President Robert Mugabe’s military men, long the silent power behind his throne, are now stepping out of the shadows to play a more open role in Zanu-PF.
They are trying to quell the factional fighting in the party that has torn apart its grassroots structures and disrupted district elections.
This week a senior officer told his troops that the army could no longer be expected to distance itself from politics and it would not apologise for backing Zanu-PF.
The party’s commissariat, which runs its internal polls and election campaigns, is now also led by senior security men, Air Vice-Marshall Henry Muchena and former intelligence chief Sydney Nyanungo.
Army personnel are also demanding a more influential role in Zanu-PF’s constitutional reform team, which is under increasing pressure from party hardliners for agreeing to a draft constitution that would make far-reaching reforms.
The influence of the military chiefs over Zanu-PF has been increasing in recent years, although they have largely remained in the background. But the chaos in the party’s districts has been an opportunity for the military to come out into the open.
While Zanu-PF provincial leaders were meeting in Mutare to try to end the factional fights that led to the suspension of district elections, a group of top army officers turned up at the venue and demanded that the politicians sort out the crisis, which could lose Mugabe the election.
According to party officials, the army men felt let down by the power struggles among the politicians and were stepping in to end the fighting.
Incumbent Zanu-PF MPs are also facing opposition from serving and retired military and intelligence officers who want to stand in Zanu-PF primaries.
Army chief of staff Major General Martin Chedondo has told troops that the army could no longer refrain from politics. “A national defence force the world over is there to protect the national politics, national integrity, the executive and other systems that form part of the government. By virtue of this, defence forces automatically become a political animal,” he said. “As soldiers, we will never be apologetic for supporting Zanu-PF, because it is the only political party that has national interests at heart.”
Limit the president’s power
The military is opposed to attempts by the Movement for Democratic Change to reform the security forces. A draft constitution published recently proposes to limit the president’s power to appoint security chiefs by forcing him to share that responsibility with Parliament and a commission. It has drawn strong opposition from Zanu-PF hawks and angered the military.
Under the power-sharing agreement, a new constitution is required before new elections are held, but Mugabe’s lieutenants say the process has been hijacked by their enemies in the West. The proposed constitution would make it illegal for Mugabe to stand in new elections, because it bars anyone who has been president for a total of 10 years from standing again. Zanu-PF is also angry about a clause that could open the door to prosecute Mugabe. The draft allows “civil proceedings” against a former leader for crimes committed “before he or she became president [or] in his or her personal capacity while he or she was president”.