Controversy as general joins Zanu PF politburo

Mnangagwa announced the appointment of the army chief during the ruling party’s annual conference in Gweru and the development was immediately condemned as a violation of the constitution.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been accused of violating the constitution after he appointed Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander Valerio Sibanda into Zanu PF’s supreme decision making body, the politburo.

Mnangagwa announced the appointment of the army chief during the ruling party’s annual conference in Gweru and the development was immediately condemned as a violation of the constitution.

Under the constitution, members of the security forces including the army must stay away from civilian politics.

“The appointment is totally wrong and offends the constitution,” said MDC leader and lawyer, Douglas Mwonzora.

“The constitution makes it very clear that no serving member of the security force may become a member of a political party.

“The constitution says the army must at all times maintain political neutrality, and hence this appointment amounts to serious abrogation of the constitution.

“It offends the constitution, especially on the provisions of the security forces under Chapter 11.”

The constitution says: “The Defence Forces must respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons and be non-partisan, national in character, patriotic, professional and subordinate to the civilian authority as established by this constitution."

The military has been unambiguous in its support of Zanu PF.

In 2017, the army intervened in Zanu PF’s factional fights to coordinate the removal of the late president Robert Mugabe in a coup.

The opposition has been pushing for security sector reforms to ensure that soldiers stay  in the barracks, but there has been little headway.

Zanu PF has been resisting such calls with former minister Jonathan Moyo saying the ‘party cannot reform itself out of power’.

In previous elections, military personnel manned voting booths and led Zanu PF campaigns.

Lawyer Dumisan Dube said Sibanda’s appointment was ethically wrong.

“It may be a question of him and the party consolidating its power,” Dube said.

“Politically, Mnangagwa has wide powers to appoint anyone he wants to the politburo. However, on the other side of the coin, other actors may have different opinions citing the need to reduce the role of the army in civilian politics.

“Ethically, it is wrong...he is following the Chinese communist model.”

Another lawyer commenting on condition of anonymity said: “It’s legally untenable and unconstitutional for Sibanda to be both ZDF commander and political party functionary. He must relinquish one of the two positions.

“The appointment is just another sign of a developing pattern of a complete disregard of the constitution and it’s not at all sursprising….”

In the 2018 general polls, the military, through the shadowy Heritage Trust, campaigned for Mnangagwa and allegedly rigged the elections in his favour.

The army subsequently shot protesters on August 1, 2018, killing six people.

South Africa’s opposition Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema last week described Zanu PF as a “criminal syndicate” that uses the army and police to hang on to power.

“If you go to Zimbabwe, Zanu PF is not a popular party, it’s a criminal syndicate that steals elections, uses the army and the police to intimidate people,” Malema charged.

“The history of the liberation movement on the continent is such that after 30 years, it becomes self-destructive, it becomes a snake that bites and eats itself, so whether the EFF is there or not, the ANC is going to die a natural death, the same thing as Zanu PF.”

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