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Zimbabwe Military Leaves Barracks, Joins Race to Succeed President Mugabe

FILE: A soldier guards Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, not seen, at the state funeral of Zimbabwe's Information Minister Tichaona Jakonya, who died Saturday at age 68, in Harare, Thursday, June 29, 2006. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party’s succession wars are worsening; party insiders are warning of imminent suspension and expulsion of some very senior officials in Midlands, Manicaland and Mashonaland East provinces. Those being targeted allegedly belong to a faction fronted by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

The group blamed for targeting Mnangagwa’s supporters is called Generation 40 that is said to be angling for the removal of the vice president with the aim of replacing him with First Lady Grace Mugabe or a Young Turk, local government minister Saviour Kasukuwere.

The political temperatures have reached boiling point leading President Robert Mugabe to tell delegates at his ruling Zanu-PF party’s recent annual conference in the resort town of Victoria Falls that the country's military and other security services were supporting different candidates to succeed him, warning that this could ruin the ruling party.

Mr. Mugabe said: “We have a firm policy that forbids such behavior ... we should stop it, yes,”


President Mugabe said in Shona in a televised speech, "Tanga tasvika pekuti kwanga kwaanekupindirwa nevamwe zvekare vatisingadi kuona vachipindira munyaya idzi. (We have now come to an untenable situation where people who should ordinarily keep away from such issues are now also involved). Some people come to me complaining asking whether it was proper for the army, the police and intelligence ... all telling me so and so belongs to this and that faction. Let’s stop that. We are ruining the party that way.”

The uncharacteristic remarks by President Mugabe have only deepened his opaque succession and created anxiety in the people. But what role can the military play in the ever shifting sands of the Zanu-PF succession wars?

Mr. Mugabe cited the military as a major crisis now confronting his party and warned the so-called securocrats to stay in their barracks. Military expert, Dr. Lt Col (retired) Martin Revayi Rupiya says Mr. Mugabe’s remarks are a cause for serious concern and are startling.

But a Harare based think tank, the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute or ZDI, in a report titled “Military factor in Zanu-PF succession politics”, has gone a gear up and declared that in fact the military actually has veto power in deciding President Mugabe’s successor.

The group faults Mr. Mugabe for allowing this to happen by not intervening at key moments when the army generals dabbled into politics.

Rupiya agrees that the role of the military has become very central as the Zanu-PF succession dispute remains unresolved.

“His remarks are quite revealing, acknowledging that there are elements from the security sector that are part of the infighting in Zanu-PF … What it means is that Zanu-PF has not managed to create a predictable succession plan.”


Tracing the involvement of the military in political processes in Zimbabwe, Professor Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni of the University of South Africa argues that the involvement of the military in politics in Zimbabwe is not a new phenomenon but has its ancestry in the liberation struggle.

He said due to the requirements of fighting in the liberation struggle, Zanu-PF operated as a quasi-military organization and became a party of civilian nationalist politicians and armed nationalist guerillas that were highly indoctrinated and politicized to the extent they operated as military cum political units.

He argues that they carried the ideologies of their parties and were employed in mass mobilization for political parties. As these guerilla armies operated as military cum mini-politicians, they developed interest in party politics.

The military is not interfering in Zanu-PF. The military is part of Zanu-PF ..."

Director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, Dr. Pedzisayi Ruhanya, says the rise of Mr. Mugabe himself was blessed by the military establishment.

“The military is not interfering in Zanu-PF. The military is part of Zanu-PF. Zanu-PF had a military wing called ZANLA (Zimbabwe National Liberation Army) and ZAPU had a military wing called ZIPRA (Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army ... so in the leadership of the army, at least at the top its either you are ZANLA or ZIPRA.”

The ZDI report says locating the role of the military in Zanu-PF's succession cannot be fully grasped without locating the role of the military in political processes in Zimbabwe.

The think tank says, “One area that has been subjected to incessant and consistent military involvement is electoral politics. Since the emergence of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change or MDC, as a formidable opponent to Zanu-PF’s hegemonic power, the military has pervasively shown its partial nature. This partiality has been manifest in political statements issued by senior military personnel.”


On the eve of the 2002 presidential election, the then commander of the defense forces, the late General Vitalis Zvinavashe while addressing a press conference in Harare and in a clear statement that was addressed to the opposition MDC president said:

“We wish to make it very clear to all Zimbabwean citizens that the security organizations will only stand in support of those political leaders that will pursue Zimbabwean values, traditions and beliefs for which thousands of lives were lost, in pursuit of Zimbabwe’s hard-won independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and national interests.

