In a further indication of growing military involvement in Zimbabwe's political process reminiscent of alleged Defense Force abuses in the 2008 elections, some 300 to 500 soldiers are said to have marched at a shopping center in Masvingo on Sunday demanding that President Robert Mugabe rule the country “forever.”
VOA confirmed the incident with sources in Masvingo, the provincial capital, including legislator Tongai Matutu of the Movement for Democratic Change formation led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
The soldiers, believed to be from Four Brigade, based in Masvingo, chanted revolutionary songs in Shona including one with the words: “Ukadenha gamba redu watanga hondo,” or, “Provoke a hero, and you have started a war.”
Witnesses said the soldiers were demanding that Mr. Mugabe be declared life president.
Residents of Masvingo’s Mucheke district were said to have been terrified by the spectacle as some of the soldiers were bearing arms. VOA was unable to establish upon whose orders the soldiers were acting.
Police in Masvingo and Harare refused to comment as did spokesman Rugabe Gumbo of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF.
But observers said the incident was not surprising considering that Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, a senior ZANU-PF official, was recently quoted by the state-controlled, pro-ZANU-PF Herald newspaper as saying ZANU-PF would not concede power even if it were to lose in the next round of national elections, mooted for 2011.
Matutu voiced concern that soldiers in uniform were openly taking sides politically. "The people of Masvingo were shaken by this incident, which clearly shows ZANU-PF's desperation to hang onto power," he said.
Nhlanhla Dube, a spokesman for the MDC formation led by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, said the army should adhere to a policy of political impartiality as prescribed by the country's constitution.
Sources said Parliament's committee on defense and home affairs is scheduled to hold hearing soon on the involvement of the army and the Zimbabwe Republic Police in the electoral process.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Programs Manager Pedzisai Ruhanya said in mobilizing the military for electoral purposes ZANU-PF was spelling its own downfall, recalling the historical example of Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith.