HARARE – Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) general Constantino Chiwenga has declared ahead of next year’s synchronised polls that the military will not allow whites and disloyal citizens to ascend to the seat of power.
Chiwenga was quoted by a Masvingo provincial newspaper saying “we will never allow sell-outs or whites to take over this country”.
The ZDF boss was speaking at a groundbreaking ceremony for a hospital to be built in Sengwe, Chiredzi South.
He said many lives were lost during the liberation struggle, hence it should give “us more resolve on where we are coming from and where we are going as a country.
“We are facing many challenges as a people but we should not lose focus. The blood lost should not be in vain. We should continue to jealously guard our country and its sovereignty.
“We will never allow it to go into the hands of puppets or the whites,” he was quoted saying.
The function was attended by several army officers, including army chief of staff, major general Trust Mugoba who chanted Zanu PF slogans at the end of the proceedings.
Also in attendance were chief Sengwe; Member of Parliament for Chiredzi South retired brigadier Kallisto Gwanetsa and Chiredzi district administrator Lovemore Chisema, among others.
Chiwenga’s recent comments seem to contradict President Robert Mugabe who, in July warned the army to stay out of politics and remain in the barracks.
By publicly dabbling in politics, the military is in contravention of Sections 208, 211 and 218 of the country’s Constitution, which governs how the security services, including the ZDF, should operate.
In terms of the charter, 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 charter says: “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.”
This is not the first time, especially ahead of elections, that generals have threatened that the country will never be taken over by someone who didn’t go to war.
In 2002, the country’s generals held a press conference on the eve of the presidential election to make veiled coup threats if MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the polls.
The MDC, Zimbabwe’s largest opposition, reacted angrily to Chiwenga’s remarks, yesterday.
MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said the army should not meddle in the politics of the country.
He said, constitutionally, the army’s mandate is to defend Zimbabwe’s territorial integrity as well as preserving national security.
“More often than not, Chiwenga openly dabbles in politics, something which is really regrettable,” said Gutu.
“As the MDC, we call upon Chiwenga to immediately retire from the army and join the hustle and bustle of politics. He seems to enjoy politics, anyway.”
Political analysts said the rightful role of soldiers in a constitutional democracy is to defend the country and not to politically define it.
Vivid Gwede, an analyst, said the role of defining the future of a country should be left to politicians, provided they are chosen through democratic elections.
“The role of professional soldiers is to defend the Constitution and democratic elections and respect their outcomes rather than speak at cross-purposes with them. Is it not unethical for one to use a position to ends which it is not meant for?” he asked.
Political commentator Maxwell Saungweme said Chiwenga’s declaration was not new at all as Mugabe founded conditions for the military to be ensnared in politics.
“He militarised civil institutions such as parastatals and independent commissions. The military in Zimbabwe is known to be kingmakers in Zanu PF. Nothing is new here.
“On this one, like many other issues, Mugabe speaks left and acts right. But it’s bad for politics that the military gets involved.
“Unfortunately, in Zimbabwe this started before April 18, 1980, and it’s only a new regime without elements of Zanu PF political genealogy in it that will be able to confine the military to the barracks not political playfield,” said Saungweme.
He added that Mugabe can’t unbundle this as he fashioned it and the military is now so ensconced in our politics.
“This is why they think they can determine who should lead the country. It’s a clear conflation of roles, Mugabe is responsible for it,” opined Saungweme.
Social commentator Rejoice Ngwenya believes Chiwenga, like most so-called militant Zanu PF soldiers, is a coward in camouflage.
“How often has he been insulted by Grace but never responded? If by ‘sell-out’ he means ‘those who have no revolutionary history’, why doesn’t he say Jonathan Moyo, Grace Mugabe and Saviour Kasukuwere by name?
“When he says ‘we’, who is he referring to? Who is he? Is he talking on behalf of the cabal or voters? Our country is a constitutional democracy that does not allow misguided men in uniform or presidential family dynasties. So my take is that Zimbabweans should ignore Chiwenga with the contempt he deserves.”
Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch Dewa Mavhinga said Chiwenga is clearly meddling in politics.
“This confirms our research findings that Zimbabwe’s military leadership is extremely politicised and highly partisan, viewing themselves as shareholders in Zanu PF.
“But . . . Chiwenga has no political standing whatsoever to dictate who Zimbabwe’s leader should be. The country is a democracy that chooses leaders through elections without following the whims of an army general.”
Mavhinga added that Chiwenga’s reckless statements violate the Constitution of Zimbabwe which prohibits members of security forces from involvement in politics. It also violates international law.
Social commentator Rashweat Mukundu said the army has taken a position to involve itself in politics as indicated already by Mugabe and the first lady.
“Constitutionally, the security sector must operate free from politics and that engenders confidence in the military and other security agents.
“This statement from Chiwenga also induces fear and undermines elections as he is pointing to a criterion of electing or choosing leaders that is not provided in law and undermines democratic practice.
“The criterion for political office is spelt out in the Constitution and not located at KGVI. In essence, it becomes an attempt to tilt the political environment through fear mongering and abuse of history for political motives.”