To this end, let it be known that the highest office in the land is a straitjacket whose occupant is expected to observe the objectives of the liberation struggle. 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.”

This took place despite the fact that the country's supreme law as well as the Defense Forces Act prohibit the military from participating in partisan politics or interfering in electoral affairs.

Neither the security services nor any of their members may in the exercise of their functions act in a partisan manner, further their interests of any political party or cause ..."​

By publicly dabbling in politics, the military is in blatant contravention of Sections 208, 211 and 218 of the country’s constitution, which govern how the security services, including the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, should operate.

The Defense Forces are expected to be non-partisan and professional in the discharge of their duties.

Section 211(3) of the constitution reads: “The Defense Forces must respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons and be non-partisan, national in character, patriotic, professional and subordinate to civilian authority as established by this constitution.”

Section 208(2) of the constitution, which outlines the expected conduct of members of the security services, stipulates that it is illegal for the security sector to be partisan and to further the interest of a political party.

“Neither the security services nor any of their members may in the exercise of their functions act in a partisan manner, further their interests of any political party or cause, prejudice the lawful interests of any political party and that serving members of the security services must not be active members or office bearers of any political party or organization,” reads Section 208(2) of the constitution.


But on 9 May 2012, Major General Martin Chedondo, addressed state media stating as soldiers, we will never be apologetic for supporting Zanu-PF because it is the only political party that has national interests at heart.”

On 4 May 2013, the commander of the defense forces, General Constantine Chiwenga, while responding to the MDC president’s calls to meet army generals and discuss issues pertaining to security sector reforms, inferred that we have no time to meet sellouts. Clearly Tsvangirai is a psychiatric patient who needs a competent psychiatrist.”

Despite this alleged brazen involvement of the military in Zimbabwe’s political processes, the ZDI report says it is fundamental to note that such involvement has not been rebuked but has been buttressed and endorsed by Zanu-PF.

Zvino ballpoint pen icharwisana ne AK? (Will the pen fight the AK rifle?) Is there going to be a struggle between the two? Do not argue with a gun.”​

In one of his addresses before the June 27, 2008, presidential run-off elections, President Mugabe said, “The war veterans came to me and said, ‘President, we can never accept that our country which we won through the barrel of the gun can be taken merely by an ‘X' made by a ballpoint pen.’ Zvino ballpoint pen icharwisana ne AK? (Will the pen fight the AK rifle?) Is there going to be a struggle between the two? Do not argue with a gun.”


A former member of the Zimbabwe National army and opposition Movement for Democratic Change senior official Giles Mutseyekwa says Mr. Mugabe tacitly approved military involvement in politics when it suits him adding that the president “is totally confused.”

Some analysts argue that the major difference in the involvement of the military in civilian politics at this historic moment in the politics of Zimbabwe could possibly be the defiance by the security leadership to support the political machinations of Mrs. Mugabe, who has the apparent support of the commander-in-chief’ - her husband President Mugabe.

The involvement of the military in Zanu-PF faction power struggle, according to some experts, is influenced by their position that the presidency is a straitjacket whose leadership should have liberation war credentials.


Apparently Mrs. Mugabe, they argue, has no such credentials but appears to have the backing of President Mugabe in her bid to influence the successor to her husband.

The question then is: Could this time around the military defy Mr. Mugabe whom it has served during all these epochs of involvement in civilian politics? Ruhanya argues Mr. Mugabe has the inner lane as he can hire and fire the generals.

According to some military experts, the involvement of the military in Zimbabwean politics is analogous to the role of the military in communist states in the former Soviet Union and Communist China.

FILE: Mrs. Grace Mugabe arrives in Maphisa, Matabeleland South province, with senior Zanu PF officials. (Photo: Taurai Shava)
FILE: Mrs. Grace Mugabe arrives in Maphisa, Matabeleland South province, with senior Zanu PF officials. (Photo: Taurai Shava)

But Rupiya says China is now evolving as there is a separation of roles between the military and politicians.

Military experts also argue that the inevitable consequence of military intervention to resolve social and political conflicts has been endless civil wars, coups and counter coups.

Military interventions, they also argue, exacerbate political and socio-economic crises and internal differences with profoundly detrimental and destructive regional implications. But many scholars argue that as long as Mr. Mugabe’s succession issue is not resolved, military intervention remains a possibility.


President Mugabe, in power for 35 years now has always maintained that when the time comes, “the party”, meaning Zanu-PF, will elect his successor.

But with Mr. Mugabe turning 92 next February without a clear succession plan, a crisis is clearly emerging in the ruling party in particular and Zimbabwe in general.

Military Involvement in Zimbabwe Succession Filed By Blessing Zulu
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