Zimbabwe: Army chief admits country deep in crisis

JOHANNESBURG, 17 January (IRIN) - The powerful head of Zimbabwe's army this week appeared to break ranks with the ruling ZANU-PF party and publicly admitted the extent of the economic crisis in the country.
In a rare interview General Vitalis Zvinavashe recommended a national task force be set up to address what he described as an "emergency situation".

On Thursday Zvinavashe told the Harare-based Business Tribune: "First we must admit there is a crisis. Everyone can see that. So we must do something about it. It is important for the nation to be told that we are facing an economic crisis. In my view, it is not right to keep quiet and let nature take its course."

He added that a national task force involving all arms of government - "and not necessarily cabinet ministers" - should be set up to deal with the country's economic troubles.

Although Zvinavashe did not say whether the opposition would be part of the task force, analysts told IRIN that his comments hinted at a possible compromise between ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Zvinavashe and parliamentary speaker Emmerson Mnangagwa [widely regarded as Mugabe's chosen successor], were recently accused of hatching a plan that would have seen President Robert Mugabe relinquish power and the formation of a government of national unity. Both men have since denied any involvement. Mugabe also scoffed at the reports, saying it would be "foolhardy" for him to step down after winning a new term in office in March 2002.

"Zvinavashe's comments are significant as it lends credence to reports of talks of a compromise with the MDC. This is despite widespread denials within ZANU-PF that this is an option. Now that the inevitability of some kind of deal is in the public domain, the MDC may come under increasing pressure to agree to some kind of transitional arrangement.

"It is likely, although neither party would admit it, that the details of the role of the top players in each party are under discussion. The economy is ruined and mass action appears to be no longer an option. The only viable option is a compromise," civil rights activist Reginald Machaba-Hove told IRIN.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Wednesday confirmed that he was approached with a deal from the ruling party that included a safe exit for Mugabe.

Over the last couple of years Mugabe has become increasingly reliant on the military to keep power using it on several occasions to stamp out unrest. However, Zimbabwe is faced with an economic meltdown and a food crisis that threatens seven million people with hunger.

In the build-up to the disputed March 2002 presidential elections Zvinavashe said the military would only obey a political leader who participated in the 1970s war of independence.

"We will ... not accept, let alone support or salute, anyone with a different agenda," he said. The comments alluded to Tsvangirai's decision to further his studies during the struggle for independence rather than join the liberation movement. The MDC draws its support mainly from the trade unions, NGOs and urban Zimbabweans.

"In light of Zvinavashe's recent comments and the impact the deteriorating economy has perhaps had on his own financial interests and other high ranking generals, it is important to question just how loyal Mugabe's power base really is. Still, while the military top brass may be loyalists, Mugabe cannot necessarily count on the support of the rank-and-file," senior researcher at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies Chris Maroleng said.

Despite a pay increase for all security forces in 2002, the living arrangements of soldiers had deteriorated since 1993, with up to almost half of personnel having to live outside barracks because of a lack of proper accommodation and funds to feed them, Maroleng said.

He added that faced with the collapse of the economy and Mugabe's alleged imminent departure from power, top ZANU-PF officials, "who have a great personal interest" in the Zimbabwean economy, may have begun to reconsider their allegiance to the veteran president.


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