Sanyatwe’s rant a symptom of a far much deeper challenge: Luke Tamborinyoka

Luke Tamborinyoka



I had wanted to write about something else this week but then Anseleem Nhamo Sanyatwe happened.

In a leaked video that has gone viral, Sanyatwe, the Zimbabwe National Army commander, addressed a rally in Nyanga North where his wife Chido is an MP and went into a rant that has left the nation bemused.

In remarks that are a brazen violation of the Constitution, Sanyatwe told the motley crowd that Zanu PF will continue to rule the country until donkeys grow horns. He said the army will continue to ensure what he called “command voting”, which basically means frog-marching and coercing voters.

Sanyatwe, a former head of the Presidential Guard who was one of the protagonists of the 2017 coup and whose army unit callously shot and killed six civilians in August 2018, said something else that was even more terrifying in Nyanga. He called himself a political commissar, basically implying that the national army of Zimbabwe is a commissariat department of the ruling party.

What Zimbabweans are missing is that Sanyatwe’s utterances are just but a symptom of the deeper problem of the militarization of the country’s politics, which problem we have to boldly confront as Zimbabweans.

Otherwise there is nothing new about what Sanyatwe said, except that he has simply repeated similar unconstitutional utterances by other military generals before him in incidences that that we have neither robustly confronted nor effectively dealt with as a country.

Not to belittle in any way the dire import and gravity of Sanyatwe’s unconstitutional rant, we have heard before similar reckless and unconstitutional utterances by the country’s military generals who overtly dabbled in politics in crass violation of the provisions of the supreme law of the land.

On 9 January 2002, the then commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Vitalis Zvinavashe announced on the eve of a Presidential election that the Presidency was “a straightjacket” and that the army would only salute a President who had liberation war credentials.

In yet another incident, in an infamous speech on the afternoon of Monday, 13 November 2017 , the then Commander of the Defence Forces, General Constantino Chiwenga, said the army were the “stockholders” of the ruling party and throughout Zanu PF’s history, the military had always stepped in to protect the party when its cardinal principles were betrayed.

Then on 29 October 2023, ED appointed his cousin and CDF commander, General Philip Valerio Sibanda into the ZanuPF politiburo, notwithstanding the provisions of the Constitution that strictly bar soldiers from being partisan and from participating in active politics.

My point, dear reader, is that Sanyatwe’s utterances are symptomatic of a deeper and disturbing military culture and pattern that we have collectively allowed to fester but which we should now boldly confront as Zimbabweans.

Indeed, the successive reckless and unconstitutional utterances by the top military brass are mere symptoms of a deeper problem that we have to address once and for all as a nation.

In short, dear reader, in Zimbabwe’s tenuous political story, the military is the elephant in the whole house and not just in the living room!

. As they said about Carl von Clausewitz’s Prussia: ‘While most States have an army, in the case of Prussia, the army had a State.’

In Zimbabwe too, contrary to the known notion of States having armies, it is the army that has a State in our country. .

We now have soldiers in every civilian sphere; in election management, in the media, in the judiciary, in parliament, in diplomacy, in the presidium and even in the divorce courts either as complainants or defendants!

There has been military overreach as the military has disturbingly intruded not just into politics but into other civilian vocations and Sanyatwe’s utterances are a mere symptom of a deeper national ailment.

I am an ardent political scientist and the study of civil-military relations has always been my keen area of academic interest. My dissertation for my Master’s degree in International Relations at the university of Zimbabwe centred on the militarisation of Zimbabwe’s diplomacy, focussing on Emmerson Mnangagwa’s appointment in February2019 of four military generals as diplomats.

The minister of Foreign Affairs then happened to be one Sibusiso |Moyo, himself a former army general and the deployment of a contingent of four more army generals as diplomats, including Sanyatwe, painted an unprecedentedly militarised thrust in Zimbabwe’s diplomacy.

Dear reader, in 2017, the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute unveiled a comprehensive study which showed how the military had become an active player in four civilian institutions in violation of the Constitution. The four civilian sectors in which the army had become intimately involved are the electoral process, the judiciary, the legislature and the media.

The military in elections

As stated earlier, perhaps the stand-out statement that showcases the army’s involvement in elections was made on 9 January 2002 when the then commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Vitalis Zvinavashe announced on the eve of a Presidential election that the Presidency was “a straightjacket” and that the army would only salute a President who had liberation war credentials.

This was a coup of sorts and a subversion of the electoral process as it meant that out of all the candidates who had legally submitted their nomination papers in the 2002 Presidential election, the military would only accept an election outcome in which Robert Mugabe emerged as the winner.

Zvinavashe’s statement was therefore a subversion of the electoral process.

It is pertinent to state that in the same 2002 Presidential election, the national election management body, then called the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC), was chaired by Sobusa Gula Ndebele, a retired soldier, while the chief executive officer was Brigadier-General Douglas Nyikayaramba, then a serving military officer.

