Zimbabwe: Security Forces Deployed As Historians

Harare — Security forces are being deployed across Zimbabwe ostensibly to record accounts of the country's liberation struggle against white-minority rule, but both political parties and independent analysts view the tactic as a prelude to political violence ahead of next year's scheduled elections.

In the aftermath of the violent 2008 polls, a government of national unity was formed between President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF and two wings of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). It was decreed that both presidential and parliamentary elections would be held simultaneously between March and October 2013. But no date has yet been set for the elections, and no referendum on the adoption of a new constitution - a prerequisite for the polls - has been held.

Mugabe has been president since the country's 1980 independence from Britain, and, in accordance with the 2009 unity government agreement, ZANU-PF has retained control of all security portfolios.

Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa has told local media the Military History Research Project is an urgent issue. "People must know where this country came from and how we got our freedom. The process of capturing this vital historical information and events is a race against time, as people who have this information in their memories are dying. With the passage of time, the memories naturally fade away or get distorted with age," he said.

The ZANU-PF project involves the deployment of soldiers as well as "historians and researchers" to interview people - such as traditional leaders, chiefs, headmen and veterans of the liberation war - about pre- and post-independence military history.

The deployment of security forces comes after senior military commanders declared they would not serve under any government that was not led by ZANU-PF.

Sticker campaign

Meanwhile, ZANU-PF is embarking on a strategy to visually identify which households support the party.

ZANU-PF chairman for Masvingo Province, Lovemore Matuke, told local media, "You are supposed to have stickers at every household so that we identify you. Our real supporters should have stickers at their homes. If you do not have that sticker at your place, you will be skipped,"

Being "skipped" is thought to mean that those without the markers will be ineligible for agricultural inputs, such as the seed and fertilizer being distributed in a recently launched ZANU-PF initiative.

ZANU-PF wants to remind voters of the role played by the military in the presidential election run-off [in 2008] in which hundreds of people were butchered or maimed

But Pedzisai Ruhanya, director of Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI), an independent research organisation, told IRIN, "The two exercises [the history project and sticker campaign] are simply designed to harvest fear from the electorate. ZANU-PF wants to remind voters of the role played by the military in the presidential election run-off [in 2008] in which hundreds of people were butchered or maimed."

The 2008 poll saw ZANU-PF lose its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence and forced a second round of voting in the presidential race. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of the running to protest the political violence.

Ruhanya said insisting on stickers to show support for ZANU-PF would make those who did not comply vulnerable to political violence. "Deploying soldiers in rural areas just before elections is an excuse for intimidating voters, while the claim of conducting research is ludicrous. Are soldiers researchers? Are soldiers authors of history books? Are soldiers historians?" he said.

Spokesperson for MDC Douglas Mwonzora told IRIN, "This is not genuine research which is being conducted. It is a tactic of intimidation in which war memories are going to be revived, including the 2008 trauma in which the military campaigned for ZANU-PF. History is not written by soldiers but by scholars and historians."

War veterans

Mwonzora said, "We wait to see what they will do about marking people's houses, but the national and international community should not allow that. At this point, we will hope the statement was just a wild remark made by some crazy party official."

Major Mark Mbayiwa, a retired soldier and liberation war veteran, told IRIN there were two possible explanations for the security force deployment.

"The first reason could be that there could be a genuine desire to record the country's military history, given that it has not been properly recorded and that ZANU-PF realizes they will not be in power after elections and they feel that this is the time to correctly record history.

"The second possibility, which is most likely, is that they want to use that as an excuse to intimidate people ahead of elections. These are typical ZANU-PF [election] tactics."

Jabulani Sibanda, chairperson of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), denied his members were involved in political violence.

"What needs to be understood is that, as freedom fighters, we fought against a violent, cruel and evil system of colonialism, and as such, it would be foolish to associate us with violence. While I may support ZANU-PF, I do not tell people to beat anybody up. Why do people question my support for ZANU-PF when descendants of colonialists in Zimbabwe are being funded by western countries?"

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. ]

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