HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsThe Ghost of Mao-Tse Tung and military ethnocracy in Zim

The Ghost of Mao-Tse Tung and military ethnocracy in Zim


One of the causes of post-colonial socio-economic and political crisis is that of the reign of people who control the means of violence and destruction rather than, those who control the means of production and intellectualism.

Zimbabwe has recently undergone a complex process of embourgeoisement of the top commanders of the security forces via amassing huge tracts of land, deployment to top echelons of companies and parastatals as well as looting of diamonds in the Marange Diamonds Fields.

This process took place concurrently with heightened militarisation of state structures in particular and practice of politics in general.

This reality has created what one might call a “silent military coup” within which civilian politicians found themselves hostage to the securocrats.

The implications of this development for politics and governance in Zimbabwe are far-reaching.

The immediate implication is that the military cannot be ignored in any political bargain in Zimbabwe.

Security sector reform must top the agenda of any meeting and initiative aimed at resolving the “Zimbabwe Crisis.” This short piece seeks to respond to two pertinent questions: When and how did the military displace politicians? How can this problem be solved?

One historical reality about the Southern African region is that it has not been terribly affected by the post-colonial problem of military regimes born out of violent military coups d’état.

But other regions of West Africa, East Africa, North Africa, and Central Africa paid a huge price at the hands of military strongmen, mainly in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Nigeria and Ghana topped the list in terms of experience of military regimes.

Those who want to know what a military regime can do to a country and a people must check the record of Idi Amin Dada in Uganda and Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, then they will take any threat by the military on the civilian forms of governance seriously.

Those who decided to keep quiet when Zimbabwean military generals made a direct attack on civil politics in 2002 do not know the monster they are nurturing.

Those with shallow minds within the then ruling Zanu PF thought the threat was aimed at the then opposition MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai.

The reality is that the threat was aimed at any civil form of government. Is President Robert Mugabe not today hostage to the same generals?

Is the transitional politics not hostage to the hidden JOC?

Was it not the same generals who masterminded the post-March 29 2008 violence? Should we blame the military or those who politicised, instrumentalised, and militiarised it?

What compounds the “Zimbabwe Crisis” is the emergence of what Ali Mazrui termed “lumpen-militariat.”

This is a class of semi-organised, rugged, and semi-literate “soldiery” with a claim to political power and influence in what would otherwise have become a modern meritocratic society dominated by those with modern secular education and technocrats.

Here, I am referring to war veterans, “green bombers”, Zanu PF youth league, and lower ranks of the CIO.

These quasi-military structures who sometimes don military fatigue have contributed to further soiling and spoiling of the name of the regular members of the security forces.

How did Zimbabwe come to be where it is with its military forces? What are the roots of “warrior tradition” to borrow Mazrui’s term?

Is it not rooted in a combination of pre-colonial regimentalism; colonial militarism and conquest; and nationalist liberation war’s embracement of violence as a legitimate tool of resolving political differences?

I can’t do justice to all.

But I must say that nationalist liberation struggles of the 1960s and 1970s were a terrain of militarism and violence.

What had emerged as mass nationalist organisations in the mould of ANC, NDP, Zapu and Zanu, were by the 1970s undergoing serious militarisation justified as necessary to defeat an equally militaristic and violent Rhodesian settler state.

Zapu and Zanu competed in terms of which party was more active militarywise than the other.

The imbibing and adoption of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist philosophies of revolution did not help matters.

Maoism in particular had a strange conception of power as coming from the barrel of the gun.

It was this Maoist thought that led Mugabe to link votes and guns in his practice of politics with devastating consequences for democratic governance and human security.

Worse still, the exigencies of fighting an armed guerilla liberation war conflated militarism and politics.

A guerilla had to be a soldier and a politician at the same time.

A guerilla had to engage armed enemies militarily while at the same time mobilising the masses to the cause of the war.

This was particularly true of Zanla forces with their indoctrination in Maoism.

Zipra operated in quasi-conventional style. They tended to leave politics to Zapu politicians and concentrated in engaging the enemy militarily.

But why have our military become a problem? Who constitute this military?

The conventional view is that our military forces emerged from a merge of three outfits: Zanla, Zipra and Rhodesian forces.

This is only true to a very minor extent. A bulk of Zipra forces were intimidated, painted as dissident, hunted and forced to demobilise from the national army.

Rhodesian forces also demobilised and retired in large numbers.

This means that the core of the army became constituted by Zanla elements with very clear ethnic bias leading me to write of a “military ethnocracy”.

Of course, since 1986, recruitment continued beginning with the Sixth Brigade that incorporated elements from other ethnic groups.

Those who were recruited after independence have to serve under those with liberation war credentials that constitute the top brass of the security forces.

So our army also suffers from a generational problem.

Dr Sabelo J. Ndlovu-
Gatsheni is a concerned African scholar and writes from Johannesburg in South Africa.

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