Will the Zimbabwe army kill citizens for Zanu-PF
by Mathula Lusinga
“An army marches on its stomach” Napoleon Bonaparte
It is deeply saddening that every time we approach elections, Zimbabweans are always intimidated by the fact that if Zanu-PF were to lose elections, the military would take over the country. History has it that Zanu-PF likes to use the military against anyone who threatens their stay in power and on that basis it is understandable why Zimbabweans live in fear of being thrashed by servicemen. What Zimbabweans must know, however, is that times have changed and chances of the army taking a stand against the people have been reduced dramatically. There are examples from all over the world where ruling regimes have relied on the mighty powers of the army to keep them in power but in most of them, victory has ultimately favored the side of democrats. Zimbabweans must understand that all the threats that have been made before come from a few service chiefs and are only meant to intimidate them – they have no real substance.
A history of violence in the Zimbabwean army
My recent post on putting up with challenges of the Zimbabwe GNU mentioned that Zimbabwe, like many post-colonial states, inherited repressive state security apparatus geared towards the protection of the ruling regime. No doubt, we saw the brutality of the army in Matabeleland and Midlands where their loyalty towards the then ruling Zanu-PF was used to deal with the opposition ZAPU and its supporters. We came away with an interpretation of the Zimbabwean army as brutal by nature. Adding to this fear was the violent way they were said to have dealt with civilians in Mozambique and DRC during their suspicious interventions there. We also know that from time to time in Zimbabwe the army has been called to use brutality to quell demonstrations from workers, university students and the MDC while in opposition and even once part of the GNU. Since the formation of the MDC, there have been multiple threats from the military bosses who say they won’t salute anyone besides a Zanu-PF winner. Political analysts in Zimbabwe also comment on the recent recruitment exercises in the army, which are intended to intimidate the population, seeing that there is an election looming. It is on this basis that the army of Zimbabwe is widely perceived as brutal and uncaring against citizens.
Changing times for changing armies
In Zimbabwe in 2000 I strongly believed that the military was going to crush any public dissent against Zanu-PF’s rigging of the general elections. Those elections posed the greatest challenge to Zanu-PF hegemony since the beginning of its rule in 1980. Most of the army personnel deployed at the time came from battalions that were based in the DRC dealing with conflict there. This meant that they did not properly understand the politics at home – my friends in the army told us of how President Mugabe addressed them in DRC camps: telling them how enemies of Zimbabwe were using MDC to cause dissent in order to clear their way to invade Zimbabwe. As a result of these manipulated political briefings, the army came to see MDC as an enemy and the deployment across the country to crush possible dissent after 2000 election results were announced as a national duty to avoid invasion. The Zimbabwean military in DRC also had no idea of how difficult things were back at home as they were paid in US dollars and very well compared to ordinary Zimbabweans who at the time were facing hard times. They were often seen on their army breaks from Congo spending large sums of dollars shopping and drinking with friends. Their status in the society improved and in their eyes, MDC was a threat that promised to reduce their status. At that time I believe the MDC leadership made the right call by shelving demonstrations in favour of a negotiated solution that involved SADC sending South Africa’s Deputy President, Jacob Zuma to Harare to calm down temperatures. The army’s purge was avoided.
From 2000 to 2012
I believe that Zimbabweans must now realize that times have changed and the army is in no position to sustain repression against citizens. The DRC days are gone and now the army is suffering just like anyone else. For the 2008 elections, even Mugabe knew that the army was in no position to be used against the people; hence a plot was hatched to make sure that opposition leaders like Morgan Tsvangirai were “exiled” to South Africa immediately after those elections in order to avoid having him call for mass demonstrations. In the meantime, Zanu-PF was busy reorganizing and crushing internal descent with limited disturbance from the MDC. Today, threats from the army come from a few faceless fanatics like Brigadier Douglas Nyikaramba, who are just singing for their last supper against the winds of change. It’s well known that people like him and other senior Zanu-PF loyalists are making a killing from the country’s resources and a change of guard will mean an end to the feast. Last year, the Minister of Defence, Emerson Mnangagwa, who is heavily involved in the diamonds industry, allegedly made himself US$4 million in a single deal by acting as middleman in the sale of the precious stones to shady characters in South Africa. This does not mean the rest of the military men are benefiting, though, and they are very much aware of that fact. The family of friend of mine who lives near KGVI military base cooks extra meals from time to time for some army personnel who skip the barracks at night to eat at his home in exchange for small regular army supplies like soap and cooking oil. It is clear that the rest of the army is struggling like anyone else. Also, it was easy for Zanu-PF to use the Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland and Midlands because this section of the army was comprised mostly of one ethnic group and was being used against another ethnic group in the southern parts of the country. Today it would be very difficult for Mugabe to do the same, both because the army is heavily integrated and because dissent is nationwide. Zimbabwean military men are aware of these situations and I am sure they will be professional enough to realize that they will be serving selfish interests of the few if they decide against democracy. Ordinary Zimbabweans must do themselves a favor by not succumbing to baseless threats of senior army members and instead, they must continue building the bridge between themselves and the rest of the army.