BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Somali Swahili French Great Lakes Hausa Portugeuse
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Africa  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
LANGUAGES
EDITIONS
Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 21:45 GMT
How loyal is Zimbabwe's army?
General Vitalis Zvinavashe
The defence chief 'will not accept' Mugabe's main rival
By Michael Quintana, editor of the Africa Defence Journal

President Robert Mugabe came to power following a long and bitter guerrilla war, and 22 years later he is relying on the military to keep the keys to State House and power.


Mr Mugabe would be wise not to rely too heavily on the army to keep him in power if Zimbabwe's voters want him to go

The commander of Zimbabwe's defence forces, General Vitalis Zvinavashe, said on Wednesday that the military will 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, flanked by the commanders of the army, air force, prisons and the much-feared Central Intelligence Organisation chief, all former comrades-in-arms of Mr Mugabe.

The statement was significant because Mr Mugabe's main challenger in March's presidential election is Morgan Tsvangirai, a trade-union leader with broad political support, especially among urban Zimbabweans, but a man who used his free time when younger to further his studies rather than join the liberation movements.

Rank-and-file

But while the military top brass are Mugabe loyalists, he cannot necessarily count on the support of the rank-and-file.

Riots in Zimbabwe in October 2000
The army was used to put down the riots in October 2000

The Zimbabwe National Army was formed at independence in 1980 by fusing the army of white-ruled Rhodesia with the two liberation movements - Joshua Nkomo's Zipra and Robert Mugabe's Zanla.

Mr Mugabe's policy of awarding the best jobs in the new army to favoured Zanla personnel meant that discontent has always simmered among former members of Zipra and the former-Rhodesian army.

Before a proper integration process had even begun, Mr Nkomo's troops rebelled and marched on Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city, in an attempted coup.

Luckily, a few hundred black and white former Rhodesian soldiers stood in their way and, together with the air force, managed to defeat the 5,000-strong rebellion and prevent the new state from plunging into open civil war.

Unsure of his grip on power, Mr Mugabe privately commissioned the creation of the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade, under the command of Perence Shiri.

In the early 1980s, they became notorious for their cruelty when they were deployed in the largely ethnic Ndebele areas of the country, to put down a suspected Ndebele and Zipra insurrection against Mr Mugabe.

Within two years these "political warriors" had laid bare an area representing one-third of the country with scorched-earth policies, where thousands were killed, crops destroyed and homesteads burned.

Insufficient reward

More recently, as living standards have plummeted, urban areas have erupted into occasional bouts of anti-government violence.

Zimbabwe troops in DR Congo
The army's corruption in DR Congo was exposed
The army has been used on several occasions to stamp out the unrest and has been accused of using excessive force.

In 1998, the army was sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo in support of Mr Mugabe's close ally, the then President Laurent Kabila.

In the DR Congo, the graft, corruption, mismanagement and ill-discipline among Zimbabwe's soldiers was exposed by their involvement in diamond deals and lucrative joint ventures.

There have also been many reported discipline problems among the soldiers, with secret court-martials for those unhappy at being sent to the DR Congo.

Since 1993, pay and living arrangements have deteriorated, with up to 40% of personnel having to live outside barracks because of a lack of proper accommodation and funds to feed them.

Pay of all security forces was doubled from the start of this year, though some soldiers may see through this attempt to buy their loyalty ahead of elections.

If the military commanders did order their troops to move against a political leader who they did not approve of, many of those soldiers without decent accommodation, or who still bear a grudge from the divisions of the war of independence, would be reluctant to obey.

Equally, if Mr Mugabe tried to rig the election results, this would quite likely lead to widespread unrest in the urban areas, where support for his opponent, Mr Tsvangirai is overwhelming.

Mr Mugabe would be wise not to rely too heavily on the army to keep him in power if Zimbabwe's voters want him to go.


Key stories

IN DEPTH

CLICKABLE GUIDE

TALKING POINT

AUDIO VIDEO

FORUM
See also:

10 Jan 02 | Africa
08 Jan 02 | Africa
10 Jan 02 | Africa
05 Dec 01 | Africa
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Africa stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Africa stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes