An attack on a political rally by uniformed soldiers is stoking fears of a reprise of state-sponsored violence against NGOs, human rights activists and parties opposed to President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF in the lead-up to a referendum on a draft constitution and scheduled parliamentary and presidential elections in 2013.
Welshman Ncube, the leader of the smaller Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), addressed a gathering of about 1,000 people at the September 21 rally in Mutoka, in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland East Province, before the assault occurred.
Two MDC supporters, Nicholas Chitowa and Kezias Makanjera, have reportedly been missing since the attacks. Kurauone Chihwayi, the deputy spokesperson for Ncube’s MDC, said that the assault illustrated the country’s culture of political violence.
"These are early days ahead of a constitutional conference, a referendum and elections, and the soldiers are already beating up people. What this means is that Robert Mugabe is negotiating with other parties in bad faith, knowing that he will use the military against the people of Zimbabwe,” he said.
The attack bodes ill for the coming parliamentary and presidential elections, which are scheduled for 2013, though no date has yet been announced. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the larger MDC formation, and Mugabe have both called for presidential and parliamentary elections to take place in March 2013. The current session of parliament ends in June, and, according to the 2009 unity government agreement, the polls must be held by October of next year.
Zimbabwe is also scheduled to conduct a referendum on the proposed adoption of a draft constitution, which ZANU-PF has expressed reservations about as it curbs presidential powers, while opposition parties have endorsed it. No date has been set for the referendum, although Mugabe wants it held in November.
The military has been unambiguous in its support of Zanu-PF. Zimbabwe Defence Forces Chief of Staff Maj-Gen Martin Chedondo reportedly told about 3,000 soldiers of 2 Brigade earlier this year during a training exercise that they should accept no political party but Zanu-PF.
A week later, at Lt-Col Thabani Khumalo’s funeral in June, Maj-Genl Trust Mugoba, the army’s chief of staff in charge of administration, told mourners, “Society must understand that the land reform and the indigenisation programmes are part of our revolutionary history.
"As the military, we do not only believe, but act in defence of these values, and we will not respect any leader who does not respect the revolution. We will not even allow them to go into office because they do not represent the ideology we fought for. As the military establishment, we have an ideology that is represented in the mission of Zanu-PF.”
The formation of the unity government saw Zanu-PF retain control of the security apparatus, including the army, air force, police and the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), the national intelligence agency and headed by Happyton Bonyongwe. The CIO reports directly to the office of the president.
The unity government agreement - which was brokered by Southern African Development Community (SADC) after the 2008 elections erupted in violence - included proposals for security sector reform, but little headway has been made.
According to the Global Political Agreement, the bedrock of the agreement, “state organs and institutions do not belong to any political party and should be impartial in the discharge of their duties… there [shall] be inclusion in the training curriculum of members of the uniformed forces of the subjects on human rights, international humanitarian law and statute law so that there is greater understanding and full appreciation of their roles and duties in a multi-party democratic system.”
Lindiwe Zulu, international relations advisor to South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and member of the SADC team facilitating the implementation of the unity government agreement, called for “security sector realignment… It must be implemented before elections,” she said.
But Zimbabwe’s security minister Sydney Sekeramayi has rejected out of hand any reforms of the security apparatus, telling local media “[Security sector reform] is a project by the country’s enemies who want to weaken the state… This is a mere project to destabilize the country and it is not acceptable.”
Douglas Mwonzora, a spokesman for Tsvangirai’s MDC said: “The security sector reforms that we seek are aimed at the reformation of the security services that will eliminate bias, unprofessionalism and partisanship. It would entail reorientation and re-education on their constitutional obligations.”
The reforms would ensure the military is not used as “a private militia” by Zanu-PF, he said.
A March 2012 report by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa said, “[Security sector reform] is now seen as an essential measure to ensure free and fair elections in Zimbabwe. Calls for security sector reform usually arise in post-conflict situations, but in the case of Zimbabwe, they are linked to the high level of politicisation of the security institutions. The military and the police top brass support President Mugabe’s Zanu-PF.”
In previous elections, military personnel have manned voting booths.
The Centre for Community Development, a development NGO, said in a recent statement: “We urge the Southern African Development Community to effectively and decisively deal with the problem of militarisation of elections in Zimbabwe in the context of the ongoing mediation.
“The forthcoming referendum and elections must be preceded by institutional reforms, including weeding out the country's security apparatus of political activists masquerading as genuine soldiers. The forthcoming elections will not be free and fair elections if the state security agencies are not held accountable for the abuses that they continue to perpetrate against citizens.”
Civil society is also calling for the army to be confined to barracks during next year’s scheduled elections, a demand that was issued to no avail during the last polls.