Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander General Constantine Chiwenga recently changed his name to Constantino Guvheya Nyikadzino Chiwenga and some people were quick to link the rebranding to his rumoured political ambitions.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
A few days after the announcement, the cat was out of the bag as Chiwengwa issued a highly-political statement that could have left Zanu PF political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere green with envy.
The ZDF commander issued threats against Zimbabweans mobilising against President Robert Mugabe’s rule on social media and those allegedly seeking to destroy Zanu PF from within.
As expected, critics railed against Chiwenga for allegedly making unconstitutional statements, but according to analysts, the bigger picture was that the top soldier had shown his hand in the fluid battle to succeed Mugabe.
Academic Ibbo Mandaza said Chiwenga was speaking on behalf of war veterans led by Christopher Mutsvangwa, who are at odds with Mugabe.
“Chiwenga is speaking on behalf of the Mutsvangwa group, on behalf of the war veterans,” he said. “The war veterans have been very clear that they are an extension of the military and now Chiwenga has decided to come out in the open to defend his fellow comrades.
“Chiwenga’s message is directed at everyone who is opposed to the war veterans and military axis, including Mugabe.”
Mandaza argued that Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa — who for years was seen as Mugabe’s heir apparent — would only be used as a pawn in a power game between the Zanu PF leader and Chiwenga.
“Mnangagwa has never been a contender. He was a decoy and Mugabe revealed it a few months ago when he lashed out at an unnamed person saying ‘you want power but hide behind someone else’,” he said.
“Mugabe knows he is dealing with Chiwenga and this is a clear coup in the making. They will take over and dress it in civilian clothes in the form of Mnangagwa.”
Chiwenga told journalists on the eve of the Defence Forces’ Day last week that the military would not hesitate to move in if the country’s stability was under threat.
In December last year, Mugabe accused the country’s security forces of dabbling in Zanu PF factional politics and intimidating party officials.
Chiwenga, in the interview, also revealed his unhappiness over activities by the G40 faction in Zanu PF.
G40 is reportedly fronted by First Lady Grace Mugabe and is said to enjoy the support of her 92-year-old husband.
There are fears Chiwenga could be dragging the military in his own battle to position himself in the race to succeed Zimbabwe’s only ruler since independence.
However, Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya warned of dire consequences if the military continued on the current path.
“The military is reacting to a worrying lack of cohesion in both the State and the ruling party. There are growing instances of indiscipline, with government officials being publicly humiliated by party apparatchiks at rallies,” he said.
“Our call is for the military to always uphold the Constitution and appreciate its role in the administration of the State, so that we do not see encroachment into civilian affairs. That would be tragic.”
Ruhanya added that the increasing frequency of military statements linked to the country’s politics should be a cause for concern to citizens.
He said Chiwenga’s utterances could also be linked to Mugabe’s failing health.
“It should be worrying to any citizen that the military has begun to speak the way it is now and with more frequency,” he said.
“Given the fact that heads of the security services have access to Mugabe and get briefing regularly, it is not difficult to tell that they could have more information on the health of the president than is available to the ordinary citizen.”
Ruhanya called on Mugabe to put his house in order, saying the military’s dabbling in politics was a threat to democracy.
“We also call on the civilian authority to make sure it does not give reason to the military to intervene into civilian political matters and normally this happens because of lethargic behaviour by civilian leaders.
“It will be a disappointing regression to how our democracy has grown if this were to happen,” he said.
“It is a fact we should keep in mind that the military has been used to sustain Mugabe’s stay in power, but that is not a reason to keep doing so and encroach into civilian matters at the drop of a hat.
“This will have national and international repercussions that we all do not want.
“The military’s role must always be within the confines of the Constitution.”
Mnangagwa last year described Chiwenga as a Zanu PF commissar, sparking outrage among the ruling party’s critics who said it was evidence of the ZDF commander’s unprofessionalism.
Soldiers are prohibited from making political statements and being involved in party politics.