Zimbabwe Doesn’t Agree With Sanyatwe’s Sentiments- Dr Mavaza
4 July 2024
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Unpacking the Mind of General Sanyatwe: The Role of the Army in Politics

By Dr. Masimba Mavaza | Zimbabwe is buzzing with shock after General Anselem Nhamo Sanyatwe, the commander of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA), vowed that Zanu-PF will remain in power until “donkeys grow horns.” He went on to say that if people refuse to vote, he will engage in command voting since he is the Army commander.

These words have cast Zimbabwe in a negative light globally. The Army commander’s reckless speech does not reflect the views of every military man, whether in uniform or civilian clothes. Zimbabwe does not agree with Sanyatwe’s sentiments. ZANU PF has won elections based on its popularity and the love from the people for over forty-four years, without the need for military intervention.

While the army plays a pivotal role in maintaining peace and tranquility, the Armed Forces typically stay out of politics. Individuals are entitled to their opinions and beliefs, but public political expressions or demonstrations, especially in uniform, can disrepute the services. Any service personnel doing so would face disciplinary action. General Sanyatwe, overtaken by excitement, erred in his speech. He reminded those present that as the army commander, he would execute “command voting” if people refused to vote for ZANU PF.

A professional military man must be a pessimist, assuming that peace and prosperity are transient and that armed force may be necessary for the country’s survival. Zimbabwe, like all peaceful nations, believes war, especially on a global scale, is disadvantageous unless its prosperity is unjustly impaired or its existence threatened. General Sanyatwe’s duty is to the country first and to the president, serving all Zimbabweans regardless of political affiliation.

Other nations may sometimes see war as advantageous, influenced by religions, ideologies, and states of mind. Each generation tends to forget the bitter lessons of the past. Zimbabwe is in a difficult state of transition, posing new challenges daily. It is crucial for leaders like Army Commander Sanyatwe to have a positive attitude and dedication to shaping future events. This is essential for normalizing Zimbabwe’s relations with the world and becoming a functioning member of the African Unity community.

President Mnangagwa is working to show the world that Zimbabwe is accepted among democratic states. The struggle for legitimacy has been tough, defending against labels of dictatorship. Despite daily insults, allegiance is not motivated by money, as Zimbabwe is not on anyone’s payroll.

The role of the military in a democracy is a concern dating back to Plato 2,500 years ago. The principle of political control of armed forces in a democracy involves the supremacy of civilian institutions over defense and security policy-making, including the military leadership. Democratic control should be a two-way process between armed forces and society. Firm constitutional guarantees should protect the state, including the armed forces, from politicians with military ambitions and military personnel with political ambitions.

There is no single model for establishing armed forces in a democratic society, but shared principles include organizing and guaranteeing civilian direction and control. General Sanyatwe’s statements are anti-establishment and shameful. He should appreciate the clear legal and constitutional framework defining the relationship between the state and armed forces. This relationship must not be spoiled by careless talk.

Zimbabwe has made significant strides in normalizing relations with other countries, promoting a policy of friendship with all and enmity with none. General Sanyatwe must recognize the significant role of parliament in legislating on defense and security matters, contributing transparency to decisions, approving budgets, and controlling spending. The military complements the government but should not publicly show bias.

Before getting involved in politics, the army commander must remember the military’s hierarchical responsibility to the government through a civilian organ. This is why the ministry or department of defense, often led by a civilian, directs and supervises military activities.

Zimbabwe’s military corps is well-trained, experienced, and respected, funded by a civilian authority that acknowledges civilian control, political neutrality, and non-partisanship. This provides a yardstick for measuring armed forces in a democracy and their political control, turning theoretical considerations into reality.

Military leaders must understand that “War is the continuation of politics by other means” and that being labeled “political” can be damaging. The terms “political,” “apolitical,” and “politicization” are often misapplied, and understanding the military’s relationship to politics requires serious reconsideration. Active military involvement in politics is unethical and hinders democratic progress.

The current time presents high hopes for Zimbabwe’s success in achieving its goals. Armed forces should be the last resort when police and border guards cannot handle situations. The Constitution prohibits actions disturbing national peace or supporting aggression, with international law prevailing over domestic laws. This imposes specific responsibilities on the government, citizens, and soldiers.

In summary, the roles and missions of the Armed Forces are clearly defined within a comprehensive legal framework. The military’s integration into state and society follows strict rules with checks and balances. According to the Constitution, the Armed Forces are part of the executive, bound by law and justice, and the protection of basic human rights.