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  • Who guards the guards? Civilian-military relations in Zimbabwe
    Research and Advocacy Unit Zimbabwe
    March 15, 2010

    From the point at which the senior members of the Joint Operations Command [JOC] stated baldly that they would not recognise any President or Government that did not support ZANU PF, civilian-military relations have been in conflict in Zimbabwe. It is the sine qua non of democracy that the military shall be under civilian control at all times, even in states of emergency, and especially in times of war. The final protection for any democracy is that the military will defend the constitution and the state. When the military take sides, declare support for particular political groupings, then democracy is in deep trouble.

    This cannot be better illustrated by the situation in which the general-secretary of a trade union is summoned to explain the union's actions to the assembled members of JOC. And yet this seems not to be the common understanding of the political parties, the trade union movement, the leaders of SADC, and the international community. The single problem, expressed by the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, on his state visit to the United Kingdom, is that the problem in Zimbabwe is the restrictive conditions placed on Zimbabwean leaders (including the commanders of the security forces). According to Zuma, the problem is the external pressures on Zimbabwe, and not the internal conflicts, that prevent movement towards the restoration of democracy and good governance. This view may be seriously doubted.

    Actually, as all understand, and especially in the aftermath of the June 2008 Presidential re-run, it is the position of the security forces that is the problem in Zimbabwe. That they are partisan towards ZANU PF is beyond dispute, and this bedevils any progress towards a return to democracy. Yet such a return to civilian rule was wholly anticipated in the Global Political Agreement and the consequent constitutional amendment. Good governance, even under the very confused terms of the GPA, implies the ability of the Inclusive Government to actually govern, and this further implies the ability to control the organs of the state; all of them, and including the security forces.

    The intention of the Parties to the negotiations that followed the disastrous June 2008 Presidential re-run, that the military and the security forces be placed under full civilian control, was expressed in the GPA, codified in Constitutional Amendment 19, and finally expressed in the Zimbabwe National Security Council Act, passed by the Zimbabwe Parliament on 9 February 2009. As the Bill stated:

    • Reviewing national policies on security, defence, law and order and recommending or directing appropriate action;
    • Reviewing national, regional and international security, political and defence developments and recommending or directing appropriate action;
    • Considering and approving proposals relating to the nation's strategic security and defence requirements;
    • Receiving and considering national security reports and giving general or specific directives to the security forces;
    • Ensuring that the operations of the security forces comply with the Constitution and any other law;
    • Exercising any other function that the Cabinet may delegate to the Council;
    • Generally keeping the nation in a state of preparedness to meet any threat or security.

    It is absolutely clear that all the Parties to the GPA, and, subsequently the Zimbabwe Parliament, intended that the security forces be placed wholly under civilian control under a committee set up by law, with the security forces reporting to this committee. Therefore, there would be no independent existence of any other body, such as JOC, except with the authority of the National Security Council [ZNSC]. This was a critical development in the aftermath of the violence in 2008, and the uncontested evidence that the security forces had been involved in human rights violations since 2000.

    Prior to the violation of GAPWUZ's civic rights was the statement that the National Security Council would meet monthly, with the obvious implication that this body would direct the actions of the military. A further implication was that the military, and JOC, would no longer have any independent existence, but there were suggestions that ZANU PF would not agree to the disbanding of JOC. This, to some extent, is academic, since it is obvious that JOC would be subordinate to the National Security Council, and would equally obviously derive its authority from that body. It is furthermore completely obvious that a body such as JOC, tasked with co-ordinating the security of the nation, would derive its mandate for action from the National Security Council, and would not be given independent authority in any but the most exceptional circumstances, and even then only in full and explicit liaison with the National Security Council. For the JOC to operate in any fashion would be unlawful, and possibly tantamount to a coup under the present constitution and the laws of the country.

    It is therefore an obvious breach of all these understandings, and the Zimbabwe National Security Council Act, that the Joint Operations Command summons, under duress, a civilian organisation, no matter which organisation, and then interrogates that organisation about issues that are evidently not within JOC's mandate, and were not apparently authorised by the National Security Council. If the organisation was in breach of the laws of Zimbabwe, then the proper course of action was to charge it under the law and allow the police to take action.

    But this is not what happened. GAPWUZ was summoned before JOC and then the police took action. GAPWUZ was not charged with any offence, and the only complaint that can be understood is that JOC are offended by a film and a report produced for GAPWUZ about the members of the union's experiences of the "land reform" process. This is scarcely a matter of national security, and, furthermore, if it was, then this was a matter for the National Security Council to decide. There is no evidence to suggest that the National Security Council had any deliberations on the matter since it has not met since the President agreed that the body would meet monthly.

    Thus, this is not minor matter about the harassment of a trade union, but the most serious issue that confronts the fragile democracy to which Zimbabwe under the GPA aspires. If the security forces are not wholly under civilian control, through the constitutionally appointed body, then Zimbabwe has a parallel government, and this is destructive of the whole intent of the GPA. The problems of running the Inclusive Government do not revolve around the appointments of the Governor of the Reserve Bank, the Attorney-General, the Governors, or the restrictive conditions imposed by foreign governments. They lie wholly in the failure to return the country to a semblance of democracy, the restoration of the rule of law, and, as has been described above, the return to civilian rule. Who will guard the guards if the government cannot, and is this not the most pressing and serious issue that the stalled mediation must confront?

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