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Editor’s Memo

Beware soldier

Vincent Kahiya

I WAS not at all surprised by Major-General Martin Chedondo’s bluster at the beginning of the week that members of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces must n

ot support the opposition MDC.

My last encounter with military officers at the Staff College earlier in the year exposed the extent of the politicisation of the force. I recall officers putting up a feeble show to prove that soldiers in Zimbabwe were professional and apolitical. They are not, as was aptly demonstrated by Chedondo.

“If there is any among you with a soft spot for the Movement for Democratic Change, the military is not your place,” Chedondo said in an address to army graduates in Gweru.

Compare Chedondo’s statement with this one by Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi in February last year at a reception for defence attaches.

“May I remind you that the world over the defence forces as the most powerful instrument of the state apparatus must be apolitical for they are meant to guarantee the peace and security of every citizen in the nation irrespective of religious, political or social affiliation.”

I sense in Chedondo’s remarks a military outfit no longer shy to advertise its partisan nature. Sekeramayi’s official line on the professionalism and political neutrality of the army has been well and truly dumped. It has been superseded by a clearer policy that positions the army as an apparatus of Zanu PF and not necessarily of government.

But it should be borne in mind that the army assumed this role way back in 2002 when former Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Vitalis Zvinavashe and other service chiefs called a press conference to announce: “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. We will therefore not accept, let alone support or salute, anyone with a different agenda.”

After that infamous military pronouncement, there were strenuous attempts by government and servicemen to give the statement a less corrosive meaning. We were assured that “the military was apolitical and would serve any government”.

This does not include an MDC government. They forgot to add this proviso at the time.

Thanks to Chedondo, the military’s position is now unambiguous. It is also very dangerous.

It is dangerous because President Mugabe does not see anything wrong with it. He is in Malaysia this week to attend a dubious conference running under the name Perdana Peace Forum where he will posture as a paragon of virtue and a defender of the poor.

He is today expected to give a keynote address at a luncheon hosted for delegates to the conference. His speech will be as predictable as a book.

He will attack the United States and Britain over the war in Iraq and the wider war on terror. He will excoriate rich countries for dictating terms to the third world. He is right and everyone else is wrong, including the United Nations. But this is the tragedy of African leaders. They expect to get world respect while failing to deal decisively with problems in their own backyards.

There is instead this obsession with limousines, foreign travels and posturing at useless conferences.

If this is a very useful conference at which Zimbabwe has to be represented at all costs, our delegates there should carefully read and reflect on the objectives of the Peace Forum.

Three of them read: “To facilitate socio-political dialogue regarding peace issues; to facilitate dialogue with all participants, as well as underscore the importance of respecting the opinions of all participants and recognise the right of divergent views as a basis for a peaceful solution to conflicts; and to appeal to appropriate political representatives prepared to support the causes of peace and accept the challenges of the 21st Century.”

The 21st century challenge before Zimbabwe at the moment is for our leaders to recognise the importance of divergent views and respect for other people’s opinions in solving conflict. But there has been a preoccupation with the myth that our government is not capable of erring and that the antidote to the crisis is more repression and other thuggish approaches to dealing with opponents. The Zanu PF government should make peace with Zimbabweans by listening and not imposing thought processes.

Writing in the banned Daily News in July 2003 Father Oskar Wermter aptly captured how we are being governed. He said: “We have been bored to tears so many times by the leader haranguing us endlessly because he knows everything and we, the people, apparently know nothing, nothing at least that would interest him.

“We need leaders who listen to us, we who have entrusted them with power by our vote.

We have been silenced by endless monologues. Instead, we need dialogue.

“Alas, that is what a dictator fears most: he never asks questions because he has all the answers. In holding a monologue, he is in control, in listening to people speaking their minds he is not. So, running no risk, he dictates what they have to answer.

“What we really need are leaders who respect the people, humbly acknowledge we are all human and at the least, apologise when they fail to fulfill their promises, and accept responsibility for the life and well-being of all, friend and foe alike.”

The Zanu PF government presiding over our “mature democracy” has failed dismally to achieve these basic tenets of leadership. Why then should the president wish to attend a meeting that proclaims values diametrically opposed to his?

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