PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa brazenly violated the constitution when he appointed Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Philip Valerio Sibanda an ex-officio member of the Zanu PF politburo at the end of the Zanu PF annual conference in Gweru on Saturday.
The constitution, in sections 208 and 211, forbids members of the security services from participating in political party activities or holding office in parties.
By being appointed an ex-officio member of the politburo, General Sibanda can attend Zanu PF politburo meetings and take part in discussions.
This means he is now an active member of the party, who is expected to be furthering the interests of the party.
The constitution, the supreme law of the country, requires security forces to be professional and non-partisan, all the time.
Section 208 of the constitution expressly bars the security services — listed in section 207 as defence forces, police service, intelligence services and prisons and correctional services — from acting in a partisan manner.
Specifically, section 208 (2) says: “Neither the security services nor any of their members may in the exercise of their duties of functions — a) act in a partisan manner; b) further the interest of any political party or cause.”
Section 208(3) further reads: “Members of the security services must not be active members or office bearers of any political party or organisation.”
The requirement for members of the security forces to be non-partisan is further emphasised in section 211 of the constitution.
It reads: “The Defence Forces must respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons and be non-partisan, national in character, patriotic, professional and subordinate to the civilian authority as established by this constitution.”
Sibanda’s appointment runs against the letter and spirit of the constitution.
Announcing Sibanda’s surprise appointment at the Zanu PF annual conference in Gweru, Mnangagwa said: “The amended 2023 Party Constitution gives impetus, urgency and renewed focus to the socio-economic and political realities of our country towards lifting many out of poverty and into prosperity.
“During the course of the year, we lost one of our Party stalwarts, Cde Joshua Teke Malinga who was the Secretary for People with Disabilities.
“To fill the vacancy, I am appointing, Cde Rose Mpofu of Matabeleland South Province as a Politburo Member and the new Secretary for People with Disabilities. Additionally, ‘Cde Gwenzi’, General, Phillip Valerio Sibanda, as an Ex Officio Member of the Politburo.”
Sibanda is popularly known as Cde Gwenzi among former Zipra cadres.
Zimbabwe’s security forces have often come under criticism for their partisan involvement in politics, while furthering the interests of Zanu PF and its leaders.
The military, for example, has often coordinated Zanu PF campaigns except in 2023, when the Central Intelligence Organisation, through Forever Associates Zimbabwe (Faz), played a leading role.
The army was the deciding factor in former president Robert Mugabe’s succession battles, when it sided with Mnangagwa and instituted a coup to remove the veteran leader.
In 2008, the army took over the Zanu PF campaign to rescue Mugabe who had lost the first round of elections to former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
The police have also been under scrutiny over the years for brutalising opposition supporters.