We're in crisis, admits Zimbabwe's army chief

The commander of Zimbabwe's armed forces has publicly admitted for the first time that the country is deep in crisis and has recommended a national task force should resolve the country's emergency.

The powerful head of the Zimbabwe National Army and the Air Force of Zimbabwe spoke out while most senior politicians, including President Robert Mugabe, refuse to publicly acknowledge the country is in turmoil. Some blame the drought for the problems.

Although General Vitalis Zvinavashe reiterated his loyalty to Mr Mugabe, observers in Zimbabwe saw his statement as a direct confirmation that senior aides to Mr Mugabe were greatly worried by the country's slide into perdition and many of them would be relieved if their leader quit.

This week, the general denied hatching a plan to send President Mugabe into retirement in return for immunity from prosecution. Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader, said he was approached with the plan by a mediator who said he was representing General Zvinavashe and Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Parliamentary speaker.

General Zvinavashe said Zimbabweans had to be told frankly that the country was in a crisis. "First we must admit there is a crisis," General Zvinavashe told Business Tribune, a newspaper owned by Mutumwa Mawere, a prominent businessman with strong links to President Mugabe and the ruling Zanu-PF. "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 called for a national task force involving all branches of government, "and not necessarily cabinet ministers", to be set up urgently to deal with what he called an emergency situation in Zimbabwe.

General Zvinavashe did not say whether the task force should include the opposition but said it must have powers to make substantive decisions that would not be overturned by civil servants or cabinet ministers. He said the task force should be supervised by the 79-year-old President.

Lovemore Madhuku, a University of Zimbabwe law professor, said: "It does say a lot when senior soldiers, the greatest beneficiaries of Mugabe's corrupt patronage, start admitting things are bad. It also confirms the denied reports about initiatives to oust Mugabe are not completely unfounded."

General Zvinavashe, who rarely gives press interviews, has attributed those reports to British propaganda.

In another blow to President Mugabe, the Zimbabwe High Court yesterday nullified the results of two constituencies won by his party in the bitterly contested June 2000 parliamentary elections, and accused the ruling party of having used violence to win the seats.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) narrowly lost to Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF and went to court to challenge results in 37 constituencies. Seven Zanu-PF victories have been overturned and three ruling party election wins upheld.

Judge Rita Makarau said yesterday there was evidence of widespread intimidation of MDC supporters before the polls. "Properties were destroyed and burnt as part of the intimidation. The evidence before me can only lead to the conclusion that free franchise was affected in the constituency and therefore corrupt practices were committed in the election of the respondents."

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