Since Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980, the security sector, particularly the military, has waded into the country’s political affairs, shredding their constitutional mandate to pieces and turning themselves into kingmakers.
This is taking place despite the fact that the country’s supreme law as well as the Defence Forces Act prohibit the military from participating in partisan politics or interfering in electoral affairs.
The latest high-profile military figure to dabble in politics is the commander of the Presidential Guard, Brigadier-General Anselem Sanyatwe, who urged his troops to ignore their constitutional mandate — ensuring the protection and security of Zimbabwe’s territorial integrity and independence — instead ordering them to be ready to defend the Zanu PF and President Robert Mugabe’s continued stay in power.
As reported in the Zimbabwe Independent last week Sanyatwe said the army should be ready to fight former vice-president Joice Mujuru who is in the process of setting up a political party under the People First banner to dislodge Mugabe and Zanu PF from power.
He went on to chant slogans in support of Mugabe and Zanu PF, which is unconstitutional.
“Professionalism is over and many of you are wondering what is happening in the country. I do not want you to hear (it) through the grapevine or read (it) in the newspapers, but the animal called Zanu PF shall rule forever and that is the reason I am saying forward with Zanu PF! Forward with President Robert Mugabe! Down with Joice Mujuru,” Sanyatwe said.
Sanyatwe’s statements come amid disclosures the Joint Operations Command (Joc) — which brings together army, police and intelligence service chiefs — is now actively in operation tailing, monitoring and battling Mujuru and her allies currently on the ground setting up structures and mobilising people in preparation for the launch of their party before the end of the year.
Sanyatwe’s threats to battle Mujuru come at a time the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) commander Lieutenant-General Phillip Valerio Sibanda has also warned the army will crush external and internal enemies of the state, including the opposition.
In a speech read on his behalf by ZNA director for civil-military relations, Colonel Charles Matema a fortnight ago, Sibanda said the army had a constitutional mandate to protect civilian power, both central government and local authorities.
“A case in point is the 2007 (in fact 2003) attempt by the MDC to topple a constitutionally elected head of state and government in an operation dubbed ‘final push’. The Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) foiled the operation as it contravened the dictates of the constitution of Zimbabwe,” Sibanda said.
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 Defence Forces, should operate.
The Defence Forces are expected to be non-partisan and professional in the discharge of their duties.
Section 211(3) of the constitution reads: “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 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 organisation,” reads Section 208(2) of the constitution.
Sanyatwe’s statements are therefore a clear breach of the constitution and the law despite being in line with a precedence set by other commanders.
In 2002, then Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander, the late General Vitalis Zvinavashe, flanked by then ZNA commander Lieutenant-General Constantine Chiwenga, Air Force of Zimbabwe commander Air Marshall Perence Shiri and Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri held a press conference on the eve of the presidential election to make veiled coup threats if MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the polls.
Zvinavashe declared that the country’s security sector would not accept a leader without liberation war credentials.
“To this end, let it be known that the highest office in the land is a ‘straightjacket’ 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,” he said.
The declaration by Zvinavashe, which was condemned by the Southern African Development Community and the international community, set a dangerous precedent which opened floodgates for full-scale military interference in Zimbabwean politics.
Since then Chiwenga, Chihuri, Zimbabwe Prison Services boss Retired Major-General Paradzai Zimondi, as well as Major-Generals Douglas Nyikayaramba, Martin Chebundo, Trust Mugova have all made political statements while declaring their loyalty to Zanu PF.
Sanyatwe’s remarks should therefore be taken seriously given that the military has demonstrated that their statements are not empty rhetoric.
In 2008, after Mugabe lost the first round of elections to Tsvangirai, Joc influenced the withholding of election results for about a month during which period they strategised how to rescue Zanu PF.
The army then took over Zanu PF’s campaign ahead of the June 27 presidential election run-off which was characterised by widespread violence and intimidation. Tsvangirai withdrew from the race as a result of the army’s brutal campaign.
Sanyatwe’s threats could set the stage for a potential bloodbath reminiscent of 2008 and should therefore be condemned.
In fact, military bosses if they were professional, should charge Sanyatwe for bringing the name of the army into disrepute.
Security sector expert Dr Martin Rupiya said Sanyatwe’s statements point to bad civil-military relations in Zimbabwe.
“The civil-military relations were eroded to being non-existent in 2002 when the military chiefs purported to set the criteria for persons who can be presidential candidates. Since then the military has consistently threatened to veto any poll result that goes against its preferred candidate, Mugabe in this case,” he said.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said Sanyatwe’s statements are a blow to the semblance of democracy that the inclusive government restored during which the opposition kept the securocrats in check.
“It is dangerous for serving military officers to dabble in active politics openly criticising opponents of their political parties to the extent of issuing illegal threats. This is very ominous for democracy,” Saungweme said. “Serving military chiefs should not openly pronounce their political affiliation and openly threaten political revals. If they were professional they should know that they are there to serve the country and government of the day, not political parties.”
Saungweme also said the military should respect the constitution and protect the people, not masquerade as functionaries and commissars of political parties.