The Sunday News
Richard Runyararo Mahomva, The Pivot
The institution of the gun (military) in Zimbabwe is an organic symbol of our struggle. The gun as the facilitator of Zimbabwe’s liberation from colonialism is the embodiment of all ideas which should encourage us to stand against imperialism. As a symbol of territorial integrity preservation, the gun is the rallying point for reminiscing those we lost in the fight to be a free species from colonial wrath.
The gun interacted with our communities in the heart of the liberation struggle as our brave combatants confronted the enemy. The enemy also used the gun to frustrate the pace and effort of the anti-colonial fight. The counter-ideological motifs of the gun in Zimbabwe’s struggle for liberation now manifest in a different form. This explains the existential contrast between progressive anti-colonial nationalist aspirations which are under attack from the neoliberal foothold of regime change.
Therefore, the fight between the anti-colonial and neo-colonial gun barrels continues now in a more abstract, but complex form. As such, the military or the gun is an ideological entry point to remembering the innumerable sacrifices in the process of our full attainment of freedom. However, in some cases, we have witnessed the emergence of normative obsession to forget and repress our historical connection to the armed struggle. In the process, our society has normalised the suppression of any attempt to exalt the due and rightful place of the institution of the gun in our politics.
As we are in the heart of November, Zimbabwe must be reminded once more of the role of the gun in defining the nation’s second liberation in November 2017. It was this second liberation which gave birth to the Second-Republic. The centrality of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) in the march towards Zimbabwe’s second freedom is well articulated in Dr Obert Mpofu’s autobiography, On the Shoulders of Struggle: Memoirs of a Political Insider. Dr Mpofu’s book defies the normalcy of the anti-military rhetoric by a certain section of the academia which has adorned itself as the credible voice of reason about Zimbabwe.
This group of self-arrogated discursive authorities on Zimbabwean politics mainly made up of activists and academics believe that the military must never have a place in the running of the country’s political affairs. They are famous for their blueprint statement ‘’The military must stay in the barracks’’. This comes from the view that the military’s involvement in mainstream politics is immoral and must not be tolerated in a modern democracy. According to this school of romanticism modernity and the notion of democracy are foregrounded on the neoliberal impulse which is disengaged –and is even at war with the anti-colonial construct of our politics.
This position tilted towards dislocating the role of the military in our politics is misguidedly neo-liberal and is opposed to the very soul of our nationalist revolution. The biological nexus between the military and politics in Zimbabwe defines the revolutionary character of our statecraft, national values, identity and aspirations. Our unique history in the liberation struggle justifies the firmly tangled connection of our politics with the gun. This position is clearly articulated in Chapter 14 of On the Shoulders of Struggle: Memoirs of a Political Insider as the author prefaces the chapter with remarks Retired General Zivinavashe (quoted in Mpofu 2020 p 205) on the allegiances of the military to the nation and its liberation legacy:
“We wish to make it very clear to all Zimbabwean citizens that the security organisations will only stand in support of those political leaders that will pursue Zimbabwean values, traditions and beliefs for which thousands of lives were lost in the pursuit of Zimbabwe’s hard-won independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and national interests. To this end, let it be known that the highest office in the land is a straitjacket whose occupant is expected to observe the objectives of the liberation struggle. We will therefore not accept, let alone support or salute, anyone with a different agenda that threatens the very existence of our sovereignty.”
It was in this spirit of allegiance to the perennial legacy of the struggle that the crossover from the reigns of the late African icon Robert Gabriel Mugabe into the New Dispensation was ushered by the military. The role of the ordinary citizen cannot be ignored considering that this was a civil and military brokered process. To this end, Dr Mpofu (2020 p 212) states that this revealed the complementary facet of the gun with popular interest embodied in politics:
“The omnipresence of the military in Zimbabwean politics nullifies the narrow dictum of “politics leading the gun.” The fraternal relationship between “politics and the gun” was symbolically expressed through the land reform which was initiated by war-veterans towards the new millennium. The resurgence of the economic decolonisation agenda led by war-veterans corrected a long-neglected injustice. With the politically negotiated terms of power, political independence was born, but it took a further militant step for economic equality to be realised. The war-veterans rescinded post-colonial policy compromises and defied the bureaucratic orders which secured interests of White monopoly capital.”
