Analysts fear a recently opened defence college, army recruitment, and arms imported from South Africa are part of Zanu-PF's election preparations.
President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party has intensified its drive to militarise the country with the commissioning of a state-of the-art National Defence College ahead of new elections expected next year.
Observers point out that the move sends a strong message that the military will be kingmaker in the next crunch polls where Mugabe is expected to face off against arch-rival Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) for the third time, after previous encounters in 2002 and 2008.
Last weekend, Mugabe officially opened the college, built by China at a cost of $98-million, describing it as a "think-tank" on security matters. He said it would also be used as a bulwark against Western countries pursuing a "regime change" agenda.
The college is reserved for military personnel with the rank of colonel or group captain and above and their equivalent ranks in state security, police and prisons.
As part of the terms of the loan agreement, the loan will be repaid over 13 years with the diamonds being mined by Chinese companies in the Marange, diamond fields.
Anjin, the Chinese-linked diamond mining company operating in Marange was earlier this year involved in a war of words with Finance Minister Tendai Biti, who accused the Chinese firm of failing to remit "a single cent" in taxes to the treasury. In its defence, Anjin cited exemption as part of the conditions of the loan.
Militarisation of Zimbabwean society
Charles Mangongera, a political analyst said: "The defence college not only marks the continued militarisation of Zimbabwean society, but also the dominance of Chinese interests in the country. Zimbabwe is not under threat of attack from anyone and such a huge investment could have gone into improving the situation at our defunct state universities. Mugabe sees the military as a source of his power and will now do anything to please the military chiefs."
In June, the military recruited 10 000 people for the army, sparking tension in the fragile unity government, as the Zanu-PF defence minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa, demanded that the treasury placed the recruits on the state's payroll.
Military sources pointed out that the recruits were earmarked to play a role in the census and upcoming referendum vote. However, opposition by the MDC eventually resulted in the military's push to be included in last month's census – traditionally conducted by public servants – blocked at the eleventh hour.
There are also signs that the military has purchased R2-million worth of arms from South Africa, circumventing the treasury in the process. Under normal circumstances, Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) a government-owned military company, deals with the purchase and sale of arms.
Senior ZDI officials have indicated that they did not engage with the South African government over the arms procurement, which includes military radios, tankers and teargas. The Zimbabwe treasury has admitted that it did not know how the arms purchase was financed.
MDC spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora said: "We learnt in the press just like everyone else. Biti did not allocate money to buy a war chest. What is more clandestine is that some of the deliveries are being made when he [Biti] is away soliciting money in the region to keep our government afloat."
Welshman Ncube, the leader of the smaller MDC party, speculated that the money could have been raised from diamond proceeds as Zanu-PF enjoyed "monopoly and virtual control" over the Marange fields. Mugabe has since been promoting senior military officers, such as Brigadier-General Douglas Nyikayaramba, who have pledged allegiance to his rule and has also kept his ring of military chiefs around him, despite their terms of office expiring.