Should we still be optimistic that we are heading for a new beginning?

So now that we are sober after celebrating Mugabe’s departure, should we still be optimistic that we are heading for a new beginning?

What normally guides a new beginning is the prescription provided by the new comers in their election manifesto. The manifesto then becomes a yardstick for measuring the progress. Here, we do not have that luxury, so far, we are guessing – aided by the new president’s inauguration speech, press releases, and announcements.

However we must point out that Emmerson Mnangagwa’s coronation has come at a very high cost for the nation. That of shredding the constitution – that which guides a nation – and like the international community – we are turning a blind eye.

The Zimbabweans aspirations after the success of the forceful removal of Robert Mugabe should now be to establish a completely new leadership and a new political system that is entirely based on the constitution, open, free, and fair elections. So far there is no script that is consistent with these new expectations other than the fact that the 2018 elections will go ahead as scheduled.

Whilst it is important that elections are held as per scheduled, it now seems to be the only way of pushing the armed forces out of the political scene. As the opposition is dead, the – in fact mauling the idea of a GNU – 2018 elections could thus expedite the return of the soldiers to their barracks for President Mnangagwa to reign supreme.

The armed forces should return to the barracks an focus on defending the country. In addition – moving forward with the elections would then allow the elected government to legitimately address the social and economic crisis.

After independence, the military was made up of the ex-Rhodesian Front soldiers, and ZANU-PF and ZAPU military wings -ZANLA and ZIPRA – which created a professional Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA). For many, the ZNA had a professional image which at the time was rare in Africa. It was seen to possess professionalism rare in African armies and seemed not likely to interfere in politics accept in upholding the Zimbabwean constitution. It is argued that it is this professionalism within the ZNA that prompted the ZANU-PF regime to create the fifth brigade whose unrestrained approach to Gukurahundi left many people dead – during which the current President was the Minister of Defence.

Unlike the army, it was the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and the Central Intelligent Organisation (CIO) who were the political instruments of ZANU-PF.

In recent years – the whole of the security sector – particularly the ZNA – has waded into the country’s political affairs, shredding their constitutional mandate to pieces and turning themselves into kingmakers.

Therefore this transitional process will benefit ZANU-PF leaving the MDC out in the cold at the expense of democracy. This is an issue of concern because we do not have a national framework nor do we have an effective opposition to guide our nation right now.

Zimbabwe’s supreme law as well as the Defence Forces Act prohibit the ZNA from participating in partisan politics or interfering in electoral affairs.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Organisation (ZHRO) notes with concern that this aspect of the constitution makes the army’s recent involvement in politics counter the democratic principle that it is meant to uphold.

We now have to hope that the shredding of the 2013 constitution – which was strongly endorsed by the people of Zimbabwe – will not have terrible – if not horrific consequences for all of us.

“We have not been singing – ‘Mugabe must go’- meaning Mugabe the person – but we want the whole ZANU-PF system whose leadership was Mugabe and his cronies to go – In as far as we are concerned only Mugabe the person has gone but the whole ZANU-PF system is still intact and is now being led by the one who was deputy dictator – Emmerson (The crocodile) Mnangagwa – who has been Mugabe’s right hand man for more than 50 years. The whole system must go” – said one protester.

The guiding ideology that shapes the ZNA is that of nationalism dating back to the time of the liberation struggle. Within this patriotic history – liberation war credentials become the source and qualification for anyone to occupy political office in Zimbabwe. Consequently – the current situation cascades from this liberation war tradition, thereby the glorification of Mnangagwa as the leader of the state – who is also the commander in chief of the armed forces is thus inculcated on the military.

“Let bygones be bygones” said Mnangagwa – yet we cannot afford to ignore that the Zimbabwean military has played an active role in violent post colonial practices. What emerges poignantly from this coup is that within the top leadership of the military, there is a deliberate conflation of loyalty to ZANU-PF and individual loyalty to President Mnangagwa.

The mission statement and objectives enshrined in the Zimbabwe Defence Forces Act clearly spell out what the army and other forces should seek to achieve, which includes ensuring the protection and security of Zimbabwe’s territorial integrity and independence.

Notwithstanding the legal and formal prohibition of partisan political conduct by the army, the military leadership is openly partisan towards ZANU- PF and has dabbled in politics on several occasions thereby straining relations with civilians.

The civil society and military relations were eroded to being non-existent in 2002 when the military chiefs purported to set the criteria for persons who can be presidential candidates. Since 2002, the military has consistently threatened to veto any election result that goes against its then preferred candidate -Robert Mugabe – and now the loyalty has now been transferred to lacoste.

At this week’s ZHRO Wednesday Vigil, members waves placards – pushing for a Diaspora vote – Electoral reforms – explanation on the whereabouts of the missing activists and calling on the new president to show commitment on at least apologise and name all the Gukurahundi victims.

The extremely partisan political statements made by the military are a subversion of the will of the people and an impairment of the quality of elections as an expression of democratic choice. Defence Forces Commander, Constantine Chiwenga, in a manner that could unduly influence elections, has in the past publicly predicted resounding electoral victory for ZANU-PF presidential candidate, Robert Mugabe.

If Zimbabwe – under the Presidency of Mnanagwa – is to genuinely prepare for open elections that are free and fair, and where violence or intimidation play no part, then reform and transformation of the ZNA, and other security sector branches is of paramount importance.

ZHRO urges the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to urgently engage Zimbabwe with a view to restore professionalism, independence and non-partisanship to the defence forces and to completely divorce the military from all political interference.

Mnangagwa will always be associated with all the darkest times of Zimbabwean history – especially Gukurahundi and the 2002 and 2008 Electoral violence

Thanks to those who braved the cold weather to participate in this week’s ZHRO Wednesday vigil:
Roseline Mukucha (Vigil Coordinator), Sarah Bayisayi (Vigil Coordinator), Rashiwe Bayisai (Treasurer), John Burke (Trustee), Philip Mahlahla (Vigil Coordinator), Kingstone Jambawo (Vigil Coordinator), Shielah Mushunje, Ebson Chigwedere (Human Resources), Thenjiwe Ncube,  Morella Nhau, Lynette Chivizhe, Sibongile Bvungidzire, Florence Marowa, Nancy Mukurira, Namatirai Angela Sithole, Nehemiah Musonza, Nomusa Kuse, Molly Ngavaimbe, Mary Muteyerwa

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