July 31 polls: Army versus people

WITH the military increasingly involving itself in campaigning for President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF, the July 31 elections are shaping up to a fierce battle between multitudes of Zimbabweans demanding change and the army defending the status quo.

Report by Brian Chitemba/Clayton Masekesa

Mugabe and Zanu PF have activated their paramilitary campaign strategies through the Joint Operations Command (Joc) — which comprises the army, police and intelligence chiefs — in a bid to retain power. The military rescued Mugabe in 2008.

However, the fresh deployment of the military — persistently reported in the Zimbabwe Independent for more than a year so far — has now created tensions within the party as some senior officials, particularly Vice-President Joice Mujuru, are becoming uncomfortable with the active role the army commanders are playing in Zanu PF’s affairs.

The Independent understands Mujuru has been complaining in several meetings with Mugabe about the take-over of the party by military chiefs now dictating the pace of events, while imposing their preferred candidates in constituencies during the recent chaotic primary elections.

In a recent meeting with Mugabe, Mujuru reportedly launched a candid attack on army generals for their role in primary elections in areas like Bikita West where former Reserve Bank senior staffer Munyaradzi Kereke was involved in fierce battle with his ex-colleague Elias Musakwa and in Mberengwa where Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo lost to July Moyo. There are also many other constituencies where the army played a critical role during primaries.

Gumbo is aligned to a faction led by Mujuru, while Moyo is a close ally of Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. Most senior army commanders, including Zimbabwe Defence Forces General Constantine Chiwenga, have close relations with Mnangagwa. Gumbo has petitioned Mujuru protesting over alleged irregularities and vote rigging in the primaries.

The military has ensured that there are more than a dozen Zanu PF candidates in the elections with security backgrounds.

The imposition of preferred army-backed candidates is said to have prompted Mujuru to confront Mugabe after the primaries to question the role of the military in Zanu PF’s internal affairs and the party’s election campaigns.

Sources said Mugabe, however, shot down Mujuru’s protests reminding her that they were still in power, courtesy of the role played by the army in the 2008 elections.

“Mujuru is not happy with the military’s involvement in the party affairs because the army chiefs, mainly those who sit in Joc, are more aligned to Mnangagwa, which has a bearing on the Mugabe succession issue,” said a senior Zanu PF official this week. “The generals are accused of imposing candidates, for instance, in the Kereke case in Bikita West. Chiwenga reportedly ordered Kereke to be allowed to contest primaries after the politburo had blocked him.”

As reported widely in the Independent over the past year, the army has vastly deployed senior commanders and key military units across the country in a bid to rescue Mugabe in the do-or-die elections.

The military chiefs have abandoned their plush offices at Defence House in central Harare to join “Boys on leave” to campaign in the provinces for Mugabe.

Brigadier-General David Sigauke has been deployed in Mashonaland West while Major-General Douglas Nyikayaramba replaced Brigadier-General Charles Tarumbwa, who manned Manicaland in the 2008 disputed elections.

Major-General Engelbrecht Rugeje is busy in Masvingo, while Retired Major-General Victor Rungani is co-ordinating campaigns in Mashonaland East. Vice Air-Marshal Titus Abu Basutu is in Matabeleland South and Brigadier-General Sibusiso Moyo in the Midlands. Brigadier-General Sibangumuzi Khumalo is campaigning in Matabeleland North, while Colonel Chris Sibanda is working in Bulawayo and Retired Air Commodore Michael Karakadzai covering Harare.

Brigadier-General Etherton Shungu is in charge of Mashonaland Central.

As the elections approach, some senior army commanders are becoming more brazen in their approach and are openly campaigning for Mugabe and Zanu PF.

Army chief-of-staff (general staff) Major-General Martin Chedondo, who has vowed to defend Mugabe’s grip on power, last week told a platoon commanders’ course graduation in Nyanga that soldiers should rally behind Mugabe and drive out the “few remaining whites”. He warned soldiers against supporting the MDC-T, branding the party “an enemy of the country”.

Chedondo said: “I want to urge you to vote for our President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF. Your votes should help us with the numbers to get rid of whites who are sell-outs.

“As soldiers, we are not ready and will not allow bringing back the whites because they have been calling their friends from outside the country to impose sanctions that are hurting us right now.”

Chedondo, a fierce Mugabe loyalist, accused the MDC-T of being an agent of the West before ominously declaring that Zimbabwe’s future lies squarely in the hands of the army. This confirmed a widely held view that the next elections will be a battle between the army and multitudes of Zimbabweans demanding change.

Military commanders are falling over each other to back Mugabe while vowing to block MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai from taking over even if he wins the election.

Chiwenga has gone on a whirlwind tour of the country’s 10 provinces holding a series of meetings with war veterans and military commanders to order them to campaign for Zanu PF. Chiwenga’s wife Mary also joined the campaign trail urging female soldiers and wives of army personnel to rally behind Mugabe and Zanu PF as they were “chosen by God”.

Prisons chief Retired Major-General Paradzai Zimondi has ordered his sub-ordinates to vote for Mugabe, while police chief Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri has also openly declared allegiance to Zanu PF. Air Marshall Perence Shiri on Tuesday also joined the fray, saying “do not force us to do that which we did not want to do” as criticism of security forces’ involvement in elections grows.

Senior army commanders, particularly Nyikayaramba, Major-General Trust Mugoba and Chedondo, have vowed to retain Mugabe and Zanu PF in power at all costs, pitting the military against the people on July 31.


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