HARARE - Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC has laid into the commander of the Defence Forces, General Constantino Chiwenga — telling him to stop barking from the sidelines and daring him to remove his military uniform and join politics full-time if he desires a political career.
Speaking to the Daily News yesterday, in the wake of Chiwenga’s interview with State media earlier this week, MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu warned the head of the military to stop “spouting threatening edicts from the safety of military barracks” and join politics — where he would be guaranteed being taught “a political lesson” by the opposition.
This comes as Chiwenga has also come under severe criticism from disgruntled war veterans over his controversial remarks on Monday, where he encroached into the heated arena of politics, while warning brawling Zanu PF factions to stop fighting each other and attacking President Robert Mugabe.
The MDC put its full weight behind the angry former freedom fighters, saying yesterday that while they respected Chiwenga, he needed to understand that he had no role in politics — daring him to remove his army fatigues and join them in politics if that was the career he desired.
“Chiwenga doesn’t know what he is talking about. Last time I checked he was a soldier and not an active politician.
“The Constitution of Zimbabwe allows us to form political parties and Chiwenga has got absolutely no lawful right to intervene in or ban any political party.
“We suggest that he concentrates on his core duties as the army commander and leave politics to politicians.
“If he wants to delve in politics, he should immediately retire from the military, remove his army uniform and join us in the political fray.
“We will certainly teach him a lesson or two. While we respect him, we are certainly not afraid of him,” Gutu thundered in his interview with the Daily News.
This comes after Chiwenga warned Zanu PF factions earlier this week over their continued public brawling and attacks on Mugabe.
The military commander also savaged the leadership of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) and other Zanu PF bigwigs in his interview with State media, while making veiled threats to the country’s re-energised opposition — which prompted the MDC’s sharp rebuke of him yesterday.
“We don’t talk about the opposition political parties that we liberated so that they can also have their own voice ... we do not talk about them. Let them do their own business there. We are not interfering with them.
“If we had wanted we would have said ‘No, there is not going to be any opposition, we liberated the country, where were these people,’” Chiwenga said in his remarks which miffed the former prime minister’s party.
Tsvangirai has had several run-ins with the country’s powerful securocrats, who he accuses of abetting Zanu PF’s misrule and hotly-contested tenure in power.
During the inclusive government era, Tsvangirai also angered the securocrats when he spiritedly pushed for security sector reforms, although Mugabe managed to frustrate the demands.
However, Tsvangirai recently assured the security chiefs, saying they were guaranteed to get immunity from prosecution if he wins next year’s watershed elections.
Speaking in Harare after holding a crucial meeting with the MDC national executive, the popular former prime minister in the government of national unity repeatedly emphasised that Mugabe and securocrats had nothing to fear when he comes to power — adding that he regreted his failure to assure them their safety when he won the hotly-disputed 2008 polls.
“I have a message to those who have in the past resisted change and who remain keen to subvert the people’s will because of their uncertainty due to the prospect of political change in the country.
“I wish to assure everyone that there is nothing to fear in the change that we seek. We have no intention to engage in retribution, and we are only driven by the genuine patriotic spirit to ensure peace, stability and growth.
“Change will be good for everyone. Change will allow everyone to pursue and live their dreams under the protection of the state,” Tsvangirai said then.
“In 2008, a large part of our fellow citizens in State institutions were reticent and suspicious about the prospects of change.
“The people won the election but there was no transfer of power because of the sceptics of change, those whose reticence about a new Zimbabwe cost this country the opportunity to set a new political direction.
“There will be neither vengeance nor retribution against anyone. There is certainly nothing to fear. In fact, there will be a pension for those who are afraid,” the dogged former trade union leader added.
Tsvangirai beat Mugabe hands down in the 29 March 2008 presidential election, which saw results being withheld for a suspiciously long six weeks, amid widespread allegations of ballot fiddling and manipulation.
When the widely discredited results of that poll were eventually announced, Tsvangirai was forced into a presidential run-off which he pulled out of following massive intimidation and violence which saw hundreds of his supporters being murdered in cold blood.
Mugabe would go on to stand in a widely condemned one-man race in which he declared himself the winner.
However, Sadc and the rest of the international community would not accept the poll, forcing the nonagenarian to share power with Tsvangirai for five years to prevent the country from imploding completely.
Former State Security minister and one of the founders of the Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) party, Didymus Mutasa — who was for decades a close confidante of Mugabe — later lifted the lid on that election’s rot, following his sacking from Zanu PF, revealing that the nonagenarian had only remained in power through chicanery and brute force.