THE row over President Robert Mugabe’s hotly-contested succession has brought the military into the middle of the battle more than ever before, as the security sector continues to brazenly interfere with politics, signalling how the armed forces are going to be a major factor in the succession race.
By Hazel Ndebele
The military, in particular Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantino Chiwenga, has been brazenly meddling in politics in support of a Zanu PF faction aligned to Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s faction.
Chiwenga has been involved in heated exchanges through the state media with Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo, who is aligned to the G40 Zanu PF faction, which has coalesced around First Lady Grace Mugabe. Judging from the rate at which the intense exchanges are going, the tension is likely to worsen unless there is self-containment from the two, analysts say.
Moyo has been criticising the command agriculture programme, accusing the Mnangagwa faction of being dishonest about the government scheme, while also making it a project to promote the group’s succession bid. He has dismissed the programme, derisively calling it “command ugly culture”.
The programme is being spearheaded by Mnangagwa with the assistance of the military. Mnangagwa has indirectly challenged Moyo to leave Zanu PF.
Chiwenga triggered the current fight, accusing Moyo of being a homosexual, war deserter and a security threat. He has also questioned his loyalty for publicly questioning a government programme.
Chiwenga also labelled Moyo as “an enemy of the state” who is intent on destroying Zanu PF from within. In response, Moyo then took to Twitter, describing Chiwenga as a desperate politician in army uniform. He described the military boss as an “idiot”.
A trade of insults has been going on between Mnangagwa’s allies and Moyo.
The exchanges between Moyo and Chiwenga prove that sometimes the military gets into the factional trenches directly despite the fact that it does not openly want to be seen as backing Mnangagwa. The military does so on the pretext of maintaining national security.
Although the army is pushing for Mnangagwa’s ascendency, it remains loyal to Mugabe and does not want to fight him directly. It has, however, used war veterans, who in any case are part of the reserve army, to push its agenda and fight in Mnangagwa’s corner when the heat is on. In April last year, for example, the war veterans’ leadership issued a stinging communique accusing Mugabe of abandoning the values and principles of the liberation struggle, condoning corruption and failing to deliver on his 2013 election mandate. The war veterans also announced they would not support Mugabe in next year’s general elections.
Last February, the late war veteran Francis “Black Jesus” Zimuto, sent tongues wagging when he described Grace as “a young girl”, who should concentrate on household chores and stop meddling in Zanu PF succession politics. His comments came after Grace blasted Mnangagwa, the military and war veterans at a rally in Chiweshe, Mashonaland Central. She accused military bosses of plotting to bomb her dairy while accusing was veterans of meddling in Zanu PF affairs and Mnangagwa for promoting factionalism.
Concern over the military’s involvement in Zanu PF affairs emerged at the Zanu PF annual congress in Victoria Falls in 2015, when Mugabe complained about their participation in partisan politics.
“We had come to a point where there were some in the military, the police and the intelligence services joining factions. Let’s stop that,” Mugabe said. “Let’s stop that completely, we are ruining the party that way.”
In the past, the military has been accused of violating the constitution by openly supporting Zanu PF while intimidating and attacking opposition supporters during elections. The military assisted Mugabe to win the 2008 presidential election run-off by embarking on a violent campaign after the president had lost the first round of elections to MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Section 211 of the constitution states that: “The defence forces must respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons and be non-partisan, national in character, patriotic, professional and subordinate to the civilian authority as established by this constitution.”
However, the military is showing that it will not shy away from politics and could be a decisive factor on succession. It is using the liberation struggle credentials and state security pretext as justification for delving into politics. This is evidenced by allegations from senior members of the armed forces that Moyo does not have liberation struggle credentials and is a national security threat.
Political analysts say the fact that the military is involved in the succession race is a double-edged sword which could either fail or succeed. The analysts said the military’s interference in politics could either succeed in pushing back those opposing Mnangangwa or result in the securocrats’ aura of invincibility being eroded.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said the military’s involvement in politics is “a brazen and an unacceptable phenomena” in Zimbabwe.
“We have made it acceptable that the military can meddle in domains outside their remits and it spells doom for Zimbabwe. Mugabe has militarised all public institutions including parastatals as supposedly independent commissions including the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission,” said Saungweme. “Mugabe runs Zanu PF and quasi-government programmes with the military at the centre. What Chiwenga is doing just confirms that the military want to be king-makers. We need to sanitise Zimbabwe politics and extricate the military from politics and non-military civil roles. With the generals telling us what to do, we are officially a lawless military state run by a junta.”
Political analyst Eldred Masunungure said the involvement of the military in politics is not a new phenomenon.
“It is a continuation of a tendency which started in the 1970s in the liberation struggle and that is when it was accepted that the high command is a mixture of the liberation and the politics,” said Masunungure. “The only distinct issue now is that the army is now fighting threats from within Zanu PF whereas in the past it would participate in politics when the ruling party is being threatened by opposition. The threats are intra-party and now the military has to be the vanguard of the party. The implication is that these party politicians in the fights are likely to emerge second best as they have coercive resources. Using the army in politics has always been Zanu PF’s modus operandi from the time of independence.”