WHILe President Robert Mugabe has been preaching the gospel of peace and violence-free elections, the military has ratcheted up its pro-Zanu PF campaign by increasingly deploying in the country's villages to scale up the party's poll campaign under the guise of a recycled exercise codenamed "Operation Maguta".
The ad hoc Operation Maguta was previously introduced in 2007 purportedly as part of government efforts to boost agricultural production, but it flopped dismally, producing less than a quarter of projected output. The army's role in the programme has always raised eyebrows amid allegations of campaigning for Zanu PF.
Mugabe told thousands of mourners at the Heroes' Acre on Monday that the best tribute to the late Vice-President John Nkomo would be a smooth and peaceful election.
"Peace, unity and harmony should prevail in the country if we desire to move forward," he said.
Mugabe, who in the past used such platforms to attack his opponents, sounded conciliatory and urged Zimbabweans to bury "petty personal differences" over politics. Sources in the Midlands said as Mugabe was speaking at Heroes' Acre, soldiers deployed at Mataga Growth Point in Mberengwa in December 2012 were harassing villagers in the area for failing to produce national identification documents and for allegedly backing Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC-T.
The soldiers are alleged to have imposed unofficial curfews and are carrying out late-night visits to suspected MDC-T activists' homes as intimidation intensified in the district. Sources said the soldiers have also been holding several meetings with four Mberengwa chiefs, Mataga, Mataruse, Chingoma and Mahlebadza, urging them to ensure their subjects "vote wisely" in the next elections. The opposition and sections of the international community remain sceptical of Mugabe's peace pronouncements given violence has been his party Zanu PF's trump card in previous elections.
Mugabe's peace rhetoric comes at a time fiery war veterans' leader Jabulani Sibanda has warned MDC supporters any attempts to disrupt Zanu PF meetings, at many of which people are coerced to attend, would "breed counter-violence that may turn out to be seven times harder".
Chief Mataga yesterday confirmed to the Independent he had met with the soldiers but declined to disclose details of their meetings.
"We have them (soldiers) in the area and we have met them on several occasions," said Mataga. "All we know is that they are on a Maguta programme," Mataga said.
National Healing, Integration and Reconciliation co-minister Sekai Holland said she had also received reports of military involvement in Mberengwa.
"We have heard of such reports for weeks now and as a national healing organ, we are arranging a meeting with the people and traditional leaders so that the political field is violence-free," said Holland.
Military deployment in communities has been a source of constant fear for villagers, who dread a repeat of the June 27, 2008.
Last year the Independent revealed the presence of soldiers in Nyanga villages where they reportedly held meetings with local chiefs to prop up Zanu PF.
Soldiers were also deployed in Masvingo province and summoned local chiefs to meetings whose details remain unclear.
The Joint Operations Command, which brings together the army, police and intelligence chiefs, has played a strong commissariat role for Zanu PF in elections, and army sources said Operation Maguta was being revived to justify the presence of soldiers in many rural communities.
However, Zimbabwe National Army director of public relations Lieutenant-Colonel Alphios Makotore refused to comment on the matter, asking this paper to put its questions in writing.
"We can only respond to written questions if you submit your hard copy to KG 6 (army headquarters)," Makotore said.
Political analysts say Mugabe has a long history of misleading Zimbabweans on a variety of electoral issues by "indicating left when actually turning right" as long as it ensures he retains power.
Charles Mangongera said Mugabe is a good performer on stage because what he usually says on public platforms is often the exact opposite of what would be happening on the ground. "Mugabe is an excellent performer and that has always been his modus operandi," said Mangongera. "He is a ruthless schemer who thrives on double standards. He has thrived on violence. He might appear to be castigating it (violence), but the reality is that he has used violence to hold on to his post," he said.
There are growing fears the situation could deteriorate and spread from rural to urban areas as elections fast approach.
The coalition government has repeatedly failed to agree on security sector reforms to restore professionalism, independence and impartiality within the armed forces.
All attempts to reform the military or the broader security sector have been met with fierce resistance from Zanu PF which vowed at its congress in December 2009 that security sector reforms would never be allowed in Zimbabwe.