President Robert Mugabe’s call for his party to fight back for electoral victory like a wounded beast at the end of his Zanu – PF party’s national congress has triggered panic across the nation, reopening old wounds.
The message given on Sunday has eclipsed Mugabe’s calls for peaceful campaigns that had dominated his speeches in recent time to also include his opening speech to the 13th Zanu – PF national congress.
While he did not openly advocate for a violent campaign the nation is fearful of awakening the demons that have always reared their ugly heads as protector angels whenever the liberation war party was under threat of losing grip on power.
Dreading that Mugabe’s call may trigger a repeat of the violent campaign that forced him to pull out of the 2008 presidential runoff Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai condemned the statement.
In the period preceding the March 2008 harmonised elections Zimbabwe enjoyed a level of peace which was unprecedented in recent years and Mugabe lost the popularity contest to Tsvangirai who however failed to secure an outright majority forcing a run off which was turned into a blood-bath by Zanu – PF. Hundreds died and thousands were displaced.
Then, Zanu – PF fought for its leader’s political survival with the brute force and rationality of an injured beast.
The threat of violence has always lingered over Zimbabwe’s electoral process, especially from an aggressive faction of Mugabe’s party which retired Brigadier-General and military historian, Dr. Martin Rupiya argues, in a preface to a research in the role of the military in the country’s politics: The Military Factor in Zimbabwe’s Political and Electoral Affairs, that it has always had the propensity to kill, maim and torture political opponents but is now able to do so using armed state organs.
The military, he notes, is just a pawn in the hand of this ruthless faction.
There are at least two historical periods, over the last 30 years, during which evidence of the aggressive faction’s willingness to destroy political opponents had registered itself, only to be quickly reigned in, Dr Rupiya notes. The first period being against the Ndebele, as well as designed to destroy ZAPU the political party and former ZIPRA forces.
This period, from the early 1980s until 1988, witnessed separate armed and partisan elements created and used outside the emerging and integrating conventional Zimbabwe National Army. Later acknowledged by President Robert Mugabe as “moment of madness” the period witnessed the deployment of a highly partisan Zimbabwe People’s Militia (ZPM), the Korean trained 5th Brigade and the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) all with a command and control chain that was separate from the conventional force. Commonly referred to as the Gukurahundi massacre more than 20 000, by some estimates, including women and children were murdered. This was recently classified a genocide.
The second period for the aggressive faction to show its fangs was in 2000, Dr Rupiya says. This followed the then Army Spokesperson, Major Chancellor Diye who, before the tight Parliamentary Elections of June 2000, announced that the Military was apolitical and would support any victor emerging from the electoral context. This was the last time this type of message was to be heard.
On 9th January 2002, led by the late Chief of Defence Staff Lieutenant General Vitalis Zvinavashe, the service chiefs pledged exclusive allegiance to President Mugabe and ZANU-PF. The barely defeated ZANU-PF then publicly declared the establishment of a War Cabinet, peopled by “Real Men” and whose war mongering objectives were to be implemented by a security sector with a defined role and of course, after the necessary “purification” with the political opposition now transmuted to represent “the face of the enemy” as they accused Tsvangirai of colluding with Zimbabwe’s former colonial ruler, Britain, to help it reassert control.
This has been the central argument and justification of the army’s involvement post 2000, a war-mongering strategy to involve the army, notes Dr. Rupiya.
In May 2008, Army Chief of Staff Major-General Martin Chedondo told soldiers at an army shooting championship in Harare that “the Constitution says the country should be protected by voting and in the 27 June presidential election run-off, pitting our Defence Chief Cde Robert Mugabe, and Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC-T, we should, therefore, stand behind our Commander-in-Chief.” He added that soldiers were not apolitical as they were not mercenaries but had signed and agreed to protect ZANU-PF’s principles. “If you have other thoughts, then you should remove that uniform,” he said.
Addressing a rally in Masvingo in the same month Major-General Engelbert Rugeje said: “This country came through the bullet, not the pencil. Therefore, it will not go by your x of the pencil…The next time I will come next week to Jerera, the helicopter will be full of bullets. You know what you did.”
But the role of the military in influencing the electoral process has not always been violent. There has been an aggressive drive to deploy the military in strategic areas of government, entrenching Mugabe’s influence and securing ZANU-PF electoral victories.
By November 2010, press reports revealed that Air Vice-Marshal Henry Muchena from the Air Force of Zimbabwe was sent to the ZANU PF headquarters in Harare and assigned to lead a team of 300 army officers deployed around the country to help Mugabe’s party rebuild its collapsed structures. Assisting him was Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) Internal Director Sydney Nyanhongo.
Lovemore Chipunza Sekeramayi, the current Chief Elections Officer in the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is a former CIO, media reports say while the two directors under him, Utoile Silaigwana (Operations) and Notayi Mutemasango (Administration and Finance), are former soldiers fiercely loyal to ZANU-PF. Silaingwana is responsible for polling, training, election logistics, voter education and public relations.
Sobuza Gula-Ndebele, a former colonel in the army, was in 2002 presidential election the chairperson of the Electoral Supervisory Commission. Gula-Ndebele was later appointed Attorney-General, a position he held until 2008 when he was fired on accusations of ‘corruptly assuring’ then fugitive banker James Mushore that he would not be prosecuted.
Former permanent secretary in the Defence Ministry, Job Wabira, who in 1998 disregarded High Court rulings to release Standard newspaper journalists, Ray Choto and the late Mark Chavhunduka, who had been arrested and tortured by the military, for writing a story about an alleged coup attempt was part of the 2004 Delimitation Commission, led by Justice George Chiweshe, himself a retired Brigadier General.
Justice Chiweshe, who in May 2011, was unilaterally appointed by Mugabe as the new High Court Judge President, is also the former chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission infamous for withholding the March 2008 election results for a month amid claims that the figures were being massaged to force a presidential run-off, which Tsvangirai was forced to boycott due to violence.
But as Chiweshe held on to the results, political flip-flopper and a former Information Minister Jonathan Moyo who then was an independent albeit with an election pact with MDC-T in his Tsholotsho constituency said security chiefs took over total operational control of ZANU-PF’s political strategy, the country’s electoral mechanisms and internal security measures shifting power from Mugabe, whom he then called “a hostage president.”
Recently promoted Major-General Douglas Nyikayaramba is however of late the most vocal of senior soldiers openly pledging partisan political support to Zanu – PF. He also stands accused of helping rig elections for Mugabe, especially the 2002 presidential elections when he was the Chief Executive Officer of the then Electoral Supervisory Commission.
This has also is compounded by what many viewed as veiled coup threats by the military in the event of a Zanu – PF electoral loss by two politburo members Rugare Gumbo and Patrick Chinamasa.
There is indeed every reason for Tsvangirai to protest the symbolism of Zanu – PF as a beast and its failure to secure a controlling majority in both the parliamentary and presidential polls as being wounded.
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