Johannesburg – Fighting in central Harare on Wednesday between soldiers and police was part of the ongoing faction disputes within the ruling Zanu-PF party over who will succeed President Robert Mugabe.
Civilians in the centre of Harare – some of them laughing – ran as members of the National Army, in full uniform, began chasing and clobbering members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police.
Several policemen were beaten while others ran for safety into the Central police station.
This tension erupted because General Constantine Chiwenga, 60, commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces since 2004, does not know whether his latest contract, which expired last week, will be renewed.
He openly supports vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, 74, to succeed Mugabe. Chiwenga, who was recently awarded his PhD from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, has always been clear that he is a politician before a public servant.
“Elections are coming and the army will not support and salute sell-outs and agents of the West before, during and after the presidential elections other than President Mugabe who has sacrificed a lot for the country,” said Chiwenga in an interview ahead of the polls in 2008.
For the first time Mugabe has hinted that Chiwenga and several other generals might be forced to retire in the ongoing scramble for power within Zanu-PF.
“We respect our defence forces, especially those who are at the top. Of course they will retire but we are going to find them room in government so that they do not languish,” Mugabe said at a rally last week.
Analyst Violet Gonda said: “It is common knowledge that the military supports Mnangagwa and the police support the G40 group. We should be concerned that this flare-up does not escalate.”
Gonda said the G40 group, trying hard to promote defence minister Sidney Sekeramayi, 73, as its leader to succeed Mugabe, is managed by Tertiary Education Minister Jonathan Moyo.
Moyo has had a chequered career within Zanu-PF. He is at present in an alliance with Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere and First Lady Grace Mugabe. But Moyo is, Gonda said, “manipulating” the situation.
He is the one in control of G40. He used to control the state-owned media such as the main daily newspapers, The Herald and The Chronicle.
Moyo, Sekeramayi and other loyalists were given farms taken from whites since 2000. Mnangagwa, however, is understood to have since paid some compensation to the farmer he evicted.
Gonda and other analysts say that if Chiwenga and others are forced to “retire” – perhaps to take up posts in the small and financially stressed diplomatic service – Mugabe might move even further to ensure the party’s constitution is changed to allow Grace to be a third vice-president.
“Many would wonder what will happen if Mugabe gets rid of Mnangagwa to make way for G40’s preferred candidate Sekeramayi,” Gonda said.
Mnangagwa is accused by many of having played a key role as security minister in the shocking massacres of opposition supporters in the two Matabeleland provinces from 1983 to 1987, which saw thousands killed by a North Korean-trained brigade which operated outside the national army.