From the above submission, the interchanging role of the institution of the gun is fluid and is not narrowed conservative parameters. This is evidenced by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces and the war-veterans’ continued shared role in defining the course of Zimbabwe’s post-colonial ideological reconstruction. The war-veterans are not only active in the agrarian reform, they are also seen taking a central role in ushering the transition into the post-Mugabe era. To this end, characters such as Ambassador Christopher Mutsvangwa, Douglas Mahiya, Victor Matemadanda, Tshinga Dube and Headman Moyo come to mind.
Their contribution as liberation stalwarts in challenging the late former President Robert Mugabe to resolve the succession question substantiates the pivotal stake of the institution of the gun in setting the pace for the birth of a new political order in Zimbabwe as highlighted in Mpofu’s autobiography.
Beyond the events of November 2017 which culminated in the transitional order of Operation Restore Legacy, On the Shoulders of Struggle: Memoirs of a Political Insider hits the memory nerve by taking the reader back to the role of ZDF commanders in mapping the succession issue. According to Dr Mpofu, after the retirement of General Solomon Mujuru, General Zvinavashe was instrumental in advocating for a power takeover which would compromise the survival of the revolutionary party who eyed a power sharing deal with the opposition.
As a result, his call for the late former President to retire was dismissed as ZANU PF was not ready to take up a pact arrangement with the opposition. Around the time he initiated his succession campaign national tempers were still high considering that the land reform was at its peak and Cde Mugabe was the face of that revolution. Therefore, any attempt to push him to the terraces at the time was tantamount to fighting the path of remarrying the land with its people as initiated by the founder of the Third Chimurenga, -the late President Robert Mugabe. Dr Mpofu (2020) further argues that Rtd General Zvinavashe’s endorsement of Cde Mugabe’s 2002 election candidature was influenced by the failure of his succession campaign.
His allegiance declaration to Cde Mugabe was meant to protect his interest as his appointment was at the mercy of the ex-President. Rtd General Zivinavashe’s failure to seek a consultative transitional bargain resulted in the disgruntlement of senior cadres in the party leading to Cde Mugabe’s increased power security. Zvinavashe’s agenda also suffered sabotage from his predecessor who still had strong political influence and continued to infiltrate every sphere of power to position his interests.
In Dr Mpofu’s account, Rtd General Zvinavashe was replaced by the current Vice President of Dr Constantine Chiwenga. The author observes that Retired General Chiwenga’s allegiance to the late former President was unequivocal. Mpofu (2020) posits that Dr Chiwenga’s elevation as the ZDF commander deactivated the failed military-driven transitional course which was initiated by Retired Generals Mujuru and Zvinavashe. To this end, the author reflects: ‘’Chiwenga’s tenure in the ZDF was characterised by the enhanced military-backed confidence in Cde Mugabe’s leadership. With Dr Chiwenga at the helm, Rtd General Mujuru’s continued proposition for Cde Mugabe’s removal from power was robustly pacified’’ (p 215).
Dr Mpofu’s historical trace of the military’s political role reflects the magnitude of the moral obligation of the ‘‘gun’’ in ascertaining the direction of power continuities and discontinuities in Zimbabwe. The events of November 2017 as observed in Dr Mpofu’s account suggest the significance of the military in leading the path of influencing political change. This contests the neoliberal misrepresentation of the organic function of the military in Zimbabwean politics. Instead, Mpofu’s autobiography situates the military at the centre of Zimbabwe’s democracy which was born out of the principles of the armed struggle.
As one reads On the Shoulders of Struggle: Memoirs of a Political Insider, a rethinking of the role of the military is Zimbabwe is facilitated. Outside the neoliberal generic and the analysis of November 2017, Dr Mpofu introduces an alternative perspective which articulates the importance of Operation Restore Legacy. Mpofu argues that ZANU PF and the entire currency of democracy in Zimbabwe needed cleansing from the ‘’one centre of power’’ syndrome which manifested during Cde Mugabe era under the then ZANU PF G40 faction.
As a template of reasserting principles of the armed struggle, Operation Restore Legacy remains key in reminding politicians that they have a mandate to align their objectives of service to the founding values of the liberation struggle.