Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Army must show that charity begins at home

By Nevanji Madanhire

The issue of the behaviour of Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commanders now darkly known as “the generals” which Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has described as “divisive” came to a head in the week just past with both the Minister of Defence Emmerson Mnangagwa and ZDF commander Constantine Chiwenga offering their tuppenny worth on the professionalism of the ZDF and on whether the generals should salute Tsvangirai or not.

Nevanji Madanhire is the editor of the Zimbabwe Standard newspaper
Nevanji Madanhire is the editor of the Zimbabwe Standard newspaper

Two things emerged in the two gentlemen’s statements. One was that their pronouncements were a public relations exercise following the fallout with the public over statements by Brigadier-General Douglas Nyikayaramba. The other was that they sought to give the impression to the public that Tsvangirai dema-nded to be saluted by the generals.

The issue of whether or not the generals salute Tsvangirai was raised first not by Tsvangirai but by the generals themselves when they, without any prompting from anyone went public on the eve of the 2002 presidential elections saying that they would not salute Tsvangirai even if he was popularly elected president of the Republic of Zimbabwe. They have since repeated this whenever an election looms.

Nyikayaramba reiterated this recently when he was quoted in the Zimbabwe Independent saying he personally would not salute Tsvangirai if he became president. He also called the Prime Minister a national security threat which had to be dealt with by the military.

Not only did his utterances cause alarm and despondency among the general public in Zimbabwe and abroad but it also seemed that he was speaking on behalf of the ZDF. This put the professionalism of the ZDF to question. The utterances amounted to a coup against the country’s constitution and seemed to suggest the use of assassination in dealing with political opponents.

The Ministry of Defence and the commander of the ZDF had to do something about it; they had to distance themselves from Nyikayaramba’s own goal. But not being public relations pundits they had to do this in a manner that seemed to attack Tsvangirai in a way that suggests he had demanded their salutes.

Mnangagwa said: “The statements by Nyikayaramba were personal views and do not reflect the Zimbabwe Defence Forces views because he is not the spokesperson of the army, but has constitutional rights to freedom of speech.”

“The tradition of the army the world over is that subordinates salute superiors and the seniors salute in return and at the helm of the military is the President, who is the Commander of the Defence Forces, and below him is the Minister of Defence, followed by the Commander of the Defence Forces, and then followed by the service commanders of the National Army and the Air Force.”

Chiwenga defended the ZDF’s professionalism by citing how the Zimbabwean military outfit “stands amongst the best on the continent”.

He told government mouthpiece The Herald on Friday that, “Our organisational ability, inevitable good conduct and professionalism have always been the marvel for many far and wide and the most sought after.

“If anything, the ZDF stands amongst the best on the continent and we vow to continue to hoist the Zimbabwean flag high.

“The Defence Act Chapter (11:02) clearly stipulates our functions and chain of command highlighting the existence of a single command through the Commander-in-Chief as is the common practice the world over.”

No one has ever disputed that the ZDF is about the best and most efficient on the continent. After all, they have been at war almost continuously since independence in 1980. Every Zimbabwean surely must appreciate how members of our military have been part and parcel of the United Nations peacekeeping forces.

In their belated public relations onslaught Chiwenga and Mnangagwa must demonstrate to all Zimbabweans that the defence forces’s charity which they flaunt on peacekeeping missions abroad in fact begins at home. They should show that they are answerable first to the Zimbabwean people. Instead of defending the indefensible, that Nyikayaramba has a constitutional right of freedom of speech to issue treasonable statements, they must in equal measure also defend the general public’s freedom of speech and the freedom to be led by leaders of their choice.

The ZDF must own up on, or clear themselves of, the allegation that they spearheaded the violence leading up to the June 2008 presidential election runoff in which it is further alleged 200 supporters of Tsvangirai’s MDC perished.

They must also clear themselves from allegations that they have deployed the so-called “boys on leave” into the rural areas where they are accused of intimidating unarmed peace-loving civilians.

Our constitutional democracy demands that every now and again Zimbabweans go to the polls to elect those who they want to be led by. The ZDF must come out clean and tell us that they recognise this very important part of our constitution and that they are ready, as is their wont, to defend the people’s freedom of choice.

The generals’ utterances about not being ready to salute any leader who has no liberation war credentials undermine the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the very fabric of our democratic processes. It is wrong to say that people in the military have the constitutional right to utter words that go against the very constitution they are supposed to uphold. Military outfits all over the world have codes that they should adhere to specifically pertaining to what they can or cannot say regarding their countries’ civilian leadership.

In June this year President Obama fired General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, “for a highly impolitic interview” he gave to Rolling Stone magazine mocking Vice-President Joe Biden and the US ambassador in Afghanistan, among others, and making evident his disdain for the American administration’s civilian management of the war effort.

Much earlier in 1950 President Harry Truman had fired General Douglas MacArthur for utterances that went against the civilian authority in Washington during the war on the Korean peninsula. So incensed was Truman that he said of MacArthur: “I’m going to fire the son of a bitch right now”.

We are not saying the standards in our own defence forces should match that of the “imperialist America”; we are simply saying that they should live up to certain standards of decency in which operatives do not utter statements that cause alarm and despondency among the people.

Yes, Zimbabweans will leave the generals alone, only as long as they remain in the barracks.

Nevanji Madanhire is the editor of the Zimbabwe Standard newspaper and this article was initially published in the paper.