THE appointment of Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko as President Robert Mugabe’s new deputies, besides forming a new Zanu PF presidium triad which has consolidated power, has reinforced securocrats’ vice-like grip on government.
Owen Gagare/Herbert Moyo
It has given veterans of the country’s liberation struggle and the security establishment a stranglehold on the ruling party and state, marking the triumph of security-driven politics.
Although Mugabe has no military background and was not in the trenches with guerillas during the liberation war, Mnangagwa and Mphoko received military training during the struggle and were deeply involved in the protracted fight for Independence. Even though they were greatly engaged in civilian politics, they are identified as leaders with strong military backgrounds.
Mnangagwa — who helped Mugabe to construct the current state security architecture when he was intelligence and defence minister — received military training at the Heliopolis Training School in Egypt in 1963.
He got further military training in China at the School of Ideology in Beijing. He did his combat training in Nanking before going to a school for military engineering. Thereafter he joined active military operations.
Mphoko was a Zipra commander in charge of logistics and supplies during the liberation struggle. He was in the Zipra High Command, having trained in military science in the Soviet Union in 1964. Mphoko was part of the Zipa command, a military initiative formed in 1976 in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to unite Zipra and Zanla.
After Independence in 1980, Mnangagwa and Mphoko consolidated their security credentials, with the former becoming Zimbabwe’s first state security minister and the latter working under him in the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).
Mnangagwa in particular is widely seen as a shrewd security operator. Having been state security minister for nearly a decade, he was, from 2009 to 2013, defence minister. He is said to be very close to the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, General Constantine Chiwenga, reportedly aligned to him in Zanu PF factional politics.
Mnangagwa and Chiwenga, among other security service chiefs, have been widely accused of using the military to manipulate and even rig elections to keep Mugabe in power.
Although he was Justice minister during the DRC war, when Zimbabwean troops were deployed to prop up the late Laurent Kabila between 1998 and 2002, Mnangagwa was closely associated with the military campaign.
The triumph of the two is widely seen as signifying the capture of Zanu PF, government and state by securocrats who have over the years been consolidating their grip in Zanu PF politics and civil structures. The appointments came after vice-president Joice Mujuru and her allies had been removed.
Zanu PF insiders fear the party and government would now be run through security structures.
“These appointments (of Mnangagwa and Mphoko) are interesting. Politically, they have experience, but lack charisma, public appeal and popular support,” a senior Zanu PF leader said this week.
“We must be careful because the militarisation of politics and society, and the rise of authoritarian regimes in developing countries like ours have become a serious problem. I’m not saying that’s what they will do — in fact, they deserve the benefit of the doubt — but the militarisation of our politics, especially during elections, has reduced people’s participation in democratic processes to a farce. Even our bureaucracy and state enterprises are full of people with security backgrounds.”
Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza expressed the same fears, warning of the rise and triumph of securocrats symbolised by Mnangagwa and Mphoko’s appointments.
“Indications are that the purges in Zanu PF will not end here, they will be extended to the state bureaucracy itself, the defence and security forces. There appears no end in sight for this relentless purging,” Mandaza said.
“The new leadership, which Mugabe is putting together in both party and state, will of course include elements who have been central in the evolution of the securocratic state; those who are part and parcel of the politics, particularly ever since the bloody campaigns of the post-2008 elections, and will have been the instruments for the current ‘clean up’.”
Over the years, the military has gradually taken over the running of state institutions, among them parastatals and constitutional bodies. These include the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission whose secretariat is highly militarised.
Major-General Douglas Nyikayaramba once headed the body when it was still called the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC). Nyikayaramba was said to have retired from the army to become chief elections officer at the ESC in the 2002 and 2005 polls, when in fact he had not. He later emerged as commander of 3 Brigade in Mutare after helping Mugabe and Zanu PF controversially win the elections.
The military also took over Zanu PF’s election campaign to save the party and Mugabe during the June 2008 presidential election run-off after he had lost the first round of polling to MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai. It was also reportedly involved in manipulating and rigging last year’s general elections, together with an Israeli security company, Nikuv, which was paid US$10 million in a string of tranches until a day before the July 31, 2013, elections.
Although the politburo consists of the old, experienced and the young, there are signals that the war veterans are assuming ascendancy as shown by the creation of their department in the politburo headed by Sydney Sekeramayi and Chris Mutsvangwa. Mutsvangwa, who is close to Mnangagwa, was also appointed war veterans minister yesterday.
A former military commander, now an academic, said yesterday: “Apart from alienating the people or civilians, militarisation of politics and state institutions poses a serious human rights threat, and denial of justice and peace.
“The brutal suppression of opposition and dissent, use of threats and violence as the means to settle political conflicts, and intensifying influence of the military over civilian government, huge expenditures on arms and an upkeep of military elites are some of the problems Zimbabwe might soon face the ways things are going.
“When leaders with military backgrounds and associated values dominate the political process, democracy suffers. Gross human rights violations and repression is entrenched; violence is legitimised; and freedoms of opinion, assembly and expression are curtailed. Consequently, people are forced to live in a climate of fear. Zimbabweans must watch out — this is not fear-mongering, but reality.”