The government of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe moved today to ward off further clashes within its armed forces by announcing that the remaining 22,000 former guerrillas in the country -- remnants of the seven-year war for black majority rule -- would be disarmed.
Clashes between former guerrillas awaiting induction into the country's new Army left more than 300 dead last week and brought the country perilously close to all-out civil war.
At a pass conference today, Emerson Munangagwa, the minister in charge of the Military Joint High Command, said "the strongest possible action involving dismissal and imprisonment" will be taken against those who refuse to disarm.
He would not give any details about how and when the disarming would be achieved. He did say, however, that despite the clashes which disintegrated three unified battalions, the integration process would continue without charge.
Of the 22,000 former guerrillas in the country, about 14,000 are loyal to Mugabe, while some 8,000 were part of Joshua Nkomo's Army during the country's independence war. It was a beerhall brawl between men loyal to the two leaders that led to last week's violence in the southwestern part of the country -- violence that was ended only by a massive show of force by troops left over from the former white-led army of Rhodesia. Just how Mugabe intends to induce the former guerrillas to disarm without unleashing further bloodshed remains to be seen, given the experience of the past week.
The internecine violence was yet another legacy of the long independence war, which left Zimbabwe with about 60,000 troops with loyalties to different leaders, and with tens of thousands of weapons spread around the country.
"You can't end a war, disarm 60,000 men, and overcome major tribal differences overnight," a Western diplomatic source said. He predicted that there would be similar flare-ups over the next couple years as the country slowly emerges from its war psychosis and stabilizes.
The question is whether the country and the fledgling integrated military can endure a continuation of such outbreaks.
Following independence last April there were isolated clashes between the former guerrillas loyal to Mugabe and those loyal to his minority coalition partner, Nkomo. Then in November there was a pitched battle between the factions in Entumbane, an African township suburb of Bulawayo, in southwestern Zimbabwe. Fifty-eight were killed and scores were made homeless.
This time the fighting involved units of the newly integrated National Army, made up of troops from Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) and Nkomo's Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) guerrillas. The majority Shona tribe supports Mugabe, while Nkomo's backing comes from the 20 percent minority Ndebeles, who are concentrated in the southwest.
Talking to reporters yesterday, Mugabe blamed Nkomo's party and military forces for the trouble, saying: "They've never [become] reconciled to the fact that they lost the election" last year. "Now there are those who think they can reverse the defeat by taking up arms." The government has been banking on the British-supervised integration process to convert rival guerrillas currently living in separate assembly camps established during last year's cease-fire.
Although the lower ranks rebelled, the commanders held firm. "They did not participate in the fighting but they were unable to prevent it," a source close to the military said.
A senior official in Nkomo's Patriotic Front Party acknowledged that "no country can have two political armies," and said integration must come. But when it does come, Nkomo's party will lose one of its primary means of pressure.
The main concern is that Nkomo may lose control of ZIPRA as his troops see his political power slipping.
"Our boys are in a very bad mood," feeling the government is biased toward ZANLA, the Patriotic Front official said in explaining the difficulty in disarming Nkomo's former guerrillas. Although outnumbered by ZANLA, ZIPRA is known to have tanks and armored cars brought in from Zambia at the end of the war. Despite a reported agreement that they were to move unarmed, some of the ZIPRA troops who were moved from Entumbane yesterday as part of the separation of the warring factions were seen brandishing weapons.
So far about 18,000 former guerrillas have taken part in a one-month military training program. The government is attempting to train the remaining 22,000 at the rate of 3,000 a month, meaning all would be integrated into the Army before the end of the year, except those outside the country, estimated at fewer than 10,000.
"You don't train a soldier in four weeks," the source close to the military said, but he pointed out that however inadequate the training process may be, it forces the former guerrillas to surrender their weapons. Their access to arms is then controlled, at least in theory, by the Army.
"Integration is the way to disarm these people," the source said. "Nobody's thought of another way."
The problem is that this nation of 7 million people can hardly afford an Army of 60,000.
The policy appears to be to get them all in the Army and then weed them out. Wasteful as that may be, it is easier than telling armed men living for more than a year in miserable conditions in assembly camps that after they fought for so long to achieve black-majority rule, the Army has no place for them. Last week's fighting showed that Mugabe is not afraid to use force if necessary to put down potential rebellion -- and that he is now more determined to disarm the former guerrillas than he was last September, when he made a similar vow, which came to naught. Jet fighters, helicopter gunships, and tanks were all brought out in a display of force to show the rebels the alternative to surrender.
Mugabe told Parliament last week, "All who challenge the authority of my government and the people of Zimbabwe by force of arms, or who mutiny or revolt, declare themselves the enemies of the people, and I am determined to descent on them with a hammer."
The "hammer" became obvious the same day. Ironically, Mugabe turned to his old enemy, the white-led former Rhodesian Army, to put down the rebellion. One thousand crack troops, mainly black, from the 1st Brigade (formerly known as the Rhodesian African Rifles, or RAR) took less than 24 hours to restore order.
So far most of the ex-RAR troops have not been integrated with those of ZANLA and ZIPRA. And last week's performance gave rise to a theory that Mugabe will keep those troops separated from the former guerrillas as long as possible. The 4,000 ex-RAR soldiers now seem to have a role as a praetorian guard for the government.
At his press conference, Munangagwa went out of his way to compliment the troops who for so long were his enemy. "It is appropriate," he said, "to single out for special praise the sense of duty shown by Number 1 Brigade (the former RAR) in the manner in which it carried out the orders of the Joint High Command."