ZIMBABWEAN Finance Minister Tendai Biti was forced to hold a rally in a clearing in the bush earlier this month after being driven out of the chosen venue, a stadium near President Robert Mugabe’s home area, by busloads of Zanu (PF)-aligned youths and soldiers. About a dozen people from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were beaten as the crowd drove MDC supporters into the bush, setting the grass on fire as they went.
This is just one of a number of attacks on political parties and their supporters by Zanu (PF) in a rising tide of violence in Zimbabwe. Election talk is in the air with the completion of the draft of a new constitution and a directive by the courts for by-elections to be held in 38 vacant parliamentary seats by the end of August — an election that might change the balance of power in the legislature.
Biti, a top MDC-T official, has never been Zanu (PF)’s favourite person. Not only does he control the purse strings in the unity government, but he has also been making a lot of noise about the diamond-mining companies’ failure to direct the required revenue to the national fiscus. In his recent midterm budget, Biti cut the budget by 15% and reduced projected economic growth from 9,4% to 5,6%.
Zanu (PF) moved quickly to establish itself in the diamond industry, seeing a new patronage opportunity.
The companies operating in the rich diamond fields of Chiadzwa have strong links to “securocrats” — serving and retired military officials who have worked their way into key political and business positions in Zimbabwe. The mining companies in the area are under scrutiny by the MDC and international nongovernmental organisations because of concern that Zanu (PF) is using profits to fund its own agenda. Anjin Investments, for example, is a consortium of Chinese and Zimbabwe military interests, while Mugabe’s wife, Grace, is said to be a shareholder in Mbada Diamonds. This is chaired by close Mugabe associate Robert Mhlanga, who made the headlines in South Africa a few weeks ago over his extensive property interests here.
State-owned Marange Resources is chaired by retired colonel Tshinga Dube, a top party official and former head of an arms firm controlled by the defence ministry.
The securocrats are also running parastatals and hold other key economic and political posts. They have been pivotal in keeping the party — and the president — in power.
Civil society organisations have claimed that thousands of youth militia, war veterans and army commanders have been recently deployed across the country to revive the party’s structures in anticipation of another, probably violent, election campaign. Top military officers have abandoned the pretence of being impartial and have openly declared their allegiance to Mugabe. Earlier this month, army chief Maj-Gen Martin Chedondo told soldiers that Zanu (PF) was the only party that had the country’s interests at heart.
The threat of a military backlash in the event of an MDC presidential victory is not idle. It was, after all, the wave of violence unleashed against the MDC after the president lost the first round of votes in 2008 that led Tsvangirai to pull out of the race, allowing Mugabe to win the poll unopposed.
Reform of the security sector is a key part of the roadmap to free and fair elections being facilitated by South Africa. The draft of the new constitution provides for the military to become more politically neutral. But it will be difficult to turn around the culture of impunity that has invaded a large part of the security forces over a decade. As one Zimbabwean analyst said recently, the army, air force, police and the intelligence agency have failed to provide security, have actively preyed upon the population and have become synonymous with human rights violations.
The MDC-T is confident a new political climate in Zimbabwe will see the security forces and their bosses back in barracks and under civilian control. But the securocrats are deeply entrenched in power and in feeding from the trough of patronage. They are unlikely to give up easily — they have nowhere to go.