Security chiefs refuse to allow will of people

Democratic transition has not occurred in Zimbabwe - in spite of the fact that President Robert Mugabe and his party lost elections in 2008.

The reason is clear. The security sector, which for the past decade or so has been running government affairs with Mugabe and others acting as a civilian facade, has not allowed the will of the people to prevail.

The so-called Global Political Agreement did not facilitate power sharing, but rather the retention of power by Mugabe, including a steady supply of political oxygen and a veneer of ‘legitimacy’, which he desperately needed in the aftermath of the March/June 2008 election period.

Like the 1979 Lancaster House Constitution, the GPA was negotiated by political elites and is a reflection of the bargaining power of the parties involved. It is neither global nor reflective of the will of the 2,265,292 voters who participated in the presidential, parliamentary and local government elections of March 2008.

Great pain

It is not an accident that ZANU (PF) ended up controlling the ministries responsible for defence, intelligence and prisons. A nominal share of the ministry responsible for policing – Home Affairs – was secured by MDC-T at great pain.

The state security sector remains opposed to – and has actively sought to undermine – the coalition government and maintain its own grip on power.

Ever since ZANU (PF) started losing its electoral hegemony in the early 2000s, Zimbabwe has been under subtle military rule, with the Zimbabwe Defence Forces operating much like a liberation army embedded in a ZANU of the 1970s.

In independent, 21st century Zimbabwe, elements of the state security sector still seem to subscribe to the view espoused by Mugabe back in 1976 – when he was the leader of ZANU and its liberation movement, the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), and not President of the Republic of Zimbabwe – that “our votes must go together with our guns. After all, any vote we shall have shall have been the product of the gun. The gun which produces the vote should remain its security officer – its guarantor. The people’s votes and the people’s guns are always inseparable twins.”

This overtly partisan and politicised approach is just one of the defining and troubling characteristics of Zimbabwe’s current civil security relations and the larger criminal justice system.


Other concerns include the security sector’s insubordination to legitimate civilian authority, selective application of the law to punish non-ZANU (PF) voices, the accumulation of resources by a small politico-military elite through illicit exploitation of national resources, the militarisation of public institutions, and state-sanctioned violence and disregard for basic human rights.

These issues highlight the urgent need for change. Through covert and open interference with the democratic process, the state security sector has become the most potent threat to human security and democratic transition in Zimbabwe – and will continue to be so unless it is radically reformed.

The images and discourse of violence that have dominated Zimbabwe’s polity for the past decade are in stark contrast to the jubilation and spirit of reconciliation of April 1980 when Mugabe took office as the leader of the newly independent state of Zimbabwe. So promising were Mugabe’s first steps and the accompanying rhetoric that in 1994 – despite the Matabeleland massacres – the former colonial power, the United Kingdom, appointed him honorary Knight Grand Cross in the Order of Bath (only to strip him of the title in June 2008 when his true dictatorial self had emerged for all to see).

One party state

But unbeknown to many, a violent and repressive one-party state was under construction and reconstruction in Zimbabwe. As publicly acknowledged by Mugabe himself in his ‘degrees in violence’ speech, ZANU (PF)’s (and Mugabe’s) propensity to resort to violence to resolve political differences and achieve political ends is neither new nor recent.

Since the early years of independence in the 1980s, ZANU (PF) and its government have enjoyed a monopoly of violence. Against this background, today’s resurgent politico-military and economic complex, which is underpinned by violence and intimidation, has to be understood in terms of the undying desire by Mugabe to be life president, and by ZANU (PF)’s quest to establish a one party state in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s security sector – comprising state security agencies such as the military, police and intelligence as well as non-state security structures, including war veterans and the ZANU (PF) youth brigades of the 1980s and youth militias of the 2000s – has long been a willing and effective midwife to ZANU (PF)’s political ambitions.

In the first decade of independence, Joshua Nkomo’s PF ZAPU bravely stood up to and temporarily foiled ZANU (PF)’s one-party ambitions but paid a heavy price. By 1987, PF ZAPU had been violently battered into submission and forced to sign a Unity Accord, which effectively signalled the death of the party. Constitutional Amendment No. 7 then created an all-powerful executive presidency, which marked the beginning of the end of the country’s nascent but promising democracy and, according to Welshman Ncube, turned Mugabe – the only occupant of that office since its creation – into a 'myopic little village tyrant' .

Under the ‘united’ but largely unchanged ZANU (PF), Zimbabwe became a de facto one party state, effectively combining brute force, and the selective use and manipulation of the law to maintain its hegemony. The same scorched earth policy was to be used against the MDC two decades later culminating in the GPA in 2008. – Takawira Musavengana is the Human Rights and Democracy Building Manager at the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa in South Africa. His forthcoming publication is entitled: The Case for a SADC Parliament: Old Wine in New Bottles or an Ideal Whose Time Has Come?

Post published in: Politics

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