By Faith Zaba
Pressure from the top echelons of Zanu PF and the military is mounting on defence chiefs to halt sensitive investigations into the conduct of two senior army commanders who sniped at their boss, General Constantine Chiwenga, in secret meetings with United States diplomats which have caused a stir within state security circles.
Informed sources say Zanu PF officials and military officers have clashed in the past weeks over what action to take against Brigadiers-General Herbert Chingono and Fidelis Satuku who criticised Chiwenga in disparaging terms, describing him as a “political general” with “little practical military experience or expertise”.
This comes as it emerged that the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) have frozen the promotion of Chingono, Inspector-General in the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA), to Major-General after the WikiLeaks disclosures, while Satuku, ZDF Director-General for Policy and Personnel, is in Pakistan for training.
The two commanders are said to be highly-respected in military circles and this has compounded the situation. Sources say the Chingono and Satuku issue has divided Zanu PF and ZDF in a manner which has poisoned relations between Chiwenga and the military brass who are also now on bad terms over how to handle the tricky issue which has political overtones.
The issue, sources say, is now boiling into a conflict between political considerations and professional military discipline involving codes of conduct.
While some army commanders like Chiwenga and his clique are arguing that the military risked setting a bad precedent if they do not deal with the two, some army commanders are urging caution, saying the WikiLeaks issue could cause serious damage to the ZDF if not properly handled. Some Zanu PF politburo members, with the support of President Robert Mugabe, are insisting that the military should follow the president’s lead on the issue.
Mugabe has reportedly chosen not to act on senior party officials implicated in the WikiLeaks disclosures, at least for now. It is said in official circles that Mugabe would not act because he does not want to divide his party and the army — his last pillar of support — before the electons next year or in 2013, although the official claim is that he would not act because he “knew about the meetings” even though he was not aware of the details.
According to US cables, Chingono and Satuku spoke to US Ambassador Charles Ray last year about Chiwenga’s political ambitions, conditions of service and different views and opinions within the army.
The two are currently under investigation for meeting with US diplomats, whom Mugabe considers enemies of the state. Although it is generally accepted among commanders that the two violated the Defence Forces Act when they met with Ray, Satuku and Chingono have the backing of some senior army officers and Zanu PF politburo members who believe the issue must be allowed to rest.
Sources in the army told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that there has been a lot of confrontation within the military itself and also between those calling for action against Satuku and Chingono and top Zanu PF officials trying to foster unity in the face of the disclosures, which have the potential to further divide the party ahead of elections.
They said even Mugabe did not want anything done to the two, preferring reconciliation and unity. However, there are fears in the army among those pushing for the investigation to continue that inaction would promote indiscipline and lead to more violations of the law and the military’s code of ethics and conduct.
One top army official said: “There has been a lot of internal confrontation in the ministry. President Mugabe doesn’t want anything to be done – what he wants is a situation where there is more unity and reconciliation.
“The ministry is under pressure to stop the investigations but Chiwenga and his clique are saying that we can’t ignore violations of the law and our code of ethics and code of conduct because as a profession, the army follows a certain discipline code.”
He went further to say: “Chiwenga’s argument is that the military must observe the law and its professional code of ethics and code of conduct and that inaction promotes indiscipline and generates a spirit of defiance within the army and it will also set a wrong precedent.”
The sources said one way being proposed around the issue would be to allow the investigations to be completed and if found with a case to answer then they would find other remedial measures which do not include imprisonment.
According to the Defence Act, Chingono and Satuku, if they have a case to answer, could be court-martialled and face imprisonment if convicted or even a death sentence, although that is not likely.
The sources said the other issue complicating the issue was the fact that Satuku and Chingono are highly respected in the army and are considered to be some of the best brains in the army, extremely professional and outstanding commanders.
In 1999, Chingono was the last ZNA commander to train at the US National Defence University under the International Military Education and Training programme, while Satuku received his military training in Britain. Zimbabwe Independent