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Zimbabwe Briefing - Issue 33
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
July 06, 2011

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The military's toxic role during the 2008 elections

This week, we continue with publishing edited excerpts from a report published by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition titled The Military Factor in Zimbabwe's Political and Electoral Affairs. Below is Chapter 4 of the report. Please also see accompanying story at the bottom of the page.

Although the role of the military was covert and subdued in the lead up to the March 2008 elections, it became decisive and toxic during the presidential runoff election campaign period between April and June 27. The military had overtly taken over and had become the arbiter of Zimbabwe's fate during this period. In early June 2008 MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai noted that the country had witnessed a de facto coup d'etatand was now effectively run by a military junta.

In an attempt by the military to reverse Mugabe's defeat by Tsvangirai in the first round of presidential elections, the military effectively overthrew the electoral process and unleashed violence and intimidation on a wide scale. The military emerged at this time as the bedrock and political commissar of ZANUPF. Following a defeat at the polls by the MDC in March 2008, ZANU-PF's evaluation noted the obvious, that the party structures were virtually non-existent and lacked capacity to mount an effective campaign, hence the strategy to turn to the military for a campaign of coercion. Political scientist Eldred Masunungure noted on the runoff campaign period: "The April to June 2008 interregnum was a militarized moment. A ZANU-PF that had been de-stooled as the ruling party in Parliament was not prepared to be dislodged from State House . . . In the process, the winds of democratic change were defied, a peaceful, election centered process of transition away from authoritarianism and towards democracy was interrupted."

Between April and the June 27 runoff election, the security forces took a central role in violently campaigning for the ZANU-PF candidate, Robert Mugabe. During this period soldiers were deployed in all the ten provinces across the country with the aim to ensure that ZANU-PF wins the presidential election at all costs. A report by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum indicates organized violence and torture increased in association with the various parliamentary by-elections that took place.

However, there was an absolute increase in organized violence and torture from the middle of the year 2008 as the campaign for the presidential election gained momentum up to present day. As the violence generally increases, so does the number of cases in which members of the army are implicated as the primary perpetrators. Investigations by international human rights watchdog, Human Rights Watch (HRW), also implicated the military in widespread electoral abuses. In a report, HRW stated that the scale of military attacks exceeds anything seen previously during Zimbabwe's long history of electoral violence. Soldiers carried out scores of attacks in Harare and surrounding townships. The military takeover has meant an explosion in the level of violence in Zimbabwe. Names of top military commanders accused of masterminding the ruthless campaign to keep President Robert Mugabe in power include Air Vice Marshal Henry Muchena, Air Commodore Michael Karakadzai, Air Vice Marshal Abu Basutu, Major General Engelbert Rugeje, Retired Major General Gibson Mashingaidze and Brigadier General Douglas Nyikayaramba.

According to the HRW report, witnesses interviewed identified numerous senior military officers as being directly involved in the violence. The report further claimed that documents leaked by the disgruntled army officers named 200 of them, each assigned an area to oversee in Operation Makavhoterapapi or Operation Where Did You Put Your Vote?, a campaign to punish those who voted for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), particularly in areas perceived to be traditional ZANU-PF strongholds of Masvingo, Mashonaland, and Manicaland provinces. One victim, quoted in the report described armed soldiers going from house to house in the township of Chitungwiza searching for MDC supporters and beating them: "I did not know my assailants, but they were in army uniform and drove an army truck. They were boasting of being given a three-day assignment to 'bring hell' to the people."

Army officers have been personally involved in a number of 're-education' meetings at which local residents are forced to renounce opposition and swear allegiance to the ruling party after being beaten and tortured. The army however continues to deny any involvement in the violence and speaking on this Army deputy public relations officer, Major Alphios Makotore said:

"The Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) wishes to raise concerns over articles being published in the print and the electronic media on allegations relating to the alleged political violence, assaults, harassment and robberies perpetrated by men in army uniforms . . . the army categorically distances itself and any of its members from such activities."

The military's meddling in political and civilian affairs has been strongest in Mashonaland East, where soldiers at Joko Army Barracks have taken army drills to villages. In Manicaland province traditional chiefs were summoned to an "indoctrination workshop" where the Brigadier-General Douglas Nyikayaramba told them to support ZANU PF or be deposed from their positions.

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