Embattled Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, who faces a possible revolt at his party’s next congress, says the armed forces should act professionally, be non-partisan and serve the interests of all Zimbabweans amid reports some could have been deployed to rural areas ahead of pending elections next year.
Mutambara warned soldiers not to be used as spent forces by politicians who view them as cannon fodder.
The DPM was responding to an inquiry by Chipinge East Member of Parliament Mathias Mlambo on why the government had deployed soldiers in different parts of the country including in his constituency.
Mlambo asked him during a question and answer session in Parliament as to whether it was government policy to deploy soldiers to harass villagers.
The MP alleged soldiers were camped at a place called Green Valley in Chipinge East harassing and beating them up villagers on spurious grounds.
Mutambara responded saying soldiers should not be used to serve the interests of political parties, but of all Zimbabweans.
“The government of Zimbabwe has a policy that believes in a professional armed force in the country,” said Mutambara. “Our soldiers are supposed to be non-partisan and defend the Zimbabwean national interest.”
Mutambara said as a matter of policy the government did not believe in deploying soldiers or any of the armed forces to pursue partisan aspirations.
“We want to make sure that in Zimbabwe our police force, intelligence officers and army are defending the Zimbabwean national interest and do not pursue partisan aspirations,” he said.
In an interview with NewsDay, Mlambo said most villagers in Chipinge were living in constant fear after soldiers were deployed in 2009 at Dazey Hill and were allegedly harassing them.
An MDC-T activist, Garakadzai Mhlanga, told NewsDay in a telephone interview from Chipinge East that their area had become a no-go area as gun-toting soldiers were moving around and beating up people.
He alleged two months ago a 36-year-old man, Solomon Mazvokwati, was taken by Zanu PF youths with the help of four soldiers and assaulted.
Zanu PF has since refuted the allegations saying they were mere fabrications of regime change agenda stalwarts.
“They are moving around the villages with guns,” said Mhlanga. “In the evening they then go back to their camp.”
Mlambo confirmed the assaults and said he suspected that the terror campaign was aimed at discouraging villagers from voting for the MDC-T as the country geared up for elections. He said a young man, Thomas Sithole, had his national identity card taken away from him by the soldiers.
Another MDC-T activist in Chipinge, Misheck Mazanga, went into hiding after Zanu PF activists and soldiers threatened him with death for contributing immensely during constitution-making outreach meetings.
“These soldiers came to Dazey Hill in 2009. All these cases have been reported to the local police but they just die a natural death,” said Mlambo.
He said he was disappointed when Minister of Defence Emmerson Mnangagwa defended the position in Parliament and said the deployment of soldiers around the country was normal and only increased visibility of the defence forces.
MPs recently quizzed Mnangagwa in Parliament over allegations that army majors and soldiers were being used to further Zanu PF agendas in preparation for the forthcoming elections.
Mnangagwa, however, denied the allegations and said soldiers like any citizen in the country were allowed to be in any part of the country and that their deployment everywhere increased visibility of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF).
He said this was desirable for any organisation.
“The resounding and successful recruitment policy of the ZDF focuses on achieving regional balanced representation with the armed forces. Through this policy there is equitable distribution of serving members throughout the country’s districts,” said Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa said it was their visibility throughout the country that led to unfounded allegations that their deployment was political.