Minister of Defence and War Veterans Affairs Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri on Friday had an in-depth interview with The Herald and Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation’s Current Affairs to air her views and reflect on the Heroes and Defence Forces commemorations. Minister Muchinguri-Kashiri (OMK) also spoke on the welfare of war veterans, international treaties governing defence and security, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces among other issues. Below is the full interview:
Q: As the Minister of Defence, what is your conceptualisation of the role of the military in the New Dispensation?
OMK: The roles and missions of the of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) are derived from Section 212 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. It states that the function of the defence forces is to protect Zimbabwe, its people, its national security and interest and its territorial integrity. While the roles and missions of the defence forces have traditionally encompassed the protection of the State, its territory and citizens from outside aggression, the emerging trend is that threats to national security now cover a wide spectrum than in the past.
So within the policy framework of the New Dispensation, the ZDF has adopted an inter-sectional approach towards the management of defence and security issues. Furthermore, the ZDF is now giving more attention to activities that aim at improving the livelihoods of our people through community assistance projects.
Q: How has the ZDF applied the concept of civil-military relations in the New Dispensation?
OMK: The ZDF has since its formation prioritised the need to build strong civil-military relations with the people because the Constitution of Zimbabwe mandates the ZDF to protect people. The first level of protecting people is to build harmonious relations. The ZDF has been able to do this by ensuring that they are present when their assistance is required.
The ZDF has played a major role in disaster management programmes such as transportation of drought relief food to needy people. Search and rescue operations during floods in places such as Muzarabani in Mashonaland Central and some parts of Tsholotsho in Matabeleland North where the ZDF played a significant role in rescuing marooned people and livestock. Recently, the ZDF personnel were among the first to arrive in Chimanimani to conduct search and rescue of the victims of Tropical Cyclone Idai.
Q: Security issues have moved from the conventional threats to more modern threats due to globalisation and advancement in technology. How has the ZDF adapted to the changing times?
OMK: Globalisation and technological advancement has caused the broadening of security threats that are multifaceted and are imposing challenges to the traditional mechanisms employed by governments and their security institutions.
These threats can emerge in the form of human displacements, human-induced climate change, misuse of technology and political extremism. These security threats are having an impact on the security and safety of individual’s communities, states and the international community.
For example, terrorist attacks are increasing and the victims are usually innocent people. The ZDF has adapted to these changing times by ensuring that its training programmes are structured in a manner that enhance the intellectual capacity of its members to analyse and interpret the impact of security-related events around the world and draw lessons that can be used to enhance our security.
Furthermore, the ZDF has strong bilateral and multilateral defence and security cooperation with other countries in the region and beyond. These relations are critical as they play an important role in exchange of information and ideas for common defence and security challenge objectives
Q: Besides the hard security issues of protecting the country from adversaries, what other issues is the ZDF involved in?
OMK: The ZDF is always ready to participate in various programmes aimed at advancing socio-economic development in the country. The ZDF is engaged in demining programmes along the common border with Mozambique.
The demined land will go along in unlocking potential in socio-economic development in the affected areas. The ZDF also has a vibrant community assistance programme aimed at assisting disadvantaged communities. The programme has seen many communities in the country benefiting in the form of construction of bridges, schools and hospitals. The most recent beneficiaries are Katema community in Gokwe, Negove in Mberengwa, Rusununguko High School in Goromonzi and Murongwe in Dande.
Q: We have seen the ZDF playing a pivotal role in disaster management in the Cyclone Idai case. How far has the organisation gone in alleviating the problems created by natural disasters?
OMK: I have already indicated that some of the security challenges that we face come in the form of human-induced climate change. In recent years, Zimbabwe has been hit by natural disasters in the form of droughts and floods. These disasters usually cut across a number of countries in the region as was the case with Cyclone Idai.
The ZDF has played and continue to play a critical role in mitigating the negative impact of these natural disasters by deploying troops and equipment to carry out search and rescue operations as was witnessed during Cyclone Idai.
Q: We have seen South African soldiers on the ground with the ZDF in Chimanimani, how is Zimbabwe maintaining diplomatic relations with foreign military organisations?
OMK: You will recall that following Tropical Cyclone Idai disaster, a number of countries made pledges to assist. The South African government undertook to construct two bailey bridges in Chimanimani. The construction of these temporal bridges is done by the ZDF in conjunction with South African National Defence Force (SANDF), whose contingent of engineers and support staff arrived in the country on 19 July 2019.
