The security chiefs, also referred to as securocrats, proved that they were kingmakers eight years ago when they vowed never to salute anyone without liberation war credentials.
They repeated this on the eve of the 2008 elections, which to many observers was a clear coup d’état in prospect as it meant that there would be chaos if the winner of the elections bore no war credentials.
The securocrats have known only one king in the past 30 years, and in as much as they have been linked to various factions fighting to take control of Zanu PF, they have shown that their allegiance is to President Robert Mugabe.
Analysts say the role that the securocrats play, apart from attending to the security and defence of the country, is shrouded in secrecy typified by the Joint Operation Command (Joc), which was supposed to be dismantled after the unity government set up the National Security Council.
Joc had so much influence in the government, especially prior to the constitution of the inclusive government. Joc worked together with a very powerful clique of bureaucrats and technocrats serving both in government and the private sector, which formed the nucleus of decision makers.
While the inclusive government has been a game changer, the securocrats, technocrats and bureaucrats have maintained their stranglehold on the reins of the state which to some extent has caused ruptures in the shaky political construction.
The security chiefs include Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, Army Commander Constantine Chiwenga, intelligence chief Happyton Bonyongwe, Prisons Commissioner Paradzai Zimondi and Air Marshal Perence Shiri.
Analyst, Alex Magaisa, a law lecturer in the United Kingdom, said the “utterances” by the security chiefs on whom they would salute showed that they were “politicians in military robes with an active role in deciding the leadership question.”
Inversely, analysts said, the president could also be seen as the civilian face behind the military junta calling the shots in the day to day running of the country.
Service chiefs, themselves veterans of the liberation war, are said to be the power behind the throne, especially given their strategic and timely interventions during elections and they have heavily benefited from spinoffs that come with being close to the king.
However, while they may be the power behind Mugabe, there is a school of thought which has emerged saying their power is only relative, that is, it exists for as long as the king is around.
It suggests that this power would disappear with the exit of the king and as such, the securocrats are uncertain of their future should the president go. Therefore, analysts say, they are eager to make sure that he stays in power.
Analysts added that it was important to adopt a serious security reform programme.
Sabelo Ndlovu, an analyst based in South Africa, said the issue of what had to be done with the securocrats was “sensitive” but had to be addressed.
“They have been used and abused and made to even utter terrible words that compromised their professionalism and impartiality,” said Ndlovu. “What is needed in my opinion is security sector reform that looks into the future. Amnesty might be inevitable in Zimbabwe to allay fears of both perpetrators and victims. It is a very sensitive issue involving delicate balancing of perpetrators’ fears and victims’ cries for justice. But it is politics. Nothing is impossible.”
Magaisa said it was most likely that the security chiefs’ biggest fear was prosecution for human rights violations dating back to the days of Gukurahundi (when an army brigade was deployed in the western parts of the country to quell dissidents but ended up killing civilians and grossly violating their rights) and more recent events in the power struggle between Zanu PF and the MDC.
“The military has been accused of perpetrating atrocities and those who command them are obviously fearful of what might happen to them, especially seeing what has happened to the likes of Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia now on trial at The Hague,” said Magaisa. “There has also been a lot of noise from human rights groups both at home and abroad. People are entitled to their opinions and to make as much noise as possible about accountability for rights violations but I am not sure those noises have really helped Zimbabwe to achieve the political changes that it needs.”
Far from pressuring them out, Magaisa added, these calls have given the security chiefs greater resolve to remain in power “for as long as it takes.”
Another analyst, Trevor Maisiri, founder and executive director of the African Reform Institute, a Harare-based think tank, said the current situation, where the military has too much say in political affairs, was a result of the emergence of strong personalities over the past 30 years.
“Once military professionalism is destroyed by personalised political systems, this will result in the creation of what are termed ‘parallel forces’ and these are normally presidential guards, state-sponsored military groups and many others,” said Maisiri. “They become a part of the ‘privatisation’ of security by alienating and peripheralisation of the mainstream security services, making them an exclusive group that only serves the personalised state structures.”
Maisiri added that this would take away the allegiance of the security sector from the state and invest it in either one man or one political strand — usually a political party.
“Typically, this is what has happened in many African countries, including Zimbabwe,” added Maisiri.
He said it would be unfair to put all the blame on the military as politicians had benefited from the situation and would, therefore, want to perpetuate it.
As such, it is a two-way relationship with each benefiting from occupying a certain office. “I don’t really think that the military in Zimbabwe is singly dictating issues and conditionalities to President Mugabe,” said Maisiri. “I think what we have is a relationship within which decisions are being made by agreement and mutuality.”
The analysts said the solution to these problems lay in a negotiated “return of the securocrats to the barracks.”
Ndlovu said the transition of South Africa from apartheid to democracy in the early 90s and that of Zimbabwe from Rhodesia would give lessons which could help in the current situation.
“Something had to be done to them to facilitate transition,” said Ndlovu. “The solution was to involve them in any transitional negotiations. Amnesty was used to allay security forces’ fears. Our forces are in a similar dilemma.” Maisiri added that this could not be done overnight though, as it would involve a lot of negotiations and guarantees.
“Unfortunately or fortunately the issue of security sector reforms is a ‘give-and-take’ scenario,” said Maisiri. “However, the more or less that is given the more unsubstantiated it becomes. There must therefore be a lot of patience, sobriety, flexibility, diplomacy and streamlined conditionalities when instituting security sector reforms.”