THE Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) this week failed to respond to questions relating to what President Robert Mugabe said last week over their unconstitutional and unlawful involvement in partisan politics and elections.
By Elias Mambo
For the first time Mugabe last week publicly confirmed that he has been using the military to campaign and win elections as previously widely reported by the Zimbabwe Independent and other media organisations, leaving the army exposed.
Addressing war veterans last Thursday, Mugabe made ZDF commander General Constantine Chiwenga stand up before thanking him for the role the military played to ensure Zanu PF romped to a disputed victory in the 2013 general elections.
He also revealed that he extended Chiwenga and other service chiefs’ contracts in 2009 and afterwards so that they assist Zanu PF to win the polls.
“Totenda mawar veterans, the military also, they played their role. Ndosaka takachengetedza varume ava vanga vasvika paku-retire kuti tirwe hondo neopposition, tikabva tabuda shudhu (We are grateful to war veterans and the military for playing their role. We extended their contracts when they had expired so that they could assist us in fighting the opposition; we came out victorious),” Mugabe said.
Following this public admission, the Independent sent questions and called the ZDF public relations department to establish why and how the army was involved in the polls and whether their role was in keeping with their constitutional and legal mandate.
Ahead of the 2013 elections, this newspaper reported widely that soldiers had been deployed countrywide to campaign for Zanu PF.
Security chiefs, under the banner of the Joint Operations Command (Joc), which brings together army, police and intelligence chiefs, also deployed senior officers to the country’s 10 provinces to co-ordinate election campaigns for Zanu PF.
The army also played a critical role in ensuring Mugabe secured a controversial victory in the 2008 presidential election runoff. The army was deployed countrywide and embarked on a violent and bloody campaign to rescue Mugabe who had lost the first round of elections to MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Tsvangirai pulled out of the polls citing the violence targeted at his supporters. MDC-T claims over 200 of its supporters were killed during the 2008 elections and thousands injured and displaced.
Following the 2008 intervention, Mugabe confirmed that the army had played an important role in the 2013 elections, which were marred by allegations of massive rigging.
“We then reorganised ourselves after the 2008 loss and the war veterans realised what had happened, we thank them for that,” he said. “That is why I kept these men (pointing at army generals) in their positions even though they had long reached retirement age. We said we must fight this war first then we will see what happens later.”
The army has constantly intervened in the country’s political affairs to assist Mugabe and Zanu PF.
The late ZDF commander Vitalis Zvinavashe, who was flanked by then army commander Lieutenant-General Chiwenga, Air Force of Zimbabwe commander Air Marshal Perence Shiri and Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, made a thinly-veiled coup threat during a press conference on the eve of the 2002 presidential election.
“We wish to make it very clear to all Zimbabwean citizens that the security organisations will only stand in support of those political leaders that will pursue Zimbabwean values, traditions and beliefs for which thousands of lives were lost. Let it be known that the highest office in the land is a straightjacket whose occupant is expected to observe the objectives of the liberation struggle,” Zvinavashe said. “We will therefore not accept, let alone support or salute, anyone with a different agenda that threatens the very existence of our sovereignty, our country and our people.”
Several senior army commanders, among them Major:General Douglas Nyikayaramba and Major: General Martin Chedondo, have publicly declared their loyalty to Zanu PF ahead of polls.
Zapu leader and former Zipra intelligence supremo Dumiso Dabengwa said the military’s involvement goes back to the 1980 polls won by Mugabe’s Zanu PF.
“It is interesting that he has come out to say it publicly. The war veterans in that meeting reminded him that it was them and the military who had put him and Zanu PF in power. It began in 1980 when the war veterans and the military created no go areas for Zapu leaders. They won in that election and the British went on to declare the polls free and fair despite all that. Since then, Mugabe realised that the trick works and used it in all elections. This is outside the army mandate.”
Asked to comment on the role of the military in elections, security sector analyst Martin Rupiya said: “The empirical evidence by Judge Sisi Khampepe and the South African observer missions accepted by everyone shows how elections are not free and fair in Zimbabwe.”
In her report, Kampepe said: “Intimidation and violence in Zimbabwe are the hallmarks of the pre-election periods.”