By Elias Mambo
ZIMBABWE’S 2013 constitution expressly bars serving military chiefs from dabbling in politics, but this has not stopped the senior commanders from using their lofty pedestals to do the political bidding of the ruling Zanu PF.
Zimbabwe’s security sector has played a major role in keeping President Robert Mugabe in power.
Already, the army bigwigs have taken a political stand against the democratic opposition ahead of next year’s national election.
Last week, Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantino Chiwenga, while addressing mourners at a funeral parade for national hero Brigadier-General James Jotham Murozvi, said Zanu PF would continue to build upon the role of war veterans, comments which show the military will always play a role in the political affairs of the country.
Chiwenga said: “War veterans are the ideological school of the nation, custodians of the revolution and the bedrock upon which Zanu PF shall continue to rely on.”
“Your (Brig-Gen Murozvi) blood has indeed watered the Zimbabwe flag as we used to sing during the war of liberation,” Chiwenga said. “You have fought your fight.
“Ours is to continue it, pursuing with vigour our role as the veterans of the liberation struggle, of being the ideological school of the nation, custodians of the revolution and the bedrock upon which our party, Zanu PF, shall continue to build itself for as long as we survive.”
Chiwenga’s comments are in flagrant violation of Section 211 (3) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which stipulates that: “The Defence Forces must respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons and be non-partisan, national in character, patriotic, professional and subordinate to the civilian authority as established by this Constitution.”
Although the Zanu PF government has used the military as its political appendage since Independence in 1980, the abuse intensified at the turn of the millennium when President Robert Mugabe came under extreme pressure from the opposition MDC.
During the Inclusive Government era between 2009 and 2013 when Zanu PF and the two MDC formations shared power, the urgent need for security sector reforms loomed large, but Zanu PF hardliners strongly resisted calls for reform.
After ensuring that no meaningful security sector reforms were undertaken, Zanu PF won elections in 2013, entrenching itself in power.
Analysts say the symbiotic relationship between Zanu PF and the military dates back to the liberation struggle and will continue until the leadership of the country has nothing to do with the war veterans. Interestingly, Chiwenga was part of Zanu’s commissariat during the liberation war.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said Chiwenga’s utterances did not come as a surprise.
“This was not shocking or surprising at all because as we draw closer to elections the military often gets involved in the political affairs of the country,” Masunungure said.
“This has been an unspoken secret where there is conflation between the state and the party (Zanu PF).
“It happens each time we get nearer to elections so that it sends a message to the opposition and what it should expect.”
Masunungure also said the conflation of state and party will remain a permanent feature until the whole generation of war veterans exits the political stage.
It all started with the late national army commander Vitalis Zvinavashe intimating on the eve of the 2002 presidential election that any victory by MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai would not be upheld by the men in uniform.
As the years have gone by, military leaders have stuck to their guns and openly campaigned for Mugabe and Zanu PF.
During every election since then, the military has been deployed covertly and sometimes openly to fulfil political commissariat duties for Zanu PF, which in 2013 formally employed former Air Vice-Marshal Henry Muchena and ex-Central Intelligence Organisation director (internal) Sydney Nyanhungo. While in some instances, military units are deployed in uniform to posture politically and campaign for Zanu PF, there are also clandestine deployments, mainly of soldiers who have now come to be known as “Boys-On-Leave”, granted time off their professional duties to do political work for Zanu PF.
As Mugabe and Zanu PF came under increasing political pressure, security service chiefs — who have been beneficiaries of his patronage system — have openly declared their political loyalty to him and Zanu PF, ensuring the military is manipulated and abused for campaign purposes. But with Zanu PF now engulfed in internal strife and some of its structures collapsing, state institutions, particularly the military, are now propping it up and that is why security forces are currently its pillar of strength.
Analyst Maxwell Saungweme says the military’s involvement in the political affairs of the country is disturbing, especially with a few months to the general elections.
“It sends shivers down the spines of many who remember the bloody 2008 elections,” Saungweme said.
“Chiwenga is an ambitious general with political ambitions. However, his ambitions must not be mixed up with his current role as a military commander.”
“The military should never have a role in politics and power matrix. They should protect national interests and not political party interests,” he said, adding: “Chiwenga should resign for openly declaring allegiance to Zanu PF and not to Zimbabwe.”
Mugabe lost to MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai during the first round of presidential elections before an orgy of violence was unleashed, forcing Tsvangirai to pull out of the race.
However, analyst Elton Ziki says the role of the military in politics is justified.
“One of its key mandates is to protect territorial integrity within and outside the country’s borders, so it has to be involved and make sure there is peace.
“This is common the world over, where some veterans of the liberation struggle play key roles in politics,” he said.
Ziki also said army generals are within their rights to comment on key issues that have the potential to destabilise the peace and tranquillity which they fought for.