The bridges that are being put in place are a stopgap measure that will ensure that the affected communities easily access schools, clinics and other facilities. Permanent bridges will, however, still need to be constructed.
The assistance of SANDF to the Cyclone Idai-affected communities is highly commendable as it demonstrates strong bilateral and multilateral defence and security cooperation with countries within the region and beyond. Much of the defence and security cooperation is in the area of military training exchange programmes. Zimbabwe also participates in bilateral and multilateral exercises in the region aimed at assessing the SADC Standby Force preparedness. This is in line with the country’s obligations to contribute to international peace and stability.
Q: The President and Commander in Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces Emmerson Mnangagwa will soon take over as the chair of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation. How do you come in as the ministry to aid the country to execute this regional obligation?
OMK: The Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation has a Ministerial Committee, which is an important organ of SADC made up of ministers responsible for foreign affairs, defence, state security and public security. The major mandate of the Ministerial Committee, of which I am a member, is to initiate and monitor strategies and programmes that promote peace and security in the region.
Some of the issues that will come under consideration during our chairmanship include challenges arising from terrorism, abuse of social media, cybercrimes, illegal migration, poaching and disaster management.
With regards to regional disaster preparedness, the region is still digesting lessons from Tropical Cyclone Idai and this is likely to lead towards improving the SADC disaster response mechanism.
Q: Honourable Minister, your portfolio covers War Veterans Affairs. May you share with us the objective of waging the liberation armed struggle?
OMK: One of the goals of the liberation struggle was to liberate the country from colonial rule. This was achieved when we gained political independence from our colonisers.
This brought self-rule and a plethora of other freedoms associated with that. Political independence ushered in majority rule, which was key for socio-economic development.
I must highlight that land was one of the major grievances amongst the black majority who had been dis-empowered through the oppressive Land Tenure Act and other similar discriminatory statues.
The liberation struggle brought back land, a vital source of economic emancipation to its rightful owners.
However, I must highlight that we have not fully achieved economic freedom as we are yet to be fully in control of key economic sectors. We need to improve on value addition so as to get maximum benefit from the agricultural produce and minerals.
Q: Hon Minister, what steps are being taken to improve the welfare of war veterans?
OMK: His Excellency the President, Commander in Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces Cde E.D Mnangagwa instructed our Ministry of Defence and War Veterans Affairs to take corrective measures providing for the recognition of all veterans of the liberation struggle, who include non-combatant cadres’ categories.
Pursuant to this, Cabinet has approved principles for the repeal of War Veterans Act (Chapter 11:15) and the Ex-Political Prisoners, Detainees and Restrictees Act (Chapter 17:10). In their place, efforts are underway for the enactment of The Veterans of the Liberation Struggle Bill, which, subject to approval by Parliament and His Excellency’s consent, will recognise three categories of veterans of the liberations war.
The first category will be veterans of the liberation struggle, consisting of war veterans as currently defined in the War Veterans Act.
The second is made up of those who assisted in the war, consisting of non-combatant cadres and war collaborators. Non-combatant cadres refers to all those who had attained the age of six years by 1979, having crossed any of Zimbabwe’s borders with the intention of participating in the liberation struggle as members of ZANLA or ZIPRA forces, but due to circumstances beyond their control, got military training or did not get military training and remained in the temporal refugee camps in Mozambique and Zambia until November 29, 1979.
The third category consist of those people defined by the Ex-Political Prisoners, Detainees and Restrictees Act (Chapter 17;10). Government is going to look after the welfare of all these veterans of the liberation struggle. The finer details of this assistance will be defined as soon as the Bill passes into law.
Arrangements are already underway to identify and generate resources to finance the welfare of the veterans of the struggle and His Excellency further directed that all ministries with a role in the economy must set aside 20 percent of their activities for the benefit of the veterans.
This allocation will be administered by the War Veterans Board that was appointed last month.
The board will preside over a special purpose vehicle that will run businesses in all sectors of the economy, with the view of augmenting the assistance Central Government is already giving to war veterans in the form of pensions, medical aid and school fees for their children.
Funds generated by the special purpose vehicle will also be directed at supporting business ventures undertaken individually or as groups by the veterans.