THE deployment of soldiers to ZANU-PF "political hotspots" across the country has drawn widespread criticism from analysts and civic groups who say military personnel should be apolitical.
This comes amid worsening tensions within ZANU-PF as factional fighting increases in the wake of District Coordinating Committee (DDC) elections the party is holding across the country.
Reports indicate that the two main factions at the centre of the internal squabbles, one led by Defence Minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and another led by Vice President Joice Mujuru, are jostling to position themselves ahead of general elections expected by next year.
Mnangagwa's faction had swept most DCC seats in elections held in the Midlands province last month, prompting protests from the Mujuru faction who complained of imposition of candidates.
The scenario was replicated in Manicaland where elections were nullified in Makoni district after the party's secretary for administration, Didymus Mutasa, was accused of imposing candidates.
ZANU-PF's Manicaland provincial executive has also been accused of trying to impose candidates in Mutare and Zimunya-Marange. Party supporters in Manicaland and Masvingo provinces staged demonstrations last week in protest against the imposition of candidates in their areas.
Such factional fighting has resulted in the deployment of troops to monitor the DCC elections, raising concerns within ZANU-PF ranks that the soldiers are causing confusion, worsening the crisis.
But critics see a much bigger problem than just party politics. They say soldiers should remain apolitical and their involvement in ZANU-PF internal politics does not augur well for the country.
Moreso, security chiefs have previously vowed that they will not salute any presidential election winner with no liberation war credentials, an apparent reference to Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T)'s Morgan Tsvangirai.
The MDC-T accuses service chiefs of interfering with electoral processes and, in particular, of playing a key role in President Robert Mugabe's retention of power even after losing the first round of polling in 2008 before winning the presidential election run-off after the MDC-T leader pulled out of the race citing widespread violence against his supporters.
Dabbling in ZANU-PF internal politics is therefore seen as a betrayal of the military's political leanings at a time when the country is inching towards elections.
"While military involvement in politics in this country is not anything new, it is likely that if ZANU-PF does not win the coming elections, we will see the army taking over. The threat is real," says political commentator, Blessing Vava.
Vava says the military was involved in the 2008 election, especially in the rural areas where it acted as an agent of the liberation war party. In the run up to the 2008 elections and the presidential run-off thereafter, ZANU-PF was accused of deploying soldiers to intimidate and force people into voting for it.
So, the use of the army in the DCC elections by the party's bigwigs is now seen as an extension of a long standing tradition.
But now it has drawn the ire of members within ZANU-PF as they stand to lose out big come the primary elections leading up to the general plebiscite.
So revelations that ZANU-PF Central Committee member, Victor Matemadanda has appealed to Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander, Constantine Chiw-enga, to remove soldiers in the Midlands province who are meddling in ZANU-PF politics, have been seen mainly as a non event.
In a letter addressed to Chiwenga, Matemadanda complained about the deployment of several senior army and Air Force of Zimbabwe officers in Midlands province, particularly in Gokwe.
Matemadanda wrote that the army officers were engaged in factional politics despite concerted efforts by him and other members of ZANU-PF for them to refrain from such activities which have "brewed a harbinger of discord, minefield of cracks and serious discontent within the rank and file ahead of any forthcoming internal assignments".
Matemadanda, a known loyalist of the faction led by Mnangagwa, called for the removal of the soldiers before they caused further chaos.
In Mashonaland West, John Mafa, who is ZANU-PF's provincial chairperson, confirmed that there were reports of soldiers being deployed in the area.
Mafa said complaints have been raised saying that the soldiers recently assaulted residents in Magunje and Norton.
"There are cases of violence involving soldiers," he said.
But Australian ambassador, Matthew Neuhaus does not think that Zimbabwean soldiers would ultimately interfere in the case of an outright win for Tsvangirai at the polls.
"There has not been a coup in this part of Africa and there certainly is no reason for us to think this will happen. The military in southern Africa has really been professional. If the people elect Morgan Tsvangirai, I hope Zimbabwe's army will say we will work to serve the country," said ambassador Neuhaus in an interview with The Financial Gazette last week.
Political analysts say that the security sector reform is a pre-requisite for conducting free and fair elections.
In a report entitled, The Anatomy of Political Predation -- Leaders, Elites and Coalitions, Eldred Masunugure writes that the military has a historical trend to dabble in Zimbabwe's politics in order to rescue ZANU-PF during its times of crisis.
He cites the military's involvement during Zimbabwe's crisis points in the 1980s, 2000 and in the disputed 2008 presidential elections.