Zimbabwe bank governor discloses army fears of popular revolt against Mugabe

HARARE - Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor Gideon Gono has disclosed that the country's top military commander fears that worsening hunger could ignite a popular revolt against President Robert Mugabe's government.

Gono, a top ally of Mugabe, made the startling revelation when he presented his monetary policy review statement for the last quarter of 2005 on Tuesday this week.

In a statement broadcast live to the nation on state television, Gono said Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander General Constantine Chiwenga had approached him and told him to adequately fund food production this farming season because the military did not want to be asked to "turn our guns on hungry Zimbabweans" protesting for food.

"To quote the wisdom of General C Chiwenga, Commander of the Defence Forces, a hungry man is an angry man, and as Zimbabweans, we must pull together to ensure full productivity in agriculture so that hunger is alien to every Zimbabwean," Gono said.

Departing from the prepared text, the RBZ chief added: "General Chiwenga told me: make sure agriculture is revived and make food available so we (soldiers) will not be forced to turn our guns on hungry Zimbabweans."

Chiwenga is the highest military commander of the ZDF, which brings together Zimbabwe's air force and army. He reports to Mugabe, who as President is Commander-in-Chief of the ZDF. Gono, who did not say when he spoke to Chiwenga, also did not say whether the ZDF commander believed a hunger-induced uprising was imminent.

But the RBZ boss' disclosure is the first time that a top official of the government has ever publicly revealed growing fear within the ruling elite that severe food shortages and worsening economic hardships could trigger a popular uprising by Zimbabweans.

Zimbabwe is grappling an acute food crisis with a quarter of the country's 12 million people needing urgent food aid between now and the next harvest around April or they will starve.

The food shortage has been worsened by a severe economic crisis gripping the southern African nation since 2000 and which has spawned shortages of fuel, essential medicines and just about every other basic survival commodity because there is no hard cash to pay foreign suppliers.

Critics blame Zimbabwe's problems on repression and wrong policies by Mugabe especially his farm seizure programme that destabilised the agricultural sector, knocking food production by about 60 percent. Mugabe denies the charges.

And political analysts see no possibility of a mass revolt against Mugabe's government in the near future, saying the veteran President still enjoys solid support among security commanders who in the past have acted swiftly to crush any signs of mass action.