A Partisan Security Sector at The Core of the Zimbabwe Crisis

The driving force that reversed a Movement for Democratic Change electoral victory in 2008; that robbed the people of a democratic expression of their will and led to protracted negotiations - not about transfer of power, but about resurrection Zanu PF from the ashes of electoral defeat, was the extremely partisan and highly politicized leadership of Zimbabwe's security sector operating under the framework of the Joint Operations Command (JOC). JOC was a decisive factor then and remains so today.

The central, fundamental question to be answered in order to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis is not whether or not the extremely partisan and highly policitized security sector leadership will again stop an electoral victory by political actors other than Zanu PF, but, how to deal with the security sector when that happens. This is the central issue that the pro-democracy movement, including the MDC family, should be dealing with.

It is clear that, although initially the MDC had made security sector reform a key factor in the political discussions leading up to the signing of the Global Political Agreement on 15 September 2008 laying the political and legal foundation for the current inclusive government, to the point of insisting that JOC should be disbanded and replaced by a new national structure be established at law - the National Security Council (NSC), there has been little security sector reform beyond setting up the NSC on paper while keeping JOC in practice. JOC reportedly has has defacto power even to defy or amend decisions of Cabinet - and therefore, effectively to run a parallel, defiant government.

In the last decade, president Mugabe and his Zanu PF party have increasingly turned to the security sector, comprising in leadership largely of former liberation war fighters, for survival in the face of an onslaught of successive waves democracy, good governance and basic rights values. Following a defeat at the polls in March 2008 where the MDC presidential candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai won the first round of elections, Mugabe's immediate evaluation was that Zanu PF party structures had been weak, divided, demobilized and hence a change is tact that saw the heavy involvement of the security sector in unleashing shocking waves of violence ahead of the presidential runoff election that claimed the lives of over 200 MDC supporters forcing Tsvangirai to pull out of the election leaving Mugabe in a one-man-race.

While in 2008 the extremely partisan and highly politicized leadership of the security sector operating as JOC had interferred in the electoral process primarily as tool in the hands of president Mugabe and Zanu PF, there are strong indications that this time around they seek to be a political factor with direct political interests and ambitions outside of the current framework. It appears members of the security sector have ambitions, not just to remain in the background supporting a civilian figurehead; but to enter the political fray, somehow.

Shockingly, members of the military have constituted themselves into a company in partnership with the Chinese - Anjin - to mine Marange diamonds. There is no basis for allowing soldiers to directly participate in the mining of diamonds, and this raises concerns around having a section of the military directly in control of diamond revenue that does not go directly to the national fiscus.

Strategies and approaches to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis should revolve around how to expose the machinations of the security sector and to stop them from being a factor in Zimbabwe's political and electoral affairs. Notwithstanding the constitutional, legislative or institutional reforms undertaken, SADC and the African Union should directly address Zimbabwe's unique challenge of a political active and blatantly partisan security sector leadership. Rules of political engagement guiding the region are clear: they prohibit the security sector from involvement in civilian affairs, and this must be monitored and enforced in the case of Zimbabwe.

Once the security sector is removed from the electoral scene, we can let the games begin without fear of a tilted political field or the fear of violence. With a truly independent, non-partisan and professional security sector political violence is a small matter as the police will be in a position to promptly arrest perpetrators to take them through an efficient judiciary process to ensure justice and end impunity. But with the police, the prosecuting authority and the judiciary all giving the impression that there is a law for Zanu PF and another for the MDC and civil society the problem of political violence will remain.


Dewa Mavhinga, Acting Director & Regional Coordinator, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition

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