The disputed and challenged 2002 Presidential election, whose verdict is still to be handed down 22 years later, was also run as a military operation because the National Command Centre, run by the military, was first established at the then Sheraton Hotel before it was moved to Manyame Air Base.

In the run up to the 2008 elections, in whose run-off poll the military was heavily involved and in which military generals were assigned to provinces to overturn the results of the first-round poll, Mugabe seemed ready to accept what he said were concerns from the military that ZANU PF, as the party that won the country’s independence through an armed struggle, could not just cede power
by virtue of an electoral process which uses a pen which costs less than five cents.

Mugabe said then:

”They (soldiers and war veterans) came to me and said: “President, we can never accept that which we won through the barrel of the gun could be taken merely by an ‘X’ made by a ball point pen?.” ‘ Zvino ball point pen icharwisana neAK? (Will the pen fight the AK rifle?). Is there going to be a struggle between the two? Do not argue with a gun.”

Added to this is the fact that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the country’s election management body, has since publicly admitted that 15 percent of its secretariat are serving members of the security service, further confirming that the military is firmly embedded in the civilian process of the running of the country’s polls.

The military in the media

During Former President Robert Mugabe’s era, military personnel were also seconded to the civilian sector of the media, where they were given top leadership positions at the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ), the Zimbabwe Newspapers Group (Zimpapers) and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings.

Eight senior soldiers were handed leadership of the three media institutions. The top military commanders deployed to serve the media sector were Retired Colonel Reuben Mqayi and Brig-Gen Elasto Madzingira (both BAZ), Major-General Gibson Mashingaidze and Brigadier-General Benjamin Mabenge (both ZBH), Colonel Claudius Makova (New Ziana), Brig-General Collin Moyo (Kingstons) and Brig-General Livingstone Chineka (Transmedia).

Added to these soldiers running the conventional media, former ZNA Commander Phillip Valerio Sibanda also stated at the time that social media had become the new security threat. Thus, he said, the military would be heavily involved if anyone was found guilty of masterminding what he described as” the new threat of cyber warfare.”

The military in the Legislature

Parliament as the theatre of the people’s representatives appears not to have been spared the militarization crusade in this apparent fusion of civil-military relations. An analysis of the serving legislators as at June 2013 shows that there were no less than 14 retired members of the country’s military. (www.parlzim.gov.zw).

In its seminal report, the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (2017) further noted that most of the legislators of the 7th Parliament, even if they were not directly linked to the military themselves, were either relatives, family or friends with those in the armed service and resultantly, the military interests were jealously protected and preserved.

The military in the Judiciary

Though the judiciary, together with Parliament and the Executive are supposed to be separate arms of the State in line with the country’s Constitution, there has been a notable presence of military interests in the judiciary.

The ZDI (2017) noted that the country’s war veterans, regarded as reserve members of the Zimbabwe National Army, had reconfigured the judiciary in 2000 by forcing the resignation of then Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay as well as Justices David not Bartlett and Nicholas McNally during the fast-track land reform exercise.

They forced the resignations of the esteemed judges by storming into the courtroom and dancing on the tables of the country’s Supreme Court.

Justice George Chiweshe, now a senior judge, is a retired Brigadier-General who was also the ZEC chairperson during the disputed election of 2008.

As part of the military intrusion into the judiciary, the then Prosecutor-General Ray Goba admitted during public interviews that most staff in the National Prosecution Authority (NPA), a key arm in the Justice delivery system, comprised mostly of staff seconded from the Air Force and the army. He conceded that most of them were unqualified for their job and this had compromised the country’s justice delivery system (The Zimbabwe Independent 2017).

The military in other vocations

Beyond the four areas of military intrusion discussed above, it is instructive to note that under Zanu PF, serving and retired military personnel were seconded to State-run entities and other civilian institutions, possibly in line with what Rupiya (2002) postulates to have been an attempt to embed patronage and loyalty.

During the latter years of Robert Mugabe’s tenure, the country’s spy agency, the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), was headed by retired Brigadier-General Happyton Bonyongwe while the Zimbabwe Prison Services was headed by Retired Major General Paradzai Zimondi, further cementing the grip of the military even within the security units of the State.

It is pertinent to note that under Zanu PF, military personnel have been seconded to parastatals and other civilian institutions.

While this was permissible under the Defence Act and under the old Constitution, the practice became patently unconstitutional after the country affirmed a new supreme law of the land in a referendum in May 2013.

Section 29 of the Defence Act gives the Minister of Defence the power to attach or second serving military personnel to civilian institutions but the same is now inconsistent with the Constitutional provisions in sections 206(1), 207(2) and 208 (1) which generally prohibit serving military officers from being partisan and from partaking in purely civilian activities in the absence of a national emergency.

There is now an apparent conflict between the Defence Act and the Constitution and in those circumstances, the Constitution takes precedence over any other law that is inconsistent with it.

