By Moses Chamboko
“How about a challenging and rewarding career in the service of your country” was a catch-phrase on Air Force of Zimbabwe’s job adverts which, many years ago, could easily attract the eye of a curious and adventurous youngster across the racial and ethnic divide.
The thought of donning “Air Force Blue” or fly a chopper one day was most inspiring. Those who failed to make it into what was then regarded as a prestigious force, ended up trying their luck with either the army or the police while the more adventurous once applied to the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).
A good number of us, in our youthful lives, motivated by exciting and positive developments of post-independence Zimbabwe as well as the abundance of opportunities then, were easily lured into the forces.
Some abandoned university to become recruits while others made it their first job after college. It was a marvel to be in a position of national service, serving one’s country round the clock.
Working under the wise command of classic gentlemen such as Josiah Tungamirai, was indeed a privilege. It was during this time that we saw the rise of some of the highest ranking officers we know today. Perence Shiri (I often struggle to spell his first name), then, had no idea that he would one day be Air Force commander.
One of the struggle’s greatest sons, Rex Nhongo, was leading the army, before the two were amalgamated under a single command. Augustine Chihuri was still “serving his apprenticeship” with the police. There was great hope for the future given the perceived quality and determination of the leadership at our disposal.
A philosophy that was always emphasized to new recruits was that their key constitutional mandate was to professionally serve, protect and defend our nation without aligning themselves to any political party.
It didn’t matter if one was a nurse, doctor, engineer, pilot, accountant, gunner, trainee, instructor or a simple regiment guy – the primary mandate was the same. Shouting party slogans, especially in uniform, was taboo, much as it was forbidden to be seen smoking, eating or drinking in public with a service cap on.
Actively participating in politics was prohibited though officers were allowed to cast their secret vote at election time. This was the professional force of the early to late 80s. Cosmopolitan in nature, ex-Rhodesian forces, our liberators and a new breed of schooled young professionals made up the forces.
These were seen as the future of our uniformed forces owing to their age, education, and political neutrality. In 1989, when Edgar Tekere became a thorn in the flesh of those who imprudently believed the misguided myth of one party state, some of the military masters were pertubed and started deviating from the dictates of The Defence Act.
Nevertheless, Tungamirai and many other professional men and women, were not part of this cabal. When opposition to ZANU PF began to gain momentum exacerbated by its ubiquitous failures, systematic politicisation of the forces began in earnest. It was then that a lot of professionals either resigned or were constructively dismissed.
Daniel Chiwandamira, an outstanding scientist and immaculate officer who was then Director of Engineering for the AFZ, was one of the notable victims. Many of these former professional officers are now scattered across the globe where their skills are very much in high demand.
Some have excelled in the service of the United Nations. Others have gone on to lecture at prestigious universities with many more in private business. Such was the kind of professionalism that characterised our forces.
Harvey, despite his racial originality, up to now, remains one of the most celebrated helicopter pilots the Air Force of Zimbabwe has ever known. Even Gushungo felt more comfortable being flown around by this white man than by some of his fellow black pilots.
Is there any need to revisit this history? Of course, yes. Had it not been for the litany of foolish utterances frequently churned out by some of our top generals today, primarily from the army, probably this recollection wouldn’t have crossed my mind.
Realising that Douglas Nyikayaramba has now been incapacitated by his confinement to the commissioners’ pool through an accelerated dubious promotion, Martin Chedondo, Mugoba, Engelbert Rugeje and many other disgraceful generals have stepped up to fill the void.
Sensing that the dirty feeding trough is fast diminishing, these tired generals have started barking fiercely like the colonial bulldog. All this is intended to instil fear in unsuspecting but innocent Zimbabweans ahead of what will certainly be a watershed election, no matter when it will be held.
Nevertheless, some of us derive comfort in the intimate and privileged knowledge gained over the years that not every uniformed officer is keen, willing and ready to chop off limps of his/her kith and kin in order to perpetuate the iniquitous hegemony of a few individuals whose days are clearly numbered.
Many of them learnt bitter lessons during civil wars in Mozambique and DRC so they would never like to be in the same situation again. Those generals causing consternation in our society today are just a tiny drop in the ocean that shall be obliterated by people power.
Our beautiful and potentially great nation shall never succumb to the whims of a few old men who no longer have the capacity or energy to do ten steps on a kindergarten treadmill.
Moses Chamboko is regular contributor for Nehanda Radio and can be reached at [email protected]