ZIMBABWE Defence Forces (ZDF) commander General Constantino Chiwenga’s threats to unleash the military on opposition parties and Zanu PF officials with an agenda to destroy the party from within has re-ignited calls for security sector reforms to once again turn the security forces into a professional and non-partisan institution.
By Herbert Moyo
According to state media reports, Chiwenga “warned opposition elements bent on fomenting turmoil, and Zanu PF infiltrators seeking to destroy the party from within, that the country’s security services will not sit and watch as they plot chaos”.
He repeated his threats at a press conference to mark the 36th anniversary of Zimbabwe Defence Forces commemorations.
In addition to its long established pattern of attacking opposition and democratic forces, the security sector, as shown by Chiwenga’s remarks, has become key players in internal Zanu PF politics at a time the party is riven by serious in-fighting because of failure to resolve President Robert Mugabe’s succession.
Political analysts say, just like his predecessor, the late ZDF commander General Vitalis Zvinavashe, Chiwenga had flagrantly disregarded the national constitution that he is sworn to uphold by delving into partisan politics.
Section 208 of the constitution states that “neither the security services nor any of their members may in the exercise of their functions act in a partisan manner, further the interests of any political party or cause or violate the fundamental rights or freedoms of any person”.
It also says: “Members of the security services must not be active members or office bearers of any political party or organisations.”
However, Chiwenga ignored the constitutional provisions by dragging the military into the political arena — a move that was criticised by prominent academic Ibbo Mandaza who served in the Defence Commission in the early 1980s.
“Which part of the army and whose army will he deploy against citizens and his opponents?” asked Mandaza.
“Is it his army? Is it proper for a defence chief to threaten the population with military force and is it proper for him to talk politics the way he has? He has openly breached the constitution and the law.”
Fellow academic and political scientist Brian Raftopoulos concurred with Mandaza, adding that “Chiwenga’s position has long characterised the involvement of the military in Zimbabwean politics.”
“It is a position that has had disastrous effects on the struggle for democratisation in the country. It was always predictable that the authoritarian nationalism of Mugabe would result in such military threats.
“Chiwenga’s latest intervention points to the blockages in Zanu PF’s forms of rule and to the long standing demands for the fundamental reform of the state”
According to Knox Chitiyo, an academic and former University of Zimbabwe War Studies and Military History lecturer, Chiwenga and his colleagues’ lack of professionalism is a generational product of their participation in the 1970s liberation war that bred “an uneasy and uneven duality between professionalism and politicisation within the security sector”.
The post-Independence aftermath bred what Chitiyo described as an “adherence to the ideology of (black) African liberation … the increasing melding of the party, state and government; and the close ‘liberation alliance’ between the party and the military”, Chitiyo wrote in a 2009 article titled The case for Security Sector Reform in Zimbabwe.
According to Chitiyo, the conflation of party, military and state had resulted in the military not bring able to achieve professionalism or to respect constitutional provisions dictating their non-involvement in partisan politics.
Chitiyo also stated that the military-state alliance’s “most extreme peak began in 1997 when the state began its alliance with the war veterans”.
“The post-2000 formalisation of the alliance between Zanu PF and the security sector was designed to prevent the MDC’s access to the levers of state power,” Chitiyo wrote.
He also noted that ordinary Zimbabweans were the victims whenever security personnel eschewed professionalism and dabbled in politics.
Ahead of the 2013 elections security chiefs, under the banner of the Joint Operations Command, which brings together army, police and intelligence chiefs, deployed senior officers to the country’s 10 provinces to co-ordinate election campaigns for Zanu PF.
The army was also instrumental in ensuring Mugabe secured a controversial victory in the one-horse race 2008 presidential election run-off. Its violent and bloody campaign rescued Mugabe who had lost the first round of elections to MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Tsvangirai subsequently 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 re-organised ourselves after the 2008 loss … That is why I kept these men (pointing at army generals) in their positions even though they had long reached retirement age,” Mugabe said at a meeting he held with war veterans in April.