The Sunday News
Richard Runyararo Mahomva
Extracted from: Memory and the National Question in Zimbabwe: A Re-Reading of Obert Mpofu, Edited by Richard R Mahomva and Tawanda Zinyama (2021).
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.
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. However, 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 p205) 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, Mpofu (2020 p212) 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 ZDF 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 Zenzo Ncube 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 Mpofu, after the retirement of General Solomon Mujuru, General Zvinavashe was instrumental in advocating for a power-sharing arrangement with the opposition. As Mpofu narrates, Zvinavashe’s 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 Robert 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.
Mpofu (2020) further argues that Zvinavashe’s endorsement of Mugabe’s 2002 election candidature was influenced by the failure of his succession campaign. His allegiance declaration to Mugabe was meant to protect his interest as his appointment was at the mercy of the ex-President.
Zvinavashe’s failure to seek a consultative transitional bargain resulted in the disgruntlement of senior cadres in the party leading to Mugabe’s increased power security. Mpofu’s account asserts that 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 Mpofu’s account, Vitalis 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 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 the Mugabe’s leadership. With Chiwenga at the helm, Mujuru’s continued proposition for Mugabe’s removal from power was robustly pacified’’ (p 215).
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 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 analysis of November 2017, 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 the 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.
Richard Runyararo Mahomva (BSc-MSU, MSc-AU and MSc-UZ) is a Political-Scientist with an avid interest in political theory, liberation memory and architecture of governance in Africa. He is also a creative literature aficionado. Feedback: [email protected]