Tsvangirai hits back

HARARE - Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa is committing treason by ganging up with military hardliners whose political statements point to a coup plot, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has warned.

In fresh signs that the military and Zanu PF are not confident of winning the next election, Chinamasa pre-emptively said the military would withhold support for any elected president they deemed unfit.

With elections due next year, Chinamasa’s statements have an alarming effect, particularly as moves to sanitise the conduct of the next election through progressive legislation are underway.

Chinamasa, who is also Zanu PF’s chief negotiator in ingoing political talks, said in a BBC interview that security organisations would only back political leaders who fought in the 1970s liberation war against white rule.

Such an action would see Tsvangirai, who did not participate in the war, failing to take power even if he wins the popular vote, rendering any electoral reforms meaningless.

Asked by the BBC’s Andrew Harding whether the will of the people will prevail in the forthcoming vote, whatever the outcome, Chinamasa said: “He (Tsvangirai) cannot win. He has been campaigning and mobilising against the interests of Zimbabweans on many issues, whether talking about land, seeking to reverse the gains of the liberation struggle,” said Chinamasa, before exposing the game plan.

"And this is where the military comes in…. Young people participated in the liberation struggle to gain control over our resources. Many friends died and are buried in unmarked graves. Now if anyone is going to say: 'When I come into power I am going to reverse that,' they (the military) have every right to say: 'Please - you are asking for trouble. You will be asking for trouble.'

"He (Tsvangirai) will be asking for trouble to seek to reverse the land reform programme. There is no-one who is going to accept any enslavement."

Asked to clarify what he meant by "trouble" and if he was ruling out a Tsvangirai presidency, Chinamasa said: "You could put any interpretation on it that you want."

Pressed further for his own interpretation, he said: "I know he (Tsvangirai) is the front of (sic) the countries that impose sanctions. And if those countries impose for him to win, that result will not be acceptable.

"We will not accept it. We will just not accept it. Isn't that clear?"

Luke Tamborinyoka, the PM's spokesman, said yesterday they expected the military to respect and support the verdict of the electorate, and said the people of Zimbabwe are entitled to a free and fair electoral process.

He said Tsvangirai would take steps to force Chinamasa to retract the “coup” threat.

"Chinamasa will regret that statement for the rest of his life," Tamborinyoka warned, without elaborating.

"Chinamasa should know that there is nothing that is bigger than the people's mandate. The ballot will always be superior to the bullet. It is a treasonous statement as it implies that the people's will amounts to nothing."

Chinamasa's statement echoes similar previous threats by security commanders, who analysts say seem to have sensed a crushing defeat for Mugabe at the coming presidential election.

Ibbo Mandaza, an academic, publisher and executive director of the Southern Africa Political and Economic Series (SAPES) Trust said he was taken aback by Chinamasa's alleged pronouncements.

"If he said that, it will be irrational, I do not believe he meant what he said," Mandaza said. "He is not that kind of person. I know Patrick, I do not think he said that."

Mandaza said what Chinamasa and the rest of the service chiefs are, therefore, telling the electorate in plain language is that they will not accept a Tsvangirai victory.

Analysts such as Mandaza say it is a thinly-veiled threat that if “you vote for Tsvangirai, you will be inviting the army to seize power”.

They say Chinamasa’s statement is tantamount to blackmailing the electorate into voting for Mugabe "or else".

While the rich military top brass are Mugabe loyalists, analysts say he cannot necessarily count on the support of the poorly paid rank-and-file.

Obert Gutu, Chinamasa's deputy in the fragile three-year-old coalition described his boss' threat as "the joke of the year".

"With due respect to the honourable minister, Zimbabweans are intelligent enough to know and decide for themselves whom to vote for and whom not to vote for," Gutu said. "I would humbly suggest that as a senior lawyer, the minister should engage himself in activities that promote nation building instead of spreading alarm and despondency by making reckless and ill-informed statements.

Gutu is also spokesman for Tsvangirai’s MDC in Harare.

Attempts to depoliticise the military top brass by forming an “inclusive” security council have failed as Mugabe himself has not called any meeting of the National Security Council in many months.

The Zanu PF leader is said to be meeting with the generals behind Tsvangirai and the other principal, Welshman Ncube's back. - Gift Phiri

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