President Emmerson Mnangagwa has admitted blundering by illegally appointing Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander, General Phillip Valerio Sibanda, to the Zanu PF Politburo.
The Constitution of Zimbabwe precludes members of the uniformed forces from actively participating in politics.
Mnangagwa defied the country’s Constitution and controversially appointed Sibanda, an ex-officio member of Zanu PF’s Politburo, the ruling party’s supreme decision-making organ outside Congress.
He made the shock announcement early this month while addressing delegates at the 20th Zanu PF National People’s Conference in Gweru.
In a statement, George Charamba, Deputy Chief Secretary responsible for Presidential Communications said Mnangagwa had reversed the decision.
“His Excellency the President, Dr E.D. Mnangagwa, has announced the staying of General PV Sibanda’s appointment to the ruling Zanu PF Party Politburo as an ex-officio member.
“The position will be reviewed at the expiry of General Sibanda’s term as a senior serving officer at the helm of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, ZDF. This deferment of the appointment resolves the apparent conflict with the country’s Constitution which regulates the conduct of serving members of the Security Services,” reads the statement.
Commenting on the latest development, self-exiled former minister Walter Mzembi said Mnangagwa, who came to power through a military coup in 2017, was trying to capture Sibanda.
“It simply was illegal and clumsy. The question of whether Valerio Sibanda had accepted or declined the appointment is the subject of conjecture, what is clear is he had been handed a poisoned chalice notwithstanding…
“Towards the end of Mugabe tenure we were getting the Command Element (JOC) and some special guests attending Cabinet by invitation to push their positions on some contentious subjects like Command Agriculture and labelling some of us “sellouts” for undermining the country’s food security by rejecting their proposal which we rejected anyway after their plea as the biggest heist in the making in the name of production . This was three weeks before the coup. Two weeks after the coup the same programme was approved by the “New Dispensation Cabinet”.
“Two years later Treasury admitted they had lost US$3.5 billion to Command Agriculture! So its not new for ‘strangers’ to be in statutory meetings, but it certainly would have been a first and constitutional breach to have a serving CDF appointed to a Politburo of a ruling party except in Burma of course, a military State…”
Mzembi thanked Zimbabweans for their vigilance and voicing their concerns in their diversity to force reversal of Sibanda’s unconstitutional appointment.
He added: “That said, what we are not hearing in the ensuing debate is the internal pressure and dynamics inside @ZANUPF_Official itself, which may actually be the major pushback factors than the legalities. Since when did ‘Mr are everything’ respond to pressure from X streets or a legal challenge?”
Zanu PF Politburo is the standing micro-body of the Central Committee vested with powers to implement decisions, directives, rules and regulations.
The unprecedented move, described by political commentators as unconstitutional, was the first such appointment of a serving military general to Zanu PF structures.
The Constitution of Zimbabwe 2013 prohibits serving members of the security sector from involvement in partisan politics.
Section 208(3) of the Constitution states that “members of the security services must not be members of any political party or organisation.”
Section 208(4) of the Constitution further states that “members of the security services must not engage in any partisan political activity.”
Under the constitutional provisions, military personnel must act in accordance with the Constitution and the law and neither the security services nor any of their members may, in the exercise of their functions; act in a partisan manner; further the interests of any political party or cause; prejudice the lawful interests of any political party or cause; or violate the fundamental rights or freedoms of any person.
The Zimbabwe Defence Act (Chapter 11.2) also prohibits members of the military from any involvement in party politics.
Gen Sibanda replaced Constantino Chiwenga as Commander of ZDF on December 19, 2017. Sibanda was promoted from Lieutenant General to full General at that time. As Lieutenant General he had served as Commander of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA).
Chiwenga had retired as ZDF Commander to take a civilian role as the country’s Vice President. Sibanda is a close ally of Mnangagwa, and his appointment into the Zanu PF structures was seen as a consolidation of the president’s power.