There are growing concerns among Zimbabwean political parties and civic organisations that President Robert Mugabe – in power since independence from Britain in 1980 – is using the military to lay the groundwork for the 88 year old leader’s campaign for re-election in elections expected next year.
The military is believed to be pivotal in Mugabe’s continued stay in power, with army generals previously indicating that they would not salute anyone other than Mugabe. Inconclusive and bloody elections in 2008 lead to the current coalition government structure.
But the government of national unity has not been cohesive, with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T calling for security sector reforms and at one time saying army generals should retire from the military if they are interested in active politics. Mugabe’s Zanu-PF is opposed to crucial security sector reforms.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC and the other smaller MDC lead by Professor Welshman Ncube have complained of the deployment of soldiers across the country where soldiers are effectively urging people to vote for Mugabe.
Although it could not be immediately ascertained how many army personnel had been deployed for alleged campaigning purposes, defenceWeb has been told that the military has deployed personnel to some areas in two of Zimbabwe’s large provinces, Manicaland – in eastern Zimbabwe – and Masvingo, along the road to the Beit Bridge border post with South Africa.
“There is a heavy presence of military people in Manicaland and Masvingo and people are afraid that the presence of soldiers is meant to force them to vote for Zanu-PF and President Mugabe in the forthcoming elections,” a civic society leader said over the weekend.
Traditional leaders in Masvingo are being summoned to attend meetings at the 4 Brigade headquarters. Reports say senior military officers are using the meetings with traditional leaders to map strategies aimed at swaying the vote in favour of Mugabe, who has enhanced military ties and cooperation with China.
Soldiers have also been allegedly disrupting political rallies of some parties, with Ncube’s MDC being the most affected after soldiers stormed his party’s rally in Mutoko.
The army has denied that its members are disrupting political rallies, with army spokesperson, Alphios Makotore insisting that the military was not involved in such incidents. There was no immediate comment from Zanu-PF on concerns that it is using the military to lay the groundwork for Mugabe’s re-election campaign.
However, Kurauone Chihwayi, a spokesperson in Ncube’s MDC said soldiers in two trucks stormed the MDC rally in Mutoko earlier this month and “assaulted” supporters “viciously”.
Elections are now more likely next year although the MDC parties are opposing Mugabe’s March 2013 election date, saying the coalition government must complete crucial reforms for the security sector, the media and the electoral framework.
Human rights and civic organisations have called for the Zimbabwean military to be non-partisan and to respect the constitution.
“The military has no place in politics; they should stay in their barracks and desist from attacking those they see as opposing Zanu PF and Mugabe. We are afraid that the fresh elections that are being called for March next year could be too early as security sector reforms need to be put in place to reign in the military ahead of the elections,” said a civic society leader.
In November last year the Southern Africa Report, which focuses on political and economic intelligence issues in Africa, said that the Zimbabwe Defence Force had taken delivery of “the first of several consignments of Chinese small arms and equipment,” including 20 000 AK-47 assault rifles, uniforms, a dozen trucks and 21 000 pairs of handcuffs.