Bevan Musoko Correspondent
The 38th commemorations of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) provides an opportunity for appreciating the pivotal role being played by the country’s forces in defence of the people’s revolution.
The ZDF is a product of the protracted liberation war that was fought by Zanla and Zipra during the 1970s. The Force came into being following the integration of combatants from these two liberation armies, together with the remnants of the Rhodesian security forces as the bulk of the Rhodesians fled the new Zimbabwe to South Africa, Canada, Australia and other Western countries.
The overriding military and political philosophy of the new force was the entrenchment and defence of the newly-found political freedom which had also brought with it respect for black people’s humanity. The refrain was “mwana wevhu (son of the soil)”, itself a declaration of the organic rooting of black people in the material means of production: the land. It meant that, besides protecting the political freedoms won through the war, the Defence Forces were also primed to defend the economy from all forms of threats. The persistent refusal by the white settler regime to create a just political order left no avenue to black people’s freedom except war.
Therein lies the genesis of the current organic link between the military and the defence of the political order which restored black people’s humanity and pride. The liberation war resolved a political question which politics/politicians had failed to resolve.
Defence of political freedoms called for a clear understanding of the political system that the gallant fighters had laid their lives to give birth to.
You cannot defend what you don’t understand. This culminated in the declaration by the late national hero, General (Rtd) Vitalis Zvinavashe, on the eve of Presidential elections in 2002, that: “We wish to make it very clear to all Zimbabwean citizens that the security organisations will only stand in support of those political leaders that will pursue Zimbabwean values, traditions and beliefs for which thousands of lives were lost . . . Let it be known that the highest office in the land is a straitjacket whose occupant is expected to observe the objectives of the liberation struggle. We will therefore not accept, let alone support or salute, anyone with a different agenda that threatens the very existence of our sovereignty, our country and our people.”
Predictably, this declaration was met with loud cries by people who had always despised military involvement in the defence of the people’s political victories. It would, however, be fallacy of the highest order to expect men and women who brought military victory in pursuit of political goals to stand aloof while the Tsvangirais of this world threatened the very same gains for which thousands others had been killed. Military involvement in defence of a country’s national interests is not unique to Zimbabwe. A simple example can be found in a paper written in 2010 by Americans Steve Corbett and Michael J. Davidson. The two indicated that during the US presidential election of 2004, then presidential candidates George Bush and John Kerry sought and received endorsements from retired high-ranking military officers.
“At the Democratic National Convention, Senator Kerry surrounded himself not only with former Navy colleagues, but also with prominent retired military brass.” Retired Army General Wesley Clark described Kerry as “a leader, a fighter, and he will make a great commander-in-chief”. Twelve retired generals and admirals endorsed Kerry. Retired Army General Tommy Franks, the architect of the infamous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, publicly endorsed George W. Bush. Likewise, during the presidential campaign between Barrack Obama and John McCain in 2008, retired military leaders actively endorsed and campaigned for candidates. One of America’s most respected retired officers, former Secretary of State Collin Powell endorsed Barack Obama on national television. The public endorsement of presidential candidates by retired general officers reflected a trend toward the politicisation of the American military.
Similarly, the involvement of the military in politics, whether by serving or retired officers, is informed by the need to safeguard the national interest.
It would be naïve to think that war represents the only threat to a country. There are issues of political security, environmental, economic, food, border and energy security. All these call upon any country’s security and defence services to be ready to spring into action to thwart any threats.
A lot of noise has been made over the appointment of retired members of the ZDF, namely General Constantino Chiwenga, Air Chief Marshal Perrance Shiri and Lieutenant-General Sibusiso Moyo into Government. These appointments were made on the basis of their competencies and their security and political consciousness. A British Labour MP, Kate Hoey, recently called for the premising of the review of Western sanctions on Zimbabwe on the removal of Gen Chiwenga from Government.
Hoey tweeted that “there should be no change to @P_VanDamme_EU or @UKinZimbabwe or American government policies to Zimbabwe Government until at the very minimum Chiwenga is removed from his Vice Presidency and his control of the military.”
The appointment into Government of these retired generals is similar to the appointments of General Collin Powell as the US Secretary of State during the era of George Bush (2001-2005) and General John Francis Kelly as the US Secretary for Homeland Security and, currently as the Trump White House Chief of Staff.
The appointment of retired military officers into civilian posts is acceptable in the US while unacceptable in Zimbabwe!
What can be deduced from this duplicity is that the West and the US acknowledges that these military officers are deeply conscious of the national interest that they provide a strong buffer to the country’s interests against their predatory instincts.
The core command element of the ZDF was moulded in the crucible of the liberation war that it has a deep understanding of socio-economic-political issues and interests of Zimbabwe. As such, they would rather have them retire into obscurity than have them on the political stage. Today, the US government imposes compulsory military service for its youths. It is a crime to evade this military service. The US does this because it is in its security interests. If other countries like Zimbabwe were to do the same, they would be labelled war mongers and/or accused of creating militias. Zimbabwe introduced national youth service training for its youths, which programme is aimed at inculcating patriotism and life skills. The programme has been condemned left, right and centre by these foreign powers, acting in cahoots with their local lackeys.
The unpleasant truth is that it is in the interest of the US and its Western allies to have weak African and developing world governments which they can manipulate at will. Weak governments would not stand up in defence of their national interests as strong governments would do.
The sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe following its historic land reclamation programme in 2000 were meant to break its resolve on the issue, while simultaneously sending a message to like-minded nations against dispossessing whites of land. South Africa comes into mind. Currently, public consultations are ongoing in South Africa for a constitutional amendment to appropriate land from whites and Afrikaners for redistribution to blacks without compensation.
Predictably, the British government has issued veiled threats to the South African government over the proposed move, threatening dire economic consequences. To all patriotic Zimbabweans, the ZDF has been an exemplary pillar of State power deployed in the service of the needs of its people.