HARARE – Opposition parties have been warned against taking Zanu PF for granted in the forthcoming general elections after it roped in the military elements within its ranks, hence making it stronger than ever before.
Serving and retired members of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) were among the most notable winners at an extraordinary congress convened by Zanu PF in the capital in December last year as they emerged with influential party posts.
Retired general Constantino Chiwenga, who commandeered the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) during the intervention code-named “Operation Restore Legacy” is now the vice president and Defence minister.
ZNA top officer, retired lieutenant general Engelbert Rugeje landed the influential position of Zanu PF national political commissar while new Cabinet ministers, former Air Force of Zimbabwe commander Perrance Shiri and former ZNA chief of staff Subisiso Busi Moyo were roped in as committee members in the politburo.
The development caused consternation within the opposition ranks amid fears that the soldiers will not allow a smooth transfer of power should President Emmerson Mnangagwa lose this year’s elections.
But political analyst Macdonald Lewanika told the Daily News on Sunday this week that the heavy overt infiltration of serving and army infiltration of Zanu PF structures is only “a cause for concern on the surface” because it is not new.
“The Zanu PF commissariat has always been staffed and managed by large amounts of military personnel so the fear rather than being on transfer of power which the Zanu PF commissariat cannot stop, should be on the formidable organisational, logistical and strategic skills that these people are bringing to the party bearing in mind that the people who have been appointed have always been soldiers and politicians,” Lewanika said.
Lewanika said it was highly unlikely that soldiers who have now joined politics would influence transfer of power ostensibly because “their deployment to clear roles in Zanu should be viewed as a good thing in the hope that those who have stayed are less politically involved in civilian matters and are more professional.
“For campaigning, the tactics that these former army men will bring to bear maybe concerning given previous experiences around military-led tactics from 2008 which saw the deployment of ‘boys on leave’ and a violent campaign,” he said.
Lewanika, however, said given the overt involvement of the army it may also mean that interested stakeholders will be on the lookout for violence and intimidation more now than in the past.
“Zimbabwean electoral stakeholders do need to be worried but not just about violence but about the military precision regarding strategy and tactics that are now part of Zanu PF’s campaign kitty.”
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme concurred that Zanu PF will no longer be the same with the military element calling the shots.
He warned that the coming in of the military in politics signalled the end of opposition politics in the country.
“There is no way the war vets and military who are the major sponsors of this change would accept anyone to lead who is not Mnangagwa, Chiwenga or Joice Mujuru. Forget Morgan Tsvangirai.
“Some political careers are ending while a lot of opposition opportunistic career politicians will be crossing floor to join a realigned Zanu PF,” he said.
Only last week some opposition officials such as Marian Chombo who had joined former vice president Joice Mujuru’s National People’s Party (NPP) traced their footsteps back to the ruling party.
The country’s service chiefs have previously described the presidency of the republic as a “straight jacket” that can only fit on someone with liberation war credentials.
This notion saw them deny opposition MDC leader Tsvangirai victory in 2008 when he defeated former president Robert Mugabe.
The MDC claims that it was the army that unleashed a wave of violence across the country on MDC supporters ahead of a presidential runoff that ensued.
Rugeje, a veteran of the 1970s liberation war, is widely known for his abrasive political approach in his home province of Masvingo.
He replaced self-exiled former office bearer Saviour Kasukuwere, who was sacked along with Mugabe.