Zimbabwe military vows neutrality ahead of polls, scorns media for “falsehood”

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Staff Reporter

THE Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) has moved to dismiss continued opposition claims it has deployed personnel in the country’s rural areas to prop up Zanu PF’s campaign ahead of the crunch July 30 harmonised elections.

At a media briefing at Defence House, Harare Wednesday, ZDF director of public relations, Colonel Overson Mugwisi (pictured) also scorned the media for allegedly peddling “falsehoods” over the contentious issue.

“Falsehoods that have been reported include allegations of ZDF deployments in rural areas to intimidate villagers so that they support a certain political party to enhance the party’s chances of winning in the 2018 harmonised elections,” he said.

Mugwisi said the military was constitutionally mandated to assist the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) in its operations if the need arose.

These, he said, included aiding the under-fire election management body with transport where necessary.

Zimbabwe’s military stands accused of meddling in national politics with some of its senior officials openly pledging allegiance to the ruling Zanu PF party while declaring they will not countenance any rule by a presidential winner with no liberation war credentials.

During the run up to the 2008 presidential election re-run, the army was accused of visiting violence against perceived opposition MDC supporters mainly in rural Mashonaland areas.

The opposition MDC-T claims more than 200 of its supporters were killed in the two-month violence orgy while thousands more were forced to flee their homes to seek refuge among friends and relatives elsewhere.

In a surprise change of tone, the ZDF spokesperson said any members of the military who were participating in political campaigns were doing so without the blessings of their employer.

“To begin with, members of the public should be made aware that the Zimbabwe Defence Forces has no direct role in the upcoming harmonised elections…if some serving members are participating in the ongoing political campaigns, they will be doing so illegally and not as a result of an instruction from their commanders,” he said.

Mugwisi said disciplinary action would be instituted against any army officer found flouting the rules.

He however said members of the military had a constitutional right to vote for any political party of their choice in national elections.

“The only restriction on their participation in politics is holding of political party office while they are still serving.

“As for retired members, they are not excluded from active participation in national politics,” he said, citing sections of the national constitution to buttress his comments.

Mugwisi said the military had deployments on various command projects, border control operations in support of the ZRP and in some National Parks in support of Parks Rangers, adding these should not be misconstrued as political deployments.

He also refuted claims the military was using the postal ballots to rig the elections in favour of Zanu PF, saying only members who would be committed elsewhere outside their barracks and homes would be allowed to vote through the postal ballot to avoid violating their right to vote on “account of exigencies of military commitments”.

“Members who would be afforded the postal ballot include troops on training commitments at the All Arms Battle School in Nyanga, Regular Officers Cadets training at the Zimbabwe Military Academy in Gweru, members proceeding to the Russian Military Games and some who are deployed on border control operations,” he said.

Since his shock ouster of President Robert Mugabe with the aid of the military in November last year, incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa is keen to portray a strong departure from his predecessor’s sabre-rattling tendencies.

Mugabe was often accused of abusing the military to protect his lengthy rule.