The message to the Zimbabwe Defence Force must now be – thank you for cleaning up the mess you created but you must now return to your barracks as soon as possible and never again get involved in the electoral process.
As I have reflected about the amazing scenes across Zimbabwe on Saturday when people turned out in their hundreds of thousands I am left with much disquiet. I marched yesterday to celebrate the end of Robert Mugabe’s rule, not to thank the military for removing Mugabe. In all of our euphoria we must never become so intoxicated as to forget that it was the same Generals who allowed Mugabe to come to power in 2008 and 2013.
We must never forget how the military and war veterans spearheaded the violence which followed the March 2008 elections to ensure that Mugabe got back into power. They were behind the abduction and murder of hundreds of MDC activists that year. Without their intervention Mugabe would never have won the run off election.
We must never forget how the military engineered the election victory of Mugabe in 2013. Although they did not engage in violence that year, I remember the long lines of soldiers (dressed in civilian clothes) in my constituency who voted early and often. At the time I commented how Mugabe was elected through the military discipline of our armed forces who played an integral role. We must never forget how soldiers were seconded to the bodies involved in the election. Once again Mugabe would never have been elected without their involvement.
So all the military have done this week is clean up their own mess. That is the truth and whilst we celebrate that they have done to remove Mugabe, it is also important that we all, especially the church and civic groups, remind the military that their role should NEVER be either to secure the election OR removal of any President. That job belongs to the electorate and no one else.
So our message to the military must now be – thank you for cleaning up the mess you created but you must now return to your barracks as soon as possible and never again get involved in the electoral process. The real danger of the current situation is that having got their new preferred candidate into State House, the military will want to keep him or her there, no matter what the electorate wills. We have a general election coming which must be held before the 22 July 2018. We, and the international community, must make it loud and clear to the military that they have no role to play in that election, other than assisting the police to keep the peace.
There is one other disturbing aspect of Saturday’s euphoria and that relates to the silence around those people who have been detained by the military. Because people like Jonathan Moyo are so detested by so many we have chosen to remain silent about them. But the fact is that the military has no business in deciding who is a criminal, or who is corrupt. That is the role of the prosecutorial authorities and the police – and no-one else. And even here the military are cleaning up the mess they have turned a blind eye to for the last 37 years. Corruption and criminal activity in Zimbabwe has not suddenly begun this year. The ZANU-PF regime has been riddled with corruption and criminals for decades and the military have done nothing about it. Indeed if the truth be told there has been much corruption and criminal behaviour within the military itself.
So we must all now demand that those detained by the military be released immediately. If there is strong evidence that those detained have committed crimes then they can be handed over to the police for investigation and prosecution. But once again the military have no constitutional right to arrest and detain civilians in the manner they have and are still doing. If we as citizens remain silent about this we will be complicit in setting a dreadful precedent for the future.
I hope that all Zimbabwean patriots would think about these things soberly. We must unite in demanding that the military now step back. If Mugabe refuses to resign then Parliament must play its role in impeaching Mugabe. We don’t need the military to do that. Then whatever civilian government which emerges from that process must be allowed to govern and prepare for the next election without any interference from the military. Anything less than this will mean that the real power in Zimbabwe, to determine who governs us, remains with the military, not the electorate. DM
David Coltart, MDC Senator, has been a human rights lawyer in Zimbabwe since his return to the country in 1983. He was first elected to represent the Bulawayo South House of Assembly constituency in June 2000, and was re-elected in March 2005. In March 2008 he was elected as a senator to represent the Khumalo Senatorial constituency in Bulawayo. Senator Coltart was sworn in as Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture in February 2009.