PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe last week during the Zanu PF annual conference in Victoria fiercely lashed out at the state security establishment — which includes the military, intelligence services and police — for interfering in the ruling party’s internal politics and its explosive succession power struggle.
In his stinging attack, Mugabe said: “The military, police and the intelligence are now involved and split as well. Let’s stop this. We do not want factions.”
This raises new questions and new possibilities on the succession puzzle. Why did Mugabe say that in public and what was the rationale behind his timing? Was he just warning the security service chiefs to stay out of politics and the succession battle, or merely expressing his exasperation with their growing interference? Was Mugabe simply reminding the security bosses of their constitutional and legal mandates, or paving the way for looming action against them?
Answers to these questions are varied, but there is one thing which is obvious to almost everyone in Zimbabwe today: the Zanu PF succession battle is now a political powder keg. It is increasingly intensifying as Mugabe – soon to be 92 and on the sunset of his long political career — grows older and faces the exit.
Yet it is also known the security apparatus, mainly the army, is critical in the power and succession matrices. Zimbabwe’s politics is heavily militarised and hence the army will always be a factor in the outcome of major political processes, including elections and the Zanu PF succession.
The process of militarisation of the state and politics has poisoned Zimbabwe’s civil–military relations. Civilian military control is key to democratic stability.
Even Mugabe and his party understand this and hence their Maoist principle since the liberation struggle that “party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the party”, reflecting the primacy of civilian authority over the military. This is what Mugabe was trying to say at the Zanu PF conference last week.
It is progressively more apparent to anyone who cares to observe Zimbabwean politics the security system has gained prominence in policy-making processes, reflecting militarisation of the state and politics.
In Zimbabwe’s dynamic political and electoral affairs since 2000, the security cluster has been the decisive factor. Ahead of the 2002 hotly-contested presidential election, the late Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Vitalis Zvinavashe led the service chiefs in rescuing Mugabe, claiming his office was a “straitjacket” and no one without liberation struggle credentials would fit in.
By 2008, at the height of hyperinflation and the economic meltdown, the military’s role in politics had become overbearing. Naturally, the army helped out Mugabe in the June presidential election run-off boycotted by his bitter rival Morgan Tsvangirai after his shock defeat in the first round of polling earlier in March that year.
Prior to all that during the 1980s, the military had been used by Mugabe to pursue partisan political and electoral agendas. Its role in the 1985 elections, attacking the main opposition Zapu as it did later after 2000 with the MDC, and Gukurahundi massacres remain indelibly ingrained on the popular imagination.
The situation during the Zanu PF conference clearly showed the ruling party is not only deeply divided, but also on the brink of instability, chaos and violence as its power struggle and the attendant internal strife escalates.
Mugabe has no clear succession plan, and thus uncertainty exists on whether a stable succession will take place or not.
Zimbabwe’s economy is imploding and vulnerable to potential shocks that might precipitate instability and turmoil.
Although Mugabe still has some residual control on the levers of power within both Zanu PF and government, his grip is faltering. This volatile situation, coupled with military interference in politics and succession fights, not only poses a serious threat to Zanu PF but also to national security.
Even if it was an inconsistent and self-serving demand, Mugabe is right the military must stop interfering in politics.