STATE security forces reportedly deployed countrywide on a military-style campaign to rescue beleaguered President Robert Mugabe ahead of the critical presidential election run-off have taken an increasingly active role in a bid to block opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai from succeeding as the next president of Zimbabwe.
This has poisoned the campaign environment and dramatically tilted the playing field ahead of the run-off in two weeksâ€™ time. There is now a pervasive climate of fear surrounding the poll as the wave of terror rippling through the rural areas rises.
Tsvangirai was yesterday arrested in Kwekwe â€” for the third time inside a week â€” while campaigning. He was released but then arrested again in Gweru.
Numerous senior party officials and supporters have also been arrested of late including Tendai Biti yesterday. (See story below.)
Evidence soldiers are directly involved in Mugabeâ€™s campaign mounted this week after two soldiers â€” assaulted by opposition supporters during clashes in rival campaigns â€” admitted in court documents that they had been rallying support for Mugabe in Mashonaland Central.
According to court records (137-8/05/2008), Zecks Kanhukamwe, a member of the Zimbabwe National Army, and Petros Nyaguwa, an officer in the Presidential Guard, were assaulted by 26 MDC activists after they tried to force villagers in Mashonaland Centralâ€™s Kodzwa village to attend a Zanu PF rally.
The two are now key state witness in the trial of the 26 opposition members who are accused of allegedly beating them. Documents say Kanhukamwe was also part of the group that addressed a Zanu PF rally at Kodzwa village on May 28.
Zanu PFâ€™s strategy is multi-pronged and involves use of propaganda, blocking access to the state media, dishing out inducements like food, especially maize, to villagers, banning non-governmental organisations allegedly campaigning for Tsvangirai, and taking charge of the electoral process using the police.
The abuse of postal ballots is also now part of the strategy to ensure Mugabe wins by fair means or foul. Massive economic and security resources have been mobilised to underpin the tactics.
The MDC and human rights groups blame the deployment of the army for the prevailing political violence which has claimed at least 66 lives, mainly those of opposition supporters. The army has however distanced itself from violence, although human rights groups insist it is involved.
In a written response to the Independent yesterday, army deputy director of public relations, Major Alphios Makotore said he could not discuss soldiersâ€™ deployments in the media.
Last night Zanu PF media committee chairperson, Patrick Chinamasa denied that the army is campaigning for Zanu PF.
Before the March 29 elections, Tsvangirai and his party were able to campaign freely and access the countryside without barriers. They also had access, albeit limited, to state media.
However, a strong security fire wall has been built to block Tsvangirai from penetrating deep into rural areas to campaign. Mugabe meanwhile has a free rein to campaign with extraordinary intensity. While Mugabe has commandeered state resources â€” including the security machinery to campaign for him â€” Tsvangiraiâ€™s rallies are being blocked to limit his access to the voters.
Tsvangirai was arrested last week on the campaign trail in Lupane and only released nearly nine hours later. Sources said the opposition chief was arrested by the police to stop him from getting to Lupane where a provincial meeting of the Joint Operations Command (JOC) was taking place. Brigadier-General Khumalo is said to have addressed the meeting. For the purposes of the runoff, JOC is meeting at provincial levels to deal with regional issues.
Prior to his arrest last week, Tsvangirai was forced to abort a rally at Manama Mission outside Gwanda after he was warned by state security agents along the way that he was heading for danger.
Tsvangirai later said the military has staged a de facto coup by seizing control of vast swathes of the country and declaring them no-go areas for him.
Tsvangiraiâ€™s campaign advance party heading for Manama were told that if they proceeded, the police could not guarantee their security given the presence of potentially hostile military units.
â€œI donâ€™t mind soldiers having an opinion about who they want to vote for, but certainly a coercive military strategy to force people to support a particular candidate and to be active in the campaign has very dangerous consequences,â€ Tsvangirai said later. â€œThat must be discouraged, they are opening up the military to being involved in politics, which is dangerous for our democracy. Itâ€™s tantamount to a military coup.â€
The involvement of state agents in Mugabeâ€™s campaign became clearer last week after CIO Deputy Director-General Mernard Muzariri warned villagers at Nyamahobogo Primary School in Mt Darwin in Mashonaland Central there would be an outbreak of war if Mugabe is defeated on June 27.
Khumalo is said to be part of a group of at least 200 senior army officers deployed nationwide to campaign for Mugabe. The team is understood to be divided into 10 provinces led by senior army commanders. It said the military was deployed on April 8 after the key JOC and Zanu PF politburo meetings on April 4.
The politburo resolved Zanu PF must use a â€œwarlike/military-styleâ€ campaign strategy to ensure Mugabe wins.
Reports claim Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander General Constantine Chiwenga, Zimbabwe National Army commander Lieutenant -General Phillip Sibanda, Major-General N Dube, Major-General Last Mugova and Colonel S Mudambo are coordinating the military operation.
Chiwenga, Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, Prison commissioner retired Major-General Paradzai Zimondi, Army Chief of staff Major-General Martin Chedondo and Brigadier-General D Sigauke have said they would not accept Tsvangirai even if he wins.
By Dumisani Muleya/Shakeman Mugari/Constantine Chimakure