THE Zimbabwe Defence Forces has dismantled the Cleveland Shooting Range in Harare amid allegations that some soldiers stationed there were defacing President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s campaign posters in Mabvuku, angering Zanu PF officials in the process.
The move is also in line with Mnangagwa’s strategy to ensure all military personnel are confined to the barracks, as a coup-proofing measure.
Mnangagwa has had an uneasy relationship with the military which thrust him into power after the November 2017 coup.
The defence forces were then under the command of Constantino Chiwenga, who traded his military fatigues for suits after toppling long-time ruler Robert Mugabe when he forced Mnangagwa to appoint him as his deputy.
Chiwenga and Mnangagwa had a gentleman’s agreement that the former military boss would assume the top seat after one term.
Mnangagwa has however consolidated power and purged the military commanders who played a pivotal role in the coup, among them retired Lieutenant-General Anselem Sanyatwe, who was made Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Tanzania. Sanyatwe commanded the troops on the ground during the coup.
Ahead of the elections, Mnangagwa is sidelining the army, which has also played critical roles in polls, preferring to work with the Central Intelligence Organisation instead.
A CIO-run structure, Forever Associates Zimbabwe (Faz), has taken over the running of elections, with the army playing a peripheral role. It is led by CIO deputy director-general Walter Tapfumaneyi.
Ahead of elections, army personnel on leave have been recalled to the barracks, and this has now extended to those at the Cleveland Shooting Range.
The decision was taken after reports that some soldiers were defacing Mnangagwa’s campaign posters in Mabvuku, resulting in Zanu PF officials complaining.
“The regiments stationed at Cleveland Shooting Range in Harare are being dismantled today, 28 July as soon as the Air Force competition ends,” a government official told The NewsHawks.
“Soldiers based at the range, especially from 2 Brigade in Harare, Artillery in Shamva and 3 Brigade in Mutare were alleged to have had sprees of tearing Zanu PF President EDs posters in Mabvuku. The Zanu PF Mabvuku leadership raised a complaint that the soldiers were a menace, especially at night. The order to totally demobilise the range is immediate.
All soldiers are going back to their barracks where they were also forced to register at their polling stations.”
Zimbabwe National Army spokesperson Colonel Alphios Makotore said he was yet to receive reports of the Mabvuku disturbances.
He said he was also unable to verify the reports because he was not at his workplace.
“I am yet to receive the reports and I have now left the office,” he said.
Zanu PF Harare provincial chairperson Goodwills Masimirembwa last night said he also had not received the reports.
“We have not heard that our members are not happy with soldiers. So, I would say the reports are totally false,” he said.
Intelligence sources say by pushing back against the army, Mnangagwa is not demilitarising state institutions and politics — which could be politically fatal for him and collapse his government — but manoeuvring the army back to the barracks to retain tighter control.
For Mnangagwa this became an imperative and survival tactic, especially after January 2019 when Chiwenga almost declared a state of emergency while the President was travelling in Russia and other eastern European countries.
This is contained in Mnangagwa’s biography written by his adviser Eddie Cross.
The book, A Life of Sacrifice; Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, falls short of accusing Chiwenga of plotting to stage another coup in 2019 when the nation plunged into days of political uncertainty and fear, with the political environment pregnant with military manoeuvres and teetering on the brink of another coup.
The militarisation of state institutions in Zimbabwe now extends well beyond just security agencies to other key institutions, including the judiciary, state-owned media, and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
Just as certain state institutions have become militarised, so has the ruling Zanu PF been conflated with the state.
In the aftermath of the coup, the military became the arbiter and kingmaker, again continuing to negate the electoral processes while observing minimally constitutional and normative provisions for purposes of retaining sub-regional, Southern African Development Community, and African Union continental, as well as multilateral support, including at the United Nations.
Sources say Mnangagwa’s actions are not meant to address the naked politicisation of the military amid the militarisation of Zimbabwean politics, which dates to the days of the liberation struggle, but to checkmate Chiwenga and retain power.
“Mnangagwa wants the army back to the barracks to protect himself and coup-proof his vulnerable government,” one source said. “The issue is serious because, for instance, soldiers are no longer allowed to walk around in military garb or use public transport. They have to operate within the confines of military strictures.”
An internal secret intelligence assessment by the CIO, on which The NewsHawks was briefed, shows Mnangagwa has moved to sideline the army in the elections for three main reasons.
It is a huge risk which may pay a political dividend for him, but trigger the military to fight back.
Firstly, Mnangagwa is pushing back against the army which is still heavily influenced by Chiwenga and is suspected of planning a 2008-like “bhora musango” (internal sabotage) campaign which led to Mugabe’s shock defeat by the late founding opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the first round of polling.
Secondly, he is trying to disentangle and wean himself off the army, which brought him to power through the coup, to secure his own mandate through Faz.
Sources say Mnangagwa is fed up with Chiwenga and the army’s “we put you there” mantra used to blackmail and control him.
Thirdly, having dismantled the coup coalition which brought him to power, the President wants to push the army back to the barracks and remove them from the political fray.
The intelligence briefing sheds light and insight on the matter which will persist well beyond the elections, perhaps deciding Mnangagwa’s fate even after he has perhaps won.
Since the creation of the Zimbabwean state in April 1980, the security establishment has evolved into a highly politicised institution in support of the ruling party and executive, ultimately serving as the alternative to electoral legitimacy, placing them at odds with the citizenry.
The executive-military relations in Zimbabwe are also anchored on patronage politics.
The army’s reach now extends to mining, media, the health sector and even the electoral commission, despite the constitution being against its involvement in politics, and Mnangagwa wants to cut those tentacles to retain control.