF), is considering retiring ZDF commander General Constantine Chiwenga for dabbling in the party’s cutthroat politics and explosive succession battle.
Speaking in a thinly veiled defiant rebuttal aimed at President Mugabe and his wife Grace at the burial of Gogo Catherine Moyo at Mbuya Nehanda in Mberengwa on Saturday, General Chiwenga who decided not to attend Zanu PF rally in Chinhoyi said the country’s sons and daughters who contributed to the country’s struggle deserve respect from all corners of the country.
Gogo Moyo was mother to Major General Sibusiso Moyo, who is Chief of Staff Quarter Master in the Zimbabwe National Army.
Gogo Moyo and her husband used to have run ins with the Rhodesian security forces as they used to give material support to freedom fighters during the liberation struggle.
President Mugabe on Saturday went to his home province of Mashonaland West Zanu-PF supporters, where he addressed mainly youths in the fifth leg of the nationwide Presidential Youth Interface Rallies being organized by the party’s Youth League at the Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT) campus grounds. Mugabe told the crowd that the Service Chiefs will soon be retired and brought into party structures and government appointment.
The veteran leader on Saturday said he was not stepping down nor dying and that there was no one with his political stature who could immediately take over from him.
The 93-year-old leader has been in charge in the former British colony since independence in 1980. His health is closely watched by Zimbabweans, who fear the country could face chaos if he dies without anointing a successor.
Mugabe told tens of thousands of supporters at a rally in the town of Chinhoyi, in his home province, that doctors were recently surprised by his “strong bone system.”
He has travelled to Singapore three times this year for what officials say is routine medical treatment.
“There is the issue that the president is going. I am not going,” Mugabe told supporters on the grounds of a local university, 100 km (60 miles) west of the capital Harare.
“The president is dying. I am not dying. I will have an ailment here and there but bodywise, all my internal organs … very firm, very strong,” Mugabe said as he leant on the lectern. Mugabe, who looks frail, had walked onto the stage slowly but without assistance.
The issue of who will succeed Mugabe has deeply divided the ruling party, with two factions supporting Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Mugabe’s wife Grace.
On Thursday, Grace challenged Mugabe to name his preferred successor, to end divisions over the future leadership of ZANU-PF.
She repeated the call on Saturday, adding that Mugabe would lead the process to choose his eventual successor.
Mugabe said although some party officials wanted to succeed him, he saw no one among his subordinates with his political clout to keep the party united and fend off a challenge from the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
“A new man will not have the same stature and the same acceptance as I have managed to secure for the party over the years,” said Mugabe.
Amid rising tensions in the succession battles; a high-level government officials privy to the issue on Saturday said Mugabe could soon remove Chiwenga as ZDF commander — a position he has held since 2004 — and deploy him to the Zanu PF politburo or government later on for political reasons. Top government officials say Chiwenga could be replaced anytime before the end of the year and the next elections in 2018.
Although efforts to get comment from Chiwenga were unsuccessful, he has been deeply embroiled in Zanu PF factionalism and succession fights which have seen him throw his weight behind Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The Mnangagwa faction is locked in a war of attrition with the rising camp led by First Lady Grace Mugabe, referred to as Generation 40.
“Plans afoot to retire Chiwenga for political reasons,” a senior government official said.
“There is already a precedent set when his predecessor, the late ZDF commander General Vitalis Zvinavashe, was removed on political grounds after he was in 2003 entangled in controversial stories which involved Mnangagwa, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, retired Colonel Lionel Dyke and plots for a political exit and soft landing for Mugabe. Zvinavashe was deployed to the Zanu PF politburo and given a political role.”
Officials say Mugabe was not happy with Chiwenga’s meddling in Zanu PF factional and succession politics, and is thus determined to ensure his party stays within its guiding Maoist philosophy that “party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the party”.
Mugabe seemed to confirm this during the last Zanu PF conference in Victoria Falls in 2015 when he surprisingly lambasted security service chiefs for interfering in his party’s internal affairs and succession, saying: “The military, police and the intelligence are now involved and split as well. Let’s stop this. We do not want factions. Nobody has people. We are all Zanu PF.”
After Mugabe’s remarks at the conference, security chiefs sought an emergency meeting with him the same day in Victoria Falls to explain themselves, clear the air and reaffirm their political neutrality. Chiwenga’s contract was reportedly extended for a further one year and could expire anytime soon. The new constitution, however, says service chiefs can be appointed for two terms of five years each. Officials say Mugabe has become uncomfortable with Chiwenga’s political manoeuvres and dabbling in Zanu PF succession politics.
Officials say Chiwenga might be replaced by Zimbabwe National Army commander Lieutenant-General Philip Valerio Sibanda whose current three deputies are Major-Generals Douglas Nyikayaramba, Trust Mugova and Sibusiso Moyo. One of the three deputies could be elevated to replace Sibanda if Chiwenga goes and he takes over as ZDF commander.
“Mugabe is moving to act as he dislikes military involvement and its destabilising influence in Zanu PF politics and in particular succession,” one official said. “Heads will roll soon, and Chiwenga is likely to be a casualty.”
Chiwenga’s presidential ambitions were thwarted when Mnangagwa said the ZDF commander and other senior military commanders were his “juniors”. Mnangagwa at a rally went on to refer to Chiwenga as “our political commissar”, evoking historical and current roles.
Zanu PF officials and military sources have been saying Chiwenga harbours presidential ambitions and could be a dark horse in the race to succeed Mugabe, but Mnangagwa seemed to dismiss this in a revealing interview with the London-based New African magazine.
However, Chiwenga, who might not command full respect among his military peers as shown by the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables a few years ago, would be a major factor as the military is critical in the power and succession matrices.
In the interview, Mnangagwa made it clear his long relationship with Mugabe, role in the liberation struggle and service in Zanu PF leaves him as the succession front-runner, but events show he is facing stiff resistance from Grace and her allies.
Following Mnangagwa’s remarks, Chiwenga firmly shifted allegiance to his corner pitting himself against Grace and putting his career on the line. “Chiwenga is likely to be retired any time from now and the president’s remarks are telling,” another official said. “His career now seems to have reached its termination stage.”
It is believed Chiwenga himself has already decided that his career lies outside the army and he is forging a strong resistance force against Robert Mugabe within the War Veterans Association which sources said is backing Mnangagwa and threatening to de-campaign Mugabe in the coming 2018 elections.