THE presence of soldiers in some Nyanga villages has heightened fears of a repeat of the bloody run-up to the sham 2008 presidential election run-off in which President Robert Mugabe contested alone after MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out, citing systematic violence and intimidation.
Report by Elias Mambo
The Zimbabwe Independent understands that soldiers from the Mutare-based 3 Brigade have been visiting traditional chiefs in Nyanga North and South constituencies for “orientation programmes”.
The programmes seem similar to the ones in which soldiers countrywide visited chiefs and headmen on Zanu PF campaign missions disguised as lessons on new farming methods to boost agricultural production.
Villagers told the Independent the soldiers’ visits to chiefs had been dubbed “orientation programmes”, although the details had not been explained to them yet.
The Joint Operations Command, which brings together the army, police and intelligence services chiefs, has played a strong commissariat role for Zanu PF in previous elections, and army sources said “Operation Maguta” was being revived to justify the presence of soldiers in most rural communities. The operation was discontinued after the formation of the coalition government in 2009.
Zimbabwe National Army director of public relations Lieutenant-Colonel Alphios Makotore confirmed the presence of soldiers in Nyanga North villages, but dismissed allegations they were campaigning for Zanu PF, saying the army is involved in developmental issues in the villages.
“Soldiers in Nyanga North are there to rehabilitate the road that goes to chief Tangwena’s homestead,” said Makotore. “They have been there for a year now and they have nothing to do with the villagers.”
Nyanga North and South MPs Douglas Mwonzora and Willard Chimbetete, respectively, however expressed concerns at the presence of soldiers in their constituencies, saying it had caused unnecessary anxiety and tension as it evokes painful memories of the violent 2008 elections.
“The military involvement in my constituency is disturbing as it is instilling fear in the people,” said Chimbetete. “Recently, acting chief Saunyama, who is Victor Saunyama of Nyanga South, fired three headmen — Chifodya Katerere, Didymus Nyamahomba and Alfred Mukombedzi — and replaced them with Zanu PF members. Mukombedzi, from Dende village ward 15, was replaced after soldiers visited his homestead.”
Mukombedzi told the Independent there are co-ordinated efforts by chiefs and the army to intimidate people ahead of elections expected next year.
“Soon after the army’s visit, I was told that people are complaining about the way I carry out my duties and the chief said he was demoting me,” he said.
He confirmed that the three sacked headmen were MDC-T members.
Mwonzora, who is also MDC-T spokesperson, said although soldiers have besieged his constituency to coerce people to vote for Zanu PF, his party was confident of winning.
“Zanu PF is using state apparatus to send the wrong message to the electorate, but that strategy is tired and will not work,” said Mwonzora.
Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe’s information officer George Makoni said the presence of the army in rural areas ahead of elections should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
“The deployment of the military in villages is part of the Zanu PF strategy to instil fear in the electorate ahead of elections. The disruption of MDC rallies confirms our fears Zanu PF is planning to unleash its terror machinery again,” said Makoni.