Military escalates poll drive

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THE military is intensifying its subtle campaign for Zanu PF and its leader, President Robert Mugabe ahead of elections next year particularly in Masvingo and Manicaland provinces — which are emerging as battlegrounds — where the polls could be won or lost.

Report by Owen Gagare

Zanu PF insiders say a study of the situation by the party strategists and their security establishment backers shows Mugabe and his loyalists are confident of maintaining their grip on Mashonaland and Midlands provinces, while targeting the populous Masvingo and Manicaland — areas won by the MDC-T during the last elections.

The MDC-T also controls urban areas and Matabeleland provinces.

Informed officials say after studying the last elections’ voting patterns and current trends Zanu PF, buoyed by recent opinion polls which say the party is recovering while its rival the MDC-T is declining, believes it needs to launch a serious and sustained assault on Masvingo and Manicaland to stand a real chance of winning.

Recent weeks have seen a surge in military deployments in those regions which hold the balance.

Although Matabeleland remains an MDC-T powerbase, Zanu PF has not been trying to seize the region back as it faces massive rejection there. Instead, the MDC led by Welshman Ncube has gained momentum, setting the stage for one of the most dramatic elections in Zimbabwe’s history.

Latest information shows Zanu PF is escalating its campaign in Masvingo and Manicaland using state security forces, para-military groups and chiefs. The party’s mobilisation committee last week decided that various campaign methods have to be adopted to change the situation on the ground before elections.

In a desperate bid to reverse the tide in Masvingo and Manicaland, the military is organising clandestine meetings with chiefs and other traditional leaders to mobilise their subjects to support Zanu PF ahead of elections.

Over a period of months now the army has been gradually deployed into rural areas, Zanu PF’s strongholds, to lay the ground for Mugabe and his party’s national campaigns. The military is currently active in Masvingo and Manicaland provinces.

Traditional leaders in Bikita, Masvingo province, have reportedly been ordered to attend meetings at the army headquarters in Masvingo in the latest move by security forces to step up their mobilisation manoeuvres.

Masvingo, the biggest province in Zimbabwe by population and constituences, was for months under siege from security forces and war veterans led by Jabulani Sibanda.

MDC-T provincial information director for Masvingo Honest Makanyire last week told civic society leaders in Bikita, local chiefs and headmen received a circular from local district administrator Edgar Seenza advising them to attend the meeting on October 12 at 4 Brigade army headquarters in Masvingo.

A section of the letter from the district administrator’s office, dated September 30, reads: “To all chiefs and headmen — Invitation to attend traditional leaders’ day at the Officers’ Mess at HQ 4 Brigade. You are expected to attend the meeting.”

Traditional leaders in the area told civic leaders the move was part of the military’s broad agenda to mobilise support for Mugabe and Zanu PF ahead of the referendum on the constitution and elections.

Well-placed sources told the Zimbabwe Independent this week security chiefs were planning to meet chiefs from Manicaland at Chief Murahwa’s homestead on October 27, while a similar meeting would be held at Chief Mugabe’s residence in Masvingo.

The military is already on the ground in Manicaland doing community work which sources say was part and parcel of a strategy to show a more human face of the security forces while simultaneously infiltrating the villages to get votes.

Securocrats, under the banner of the Joint Operations Command (JOC), are Mugabe and Zanu PF’s pillar of support. They have, however, shifted from the bloody open terror campaign they embarked on in the 2008 presidential election run-off to rescue Mugabe, who had lost the first round of polls to MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the harmonised elections three months earlier, to subtle methods.

Instead, the military has now resorted to subtle intimidation by sternly warning chiefs of the possibility of war if Zanu PF lost.

They have also been warning party heavyweights of the dangers of imposing candidates and fuelling factionalism ahead of the make-or-break polls. JOC was behind the recent dissolution of Zanu PF’s district co-ordinating committees after disputed and bitter internal elections.

Top army officers who have been campaigning for Zanu PF in Manicaland include army chief-of-staff Major-General Martin Chedondo, Air Vice-Marshal Shebba Brighton Shumbayaonda, Brigadier-General Herbert Chingono, Brigadier-General Mike Sango, 3 Brigade commander Brigadier-General Eliah Bandama and members of the provincial JOC.

Police Deputy Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga heads the team.

The Zanu PF commissariat department has already been militarised with Air Vice-Marshal Henry Muchena retiring from the Air Force to head the division alongside former CIO director internal Sydney Nyanhongo.

The military has proved loyal to Mugabe and was pivotal in keeping him in power in the 2002 and 2008 elections, although its role in politics and elections has been significant since 1980.

Zimbabwe Defence Forces spokesman Colonel Overson Mugwisi and Zimbabwe Chiefs’ Council president Chief Fortune Charumbira could also not be reached for comment.

Mugwisi was said to be attending a funeral while Charumbira did not answer his phone.

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