Zanu-PF accused of building 'war arsenal' ahead of 2018 elections

The ruling party has been recruiting soldiers. Meanwhile, a report has warned that Zimbabwe is entering a period of acute risk for mass atrocities.

The Movement for Democratic Change has expressed concerns over the Zimbabwe National Army’s recruitment drive at a time when the government is struggling to pay its workers.

According to New Zimbabwe, the opposition party, which is led by Morgan Tsvangirai, has since called on the Southern African Development Community, the African Union and the UN to “keep a close eye on the country’s worsening political situation”.

Reports indicated that the ZNA was currently recruiting “thousands” to join the national army.

Meanwhile the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has warned that Zimbabwe is entering a period of acute risk for mass atrocities - and things could get worse if President Robert Mugabe dies.

Aged 92 and increasingly frail, the longtime Zimbabwe president’s days are clearly numbered. But he still has not named a successor and wants to stand in elections due in 2018.

Fighting between the G40 faction of Zanu-PF (which has the support of Mugabe’s wife Grace) and the Lacoste faction (aligned to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa) is getting increasingly bitter as rival officials try to position themselves to take over in the event of his death or incapacitation.

Diplomatic engagement to preclude possible atrocities
The Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Centre for the Prevention of Genocide in an “early warning” report released this month warned that factional fighting could erupt into open violence.

A second “plausible scenario of mass atrocity in Zimbabwe” is a sharp hike in state repression against anti-government protesters. Since April the country has seen unprecedented public protest in the form of the #ThisFlag movement, started by Harare pastor Evan Mawarire, who has now had to flee the country.

“Today there is a potential risk of new mass atrocities in Zimbabwe as Robert Mugabe, the country’s president, nears death and planned elections in 2018 approach,” the Early Warning Country Report said.

It added: “We recommend diplomatic engagement with and by regional leaders to communicate that the use of atrocities will not be accepted as a path to power.”

Based on interviews conducted with Zimbabweans and Zimbabwean experts between May and September this year, the Holocaust Museum’s report makes it clear that the risk of mass atrocity in Zimbabwe is a “worst case scenario”. It also acknowledges that mass atrocities are rare, even in countries with a relatively high risk of them.

The report still makes chilling reading for those in Zimbabwe with memories of the Gukurahundi killings of the 1980s (when up to 20 000 Zimbabweans, most of them villagers, are believed to have been killed). More recently, more than 200 people were killed in 2008 when militias loyal to Mugabe led a wave of violence in the rural areas, following his loss during the first round of polling.

The museum says that violence “has been a central strategy of [the Mugabe] government control since independence” in 1980. It says that in the scenario of intra-Zanu-PF factional fighting erupting into open violence, this would likely occur in ruling party strongholds in the rural areas.

Preparations for a ‘war arsenal’
Meanwhile MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu has also said that it was “worrisome” that the national army had embarked on a huge recruitment drive amid a poor performing economy.

He claimed that the army’s recruitment drive was a deliberate act to help build the ruling Zanu-PF’s “war arsenal” in preparation for the 2018 harmonised elections.

“At a time when the national economy is comatose and also the government is struggling to timeously pay the salaries of civil servants, it’s completely disheartening and patently irrational for the ZNA to embark on massive nationwide recruitment exercise,” Gutu was quoted as saying.

In September, Gutu accused the government of deploying Zanu-PF youths to “masquerade” as police officers across the country to stop an electoral reform protest.

Gutu said that at least 75 000 ghost workers were on the government’s pay roll.

He alleged that most of these workers were Zanu-PF aligned activists, who were conveniently given the job title “ward or youth officers”.

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