Section 2(1) of the Zimbabwe Constitution (2013) specifically states that the Constitution “is the supreme law of the land and any law, practice, custom or conduct inconsistent with it is invalid…”

However, despite the advent of the new Constitution which makes the secondment of serving military officers to civilian institutions illegal and unconstitutional, Zanu PF has maintained the practice.

The secondment to civilian government service in 2015 of Brigadiers-General Evaristo Dzihwema, Gerald Gwinji and Michael Sango violated section 208 (4) of the Constitution which outlaws the attachment of serving military officers to civilian offices save only during situations of national emergency. While still serving in the army, the three were appointed to the positions of principal director in the then Ministry of Youth and Indigenization, Health Permanent Secretary and ambassador to Russia respectively, in blatant violation of the supreme law of the land.

The military in purely civilian vocations

Chitiyo (2009) also chronicles various controversial quasi-political activities undertaken by the military during former President Mugabe’s reign that confirm his tutelage, patronage and reliance on the military for the ruling party’s political survival.
These include Operation Tsuro to take over white-owned commercial farms in 2000, the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina (Drive Out the Filth) to demolish shacks and homes in high-density urban areas, Operation Garikai / Hlalani Kuhle (Live Well) that was meant to build small urban homes as well as Operation Makavhotera Papi (Who did you vote for) that was meant to scare urban voters who overwhelmingly voted for the MDC in 2008.

The same military was also allowed to involve itself in what ought to have been civilian agricultural programmes such as Operation Taguta (Enough Food) and lately the Command Agriculture programme in which billions of money in scarce foreign currency was stolen by the military elite.

All these civilian programmes were actively driven by the military, thereby showcasing a legacy of concordance or fusion of civil-military relations under Zanu PF, notwithstanding the Constitutional provisions in the Zimbabwe Constitution (2013) that call for separation in civil-military relations.

In 2016, as relations between the former President and the army got strained with the army actively interfering in the internal affairs of the ruling Zanu PF, then ZDF commander Constantine Chiwenga made a chilling revelation that the military were not stakeholders but were “stockholders” in both the party and the country. After all, he said, the military were the war veterans who had fought for the country’s independence so they were in charge of both the party and the country.

If anything, Chiwenga’s statement was an ominous testimony of the tenuous nature of Zimbabwe’s civil-military relations and how the military had become active players in partisan politics, in brazen violation of the country’s Constitution.

One could surmise therefore that from 1980 to date, the military has played conjoined civilian and military roles, setting the stage for contentious civil-military relations that have led to calls by the opposition and the broader international community for security sector reform, ostensibly to curtail and restrain what demonstrably still appears to be the over-arching hand of the military in politics and other civilian sectors of the country’s political economy..

The Militarization of Diplomacy in Zimbabwe

In February 2019, ED deployed military generals Douglas Nyikayaramba, Anseleem Sanyatwe, Thando Madzvamuse, Shebba Shumbayawonda and Martin Chedondo to the diplomatic service,
Mugabe had started the practice, which has flourished under Mnangagwa.

In the years of his tenure between 1980-2017 and as part of the militarization of civilian sectors, it was Mugabe who commenced the now intensified practice of assigning military generals to diplomacy to serve as full ambassadors. As part of a long-standing tradition since 1980, the former President in 2015 yet again seconded three military generals to serve as full diplomats.
These were Major-General Nicholas Mahuhuba Dube (Mozambique), Air vice Marshall Titus Abu-Basuthu (Japan) as well as General Mike Nicholas Sango (Russia). Dube and Sango replaced other military generals in their countries of posting, namely Retired Brigadier General Agrippa Mutambara and Lieutenant Colonel Boniface Chidyausiku respectively.

Other former military commanders re-assigned to diplomatic missions as full ambassadors under the Mugabe regime include Rtd Major-General Edzai Chimonyo (Tanzania), Rtd Major-General Jevan Maseko (Cuba) and former CIO director-general Elisha Muzonzini (Kenya).

Chimonyo and Sanyatwe are curious cases as they were brought back from Tanzania into active military service by current leader Emmerson Mnangagwa to serve as the commanders of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA), raising doubts as to whether retired soldiers truly become civilians or the prospect always remains for them to bounce back into active military service.

This shuttling between retirement and active military service could be presumed to be a further complication of the country’s tenuous civil-military relations as this means one can never tell whether retired military officers truly become civilian or there are always prospects of them bouncing back to active service.


Dear reader, I have highlighted in this piece the deeper problem of the militarisation of the State in Zimbabwe as demonstrated by the encroachment by the military not only into politics but into the Executive, Parliament, the Judiciary, election management and other civilian vocations in violation of the Constitution.

Against the background laid out in this piece, Sanyatwe’s utterances in Nyanga are therefore a symptom of a far much deeper problem of the militarisation of the Zimbabwe’s State.

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