The Militarization of the Motherland

The Militarization of the Motherland
Published: 01 December 2017 (503 Views)
November 2017 will forever be etched in the Zimbabwean citizens' mind as the month that President Robert Mugabe was finally forced out of his position as President of the Republic of Zimbabwe.

On the 14th of November rumours were swirling on social media claiming that military vehicles were on their way into the capital city, Harare. The inevitable was confirmed when Major General SB Moyo made an announcement stating that the events that were taking place were not a military coup d'état but were rather, a military process of weeding out criminal elements that had surrounded the former President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. This announcement was made on the state broadcaster.

After lengthy negotiations and one of the biggest solidarity marches in independent Zimbabwe; President Mugabe was forced to resign which resulted in hysterical scenes in, not only Zimbabwe, but globally. After 37 years in power, President Mugabe had been replaced by his former ally and Vice President, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa.

Many academics will argue whether this was a coup or not. I for one, do believe it was a coup because I do not believe in the army interfering in civilian issues. However, in the Zimbabwean case Mugabe's 37 years in power had seen the lines between the state and the government being blurred. More importantly, the army has always played an important role political decisions in Zimbabwe.

The army was instrumental in obtaining independence from colonial rule in 1980 and this would shape its influence in independent Zimbabwe. Josiah Tongogara who was ZANLA commander between 1973 and 1979, attended the Lancaster House agreement which led to Zimbabwe gaining independence. Rex Nhongo and Vitalis Zvinavashe were also army commanders who would go on to join ZANU PF in post-colonial Zimbabwe. These three figureheads were all members of the army who also played a political role in Zimbabwe.

In 1999 the MDC was formed amid an economic crisis and this served as a threat to ZANU PF's stranglehold on power. In relation to the Presidential Election in 2002, former army commander, Vitalis Zvinavashe noted that:

We [the JOC] wish to make it very clear to all Zimbabwean citizens that the security organisations will only stand in support of those political leaders that will pursue Zimbabwean values, traditions and beliefs for which thousands of lives were lost in the pursuit of Zimbabwe's hard-won independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and national interests. To this end, let it be known that the highest office in the land [the presidency] is a straitjacket 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.

This statement was issued a few months before the 2002 Presidential election and the belief here is that the message was being directed to opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. By describing the Presidency as a “straitjacket”  the army was alluding to the fact that it would never accept a candidate they do not deem as worthy of the Presidency.

When writing about the role of the military in Zimbabwe, Brian Miles Tendi, notes that, securocrats have strategically positioned themselves in civilian activities. Former army commanders have held positions of office and have had great influence on the decision making process in Zimbabwe.

Take for instance in 2008, after Morgan Tsvangirai had won the election. It was the army through the Joint Operations Command (JOC) that ensured that Mugabe would win the runoff election and remain as President. Emmerson Mnangagwa was also viewed to have played an important role in keeping Mugabe as President.

Call it what you may, but there is a symbiotic relationship between the army and the ruling ZANU PF. The events culminating in the resignation of President Mugabe all but confirm this. After the sacking of Mnangagwa from the position of Vice President, the army issued a statement saying that it would be forced to step in if the fighters continued.

The factional fights within ZANU PF between the so called G40 and Lacoste factions resulted in the army stepping in to ensure that Mnangagwa would assume the role of the presidency. If anything, there is no doubt that Zimbabwe is a military state. The events in November all but confirm this.

Prior to these events in Tendai Biti (in July) had noted that he feared that there would be a possible implosion directly linked to the volatile Zanu PF succession wars. It might not have been as dramatic as he expected it to be, but the army that had served Mugabe for so long was the one that forced him to leave his throne.

The events in November show that because the presidency is a “straitjacket”, the army will decide who rules Zimbabwe and for how long.


- Gwinyai Regis Taruvinga

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