LAST week the military flexed its muscles and forced Zanu PF and President Robert Mugabe to declare Brigadier-General John Zingoni, who died a fortnight ago, a national hero.
The politburo consults on the selection of national heroes, although many Zimbabweans believe the process should be much more inclusive rather than being merely a party affair, but the decision to declare Zingoni a national hero was unilaterally made by Mugabe under severe pressure from the military peeved at what it deemed unnecessary delays over the matter.
According to party insiders, the politburo was not consultated over the decision, leaving party spokesperson Rugare Gumbo pondering how to word a statement on the declaration met with shock by party’s supreme decision-making members on Tuesday as they were supposed to meet the following day to decide Zingoni’s hero status.
A senior party official was quoted last week saying: “It seems the military literally staged a coup against the politburo and influenced President Mugabe, who is in Singapore for medical reasons, to declare him a national hero.”
Mugabe returned from Singapore last Friday, two days after Zingoni’s burial.
Ostensibly, this move by the securocrats showed once again that the military is the real power behind Mugabe’s throne.
Highly-placed Zanu PF officials said the move was a show of force by the army which has increasingly played a crucial role in delivering electoral victory to Mugabe — especially since the emergence of a strong opposition in 1999 — through brutal campaigns as that of the June 2008 presidential run-off which led to a sham poll and formation of a coalition government.
Mugabe had lost in the first round of polling to MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
“The generals are in control of the affairs of the country and they are now defying President Mugabe’s orders because they are responsible for his continued reign,” said a top Zanu PF official.
In another show of muscle, the security chiefs who invaded the money-spinning Save Valley Conservancy in Masvingo, recently defied a politburo directive to stay off the wildlife conservancy.
The invasion by Police Assistant Commissioner Elliot Muswita and Brigadier-General Josphat Kudumba’s group was in direct defiance of Mugabe’s order when he attacked “greedy” security elites during a Zanu PF special politburo meeting in Harare on May 12.
Security chiefs have since threatened the eviction of Darryl Collett, the white owner of Mjingwe Ranch in Mwenezi.
According to NewsDay, Collett — who co-owns Mjingwe Ranch with South African investor Alastair Forsyth and local communities through Chiefs Mazetese and Maranda — has reportedly fled to Bulawayo fearing for his safety.
This is all the more worrying given that in September 2012, at a politburo meeting, Mugabe accused army commanders and Zanu PF top officials of being greedy for grabbing conservancies when they already owned farms seized from white commercial farmers evicted during the chaotic land reform programme.
Since Independence from colonial rule in 1980, the security sector has played a significant overt and behind-the-scenes role in the political affairs of the country, including electoral issues.
The military has publicly backed Mugabe, especially ahead of elections, since 2000 in violation of the Defence Act and constitution.
But does this mean the military is in control?
University of Zimbabwe lecturer Eldred Masunungure said in fact Zimbabwe is adrift without a leader and this brings confusion as it breeds policy discord.
“One cannot make a determination as to who is really in control among all centres of power, namely Joc (a grouping of top military, police and intelligence chiefs), the two warring factions (within Zanu PF, allegedly led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa) or cabinet ministers,” Masunungure said.
“But the reality is that Zimbabwe is in a state of limbo. No one is in charge and Mugabe has lost stamina to govern effectively both physically and mentally.”
Masunungure also said: “The captain of the ship has lost control and little captains are coming from all over issuing conflicting statements.”
Another political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said the current confusion on who is in charge in Zimbabwe was caused by Mugabe’s method of administration which centralised too much power on one person.
“It is bound to happen when too much power is centralised on one person and that person fails to administer it,” Mandaza said.
“What has happened over the years is that this centralisation of functions in one person literally has led to an institutional framework. As is natural, as he (Mugabe) got older he has commensurately lacked the capacity of oversight. To put it very bluntly, we have a head of state that is too old to be doing this kind of function and is therefore unable to do anything,” he said.
In a report entitled The Military Factor in Zimbabwe’s Political and Economic Affairs (2012), reviewed by Martin Rupiya, a security sector expert and former senior military officer in the Zimbabwe National Army said: “The military remains entrenched and partisan towards Zanu PF. The military has demanded, and Zanu PF agreed, that at least 25% of all legislative seats that Zanu PF will contest must be reserved for serving or retired military personnel.”
In the build-up to the July 31 elections, the Zanu PF primary elections saw more than a dozen candidates with a military background winning to represent the party in the harmonised elections in which Mugabe controversially won to end an acrimonious coalition government.
Mugabe, who was seeking to extend his 33-year stranglehold on power, gave the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) the nod to vet aspiring Zanu PF candidates countrywide ahead of the party’s primaries in preparation for general elections.
Party insiders said then, Mugabe and Zanu PF were leaving no stone unturned in their quest for victory, hence the move to engage the CIO to do background checks and assess the potential of each aspirant to avoid the 2008 scenario in which the party lost control of parliament.
Zanu PF has been militarising its structures since the party lost the 2008 elections and some reports claim it has “replaced its defunct district co-ordinating committees with the military co-ordinating grassroots structures”.
Key positions in Zanu PF’s commissariat department are already occupied by security personnel. In 2010, Air Vice-Marshal Henry Muchena retired from the Air Force of Zimbabwe and joined the party where he is working with former CIO director-internal, Sydney Nyanhongo.
The militarisation of Zanu PF, bringing it more under the control and direction of security actors, has shaken senior leaders who believe the increasing number of people with security backgrounds moving to occupy high positions could destabilise the party and alienate it from voters.