|Retired army generals call on Mugabe to step down
By Lance Guma
22 January 2008
Former army general Vitalis Zvinavashe sent political temperatures soaring Monday after calling on Robert Mugabe to step down. A report on the Zimbabwe Times website quotes Zvinavashe saying; ‘By clinging on to power Mugabe was betraying the essence of the liberation struggle.’ Although the report does not say where the remarks were made our sources say Zvinavashe, a politburo member, addressed a meeting of constituents in Gutu on Monday.
Known for his controversial and blunt remarks Zvinavashe is also quoted as saying; ‘I may also want to be president one day, but if one clings onto power for too long how do you expect youngsters to be leaders of tomorrow? The President has played his part and should go immediately to give a chance to others whom we feel have the guts to shape a good Zimbabwe.’ Zvinavashe then added; ‘Of course, he (Mugabe) is a hero but now it’s high time he should go. When we went to war we did not fight for a single person but for all of us. But what the President is doing now defeats the whole purpose of our having gone to war.’
It’s reported that at the same meeting another retired senior army official, Major Kudzai Mbudzi, joined in the criticism. Mbudzi is currently on suspension from his post as Masvingo party provincial spokesman and also called on Mugabe to resign before the elections. He likened Mugabe to a driver falling asleep behind the steering wheel and refusing to relinquish control, despite the danger he poses to passengers. He said the Zanu PF leader had been given enough time to prove himself but had failed. In the weeks gone by Mbudzi, Zvinavashe and another retired army general Solomon Mujuru have all been linked to reports of a Zanu PF breakaway party, to be led by former finance minister Simba Makoni. However Mbudzi has apparently vowed not to leave Zanu PF, choosing instead to change it from within.
The Zimbabwe Times sought comment from Zanu PF political commissar Elliot Manyika who said, ‘those who criticise the President are rebels but everyone has the right to form a political party.’ Despite Manyika’s offhand dismissal discontent within the military ranks and Zanu PF itself is growing. Just last year Zvinavashe tore into Mugabe during a meeting with war veterans in Gutu. During that meeting the war veterans demanded the banishment of the MDC, to which Zvinavashe rebuked them saying the MDC was an official opposition party. It was during this meeting that he said for the first time that Mugabe should step down, as he had nothing to offer.
Mugabe’s controversial endorsement as the Zanu PF candidate for the 2008 elections, coupled with reports that Mujuru is sponsoring a breakaway party, provide evidence all is not well within the party. Up to now the military has served as Mugabe’s political bedrock. These developments however suggest a weakening of his grip in the party and in the military. The problem is that the retired generals might be making all the noise, but no one really knows whether this is in consultation with serving generals.
Meanwhile more political drama is in store in the province after Zvinavashe openly dismissed the Zanu PF policy to reserve certain parliamentary seats for women in the coming elections. Zimbabwe Football Association Chief Henrietta Rushwayo is thought to be eyeing the new constituency of Gutu East, but Zvinavashe has said people must choose their own candidates and not have a quota system imposed on them. It remains to be seen just how the party decides to choose its candidates, given the simmering tensions over the selection procedure.
Pedzisai Ruhanya, an analyst with the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, told Newsreel that because the retired generals who form the old guard of the party have started speaking out, it means most Zanu PF members have had enough. He said the military has played a key role in rigging elections for Mugabe and for some of them to speak out against him betrays the seriousness of the situation. Ruhanya said most of the army personnel had benefited from Mugabe’s regime in terms of money, farms, cars and other perks and this explained the reluctance of some of them to challenge him.