Commanders enter poll race

HARARE - Zimbabwe's security sector is moving to perpetuate its power through the forthcoming parliamentary elections, with at least six top serving commanders and scores of mid-ranking and retired officers seeking legislative seats.

In a remodelling of an unprecedented scale, senior and retired officers in the army, police and air force are seeking to stand in numbers during the forthcoming Zanu PF primary elections scheduled for February alongside civilians and other members of the government — the first such move since independence in 1980.

The Daily News understands among top security officials reportedly seeking legislative seats are police deputy commissioner general Godwin Matanga, major-general Martin Chedondo, brigadier-general Eliah Bandama, air vice-marshal Shebba Shumbayaonda, brigadier-general Herbert Chingo and brigadier-general Mike Sango.

It is not clear if the serving officers will resign from active service, but sources say they have privately indicated to the Zanu PF provincial leadership mainly in Manicaland their interest to participate in the next primary elections as parliamentary candidates.

There are dozens of other retired officers also lining up to run on a Zanu PF ticket.

More than ever, analysts say, the security sector seems to be moving in to consolidate its control over the Zimbabwean political landscape.

Masvingo has the highest number of retired officers seeking parliamentary seats, including retired brigadier Gibson Mashingaidze, brigadier general Victor Rungani and colonel Claudius Makova all eyeing seats in Bikita.

Major Bernard Mazarire and colonel Daniel Shumba want seats in Masvingo. In Chiredzi there is brigadier general Callisto Gwanetsa, while colonel Mutero Masanganise is eyeing a seat in Gutu.

The top echelons of the security sector have been imbued with political ambition over the past decade as President Robert Mugabe’s rule has increasingly come under threat, but domestic opposition to military rule is at its highest tempo.

As officers seek an increasing foothold on politics, pressure is simultaneously mounting for wide-sweeping security sector reforms, with political interest groups which had profited from military activities and steadfastly supported it, staunchly resisting the proposed changes.

On the ground, there is a hold-up in the security sector reform stand-off, with Sadc mediator President Jacob Zuma insisting on a sea change, including de-politicisation of the sector.

Sources say the security sector has put together a hurriedly packaged, relatively smart plan to field candidates countrywide to remain relevant in the new post-coalition government dispensation.

The Sadc-brokered Zimbabwe “roadmap to elections” has fuelled fears in the top ranks of the security sector about the forthcoming transition.

Analysts say the security sector is pulling out all the stops to conserve Zanu PF political power by fielding candidates and resisting reforms by invoking sovereignty mantras.

Pedzisai Ruhanya, director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute think-tank, said in terms of the Defence Act and Police Service Act, officers must make a choice of remaining in service or running for political office.

“They can’t bake their cake and eat it,” Ruhanya said.

“If they are serving, they must recuse themselves from service.

“This is a warning to democratic forces that Zimbabwe is moving towards a political precipice because the security apparatus must not be involved in the political and electoral management of the country’s affairs. This is what needs to be addressed if Zimbabwe is to have a democratic political transition through elections.”

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition regional coordinator Phillan Zamchiya said: “Where the security sector becomes politicised this indicates an abrogation of duty and exposes the state and its citizens to the manipulation by political systems that are backed by the security sector.

“The security sector can also coerce citizens into compromised political allegiances or may simply scare off the citizens from occupying their civilian space in political processes. By design, the security sector is naturally a non-political entity as its coercive power is not supposed to contest in any civilian space.

“Democracy is about allowing equally matched political entities to compete for the popular vote and mandate of the people. Where the security sector takes partisan positions; this introduces political dis-equilibrium into political competition which ultimately destroys functional democracy.”

According to Samuel Huntington, a long-time Harvard University professor and influential political scientist, “politics is beyond the scope of military competence, and the participation of military officers in politics undermines their professionalism.

“The area of military science is subordinate to, and yet independent of, the area of politics… The military profession exists to serve the state.”

But Zanu PF administration secretary Didymus Mutasa says the military has every right to support Zanu PF because they fought under the party’s armed wing Zanla in the 70s independence war that ended white rule in 1980.

The success of the latest security sector plan to foist a civilian façade is yet another development whose impact and consequences are yet to be understood.

The forthcoming Zanu PF primary election will offer a barometer to the grand plan, reportedly spearheaded by retired army and intelligence officials reportedly working behind the scenes at the Zanu PF commissariat department at the party HQ.

The Zimbabwe security sector chiefs have publicly proclaimed their support for Zanu PF, threatening to intervene against any regime without liberation war credentials that wins the forthcoming watershed elections.

“There is therefore a blatant dabbling in politics by the Zimbabwe security sector officials,” Zamchiya said, reiterating civil society calls for the repudiation of all such statements by the military. - Gift Phiri, Political Editor

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