Service chiefs lived true to their word that they do not salute anyone without liberation war credentials by refusing to extend the honour to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai at the Defence Forces Day commemorations at the National Sports Stadium yesterday.
In Bulawayo, however, senior officials from both MDC formations boycotted the commemorations.
Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) General Constantine Chiwenga, Commander of the Zimbabwe National Army Lieutenant-General Philip Valerio Sibanda and Commander of the Air Force of Zimbabwe Air Marshal Perence Shiri saluted President Robert Mugabe, Vice-President Joice Mujuru and the Minister of Defence Emmerson Mnangagwa, but only extended cold handshakes to the Premier.
First to arrive at the stadium were Sibanda and Shiri who immediately went to salute VP Mujuru before greeting other dignitaries. They then saluted Mnangagwa, who was seated next to Tsvangirai after which they shook the PM’s hand.
Chiwenga arrived at the stadium together with the President, and stood by his side as the national anthem, which coincided with a flypast, was being sung.
The President then inspected the guard of honour before he and Chiwenga took seats.
Before taking his seat, Chiwenga, however, also saluted VP Mujuru and Mnangagwa before extending his hand to the PM for a handshake.
The service chiefs, through Brigadier-General Douglas Nyikayaramba of 3 Infantry Brigade in Manicaland, have declared that Tsvangirai was a security threat, adding they would not salute him because he did not have liberation war credentials.
Meanwhile, President Mugabe yesterday continued with his vitriolic attack on Western countries while lauding his “all-weather friends”, the Chinese.
President Mugabe said it was surprising that Britain was currently caught up in mass demonstrations and questioned whether the British would say its people were demonstrating because of lack of freedom, like they said when mass protests erupted in North Africa.
“They accuse other countries of lack of freedom, but what is happening in their country? Britain is on fire, especially London. I hope they manage to extinguish it and leave us alone. We do not have any fire here. We want peace and the people of Zimbabwe want peace and not interference. Please leave us alone.”
The President thanked the Chinese for donating eye cataract removal equipment and extending a $97 million loan towards the construction of the Zimbabwe Defence College in Harare.
“The current poor budgetary provisions and the effects of the illegal sanctions have stalled projects such as the acquisition of modern equipment and the construction of accommodation which had commenced at Dzivarasekwa. When our friends from China responded to our plight in this regard, they donated critical plant and engineering medical and office equipment and this was officially handed over to the Minister of Defence by the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China,” said the President.
He also pledged to continually improve conditions of service for members of the ZDF.
The President said the ZDF had been professional in the execution of its duties and also presented medals to 1 016 outstanding officers and 237 members of the force.