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Engaging generals is not treasonous

By Moses Chamboko

“I will instruct the army and the police to go and pick up little Nyarota from his offices”.

Moses Chamboko
Moses Chamboko

These were the echoes of Enos Nkala in 1988, then Minister of Defence. He had become a victim of what became known as the Willowgate Scandal which culminated into Zimbabwe’s highest profile and independent commission, headed by arguably the most eminent retired judge, Wilson Sandura.

The most vivid and desperate defence of the time probably came from Dr. Dzingai Mtumbuka, then Education Minister. “Mr. President, I’m not a learned man, I don’t know what is legal or illegal”.

Imagine this in his typical lisp! I won’t break your ribs by quoting Morris Nyagumbo, Justin Nyoka, Ernest Kadungure or Frederick Shava. Later, Geoffrey Nyarota, then editor of the Bulawayo-based state daily, The Chronicle, through elimination by promotion, was transferred to Harare. The rest is history.

But I digress. Giles Mutsekwa’s recent interview with Violet Gonda brought out some interesting insights.

The Housing Minister (don’t ask me how many houses he has built) as well as MDC’s Secretary for Defence, exercised the patience of a pregnant mother when he was subjected to a barrage of questions and criticisms by the journalist who appeared to be itching for a specific response.

Unfortunately for her, the articulate and unwavering minister had his eyes on the ball.

I must hasten to say that I’m a great admirer of Violet Gonda as well as the late Caroline Gombakomba with whom I had constructive discussions weeks before she passed on. Rest in Peace Carol!

Nevertheless, premeditated journalism, if I may call it that, is something I will never support whether it comes from independent or state media. In spite of the attempt to have words put into his mouth, the minister’s response remained consistent and explicit.

He explained unequivocally what he meant by security sector re-alignment as opposed to the misconstrued notion of reform which he said only applied to the media and other sectors.

In a true democracy, soldiers, police officers and civil servants don’t belong to any political party. Rather, they belong to the people and serve those people through the government of the day.

It is purely appropriate for the leader of the opposition to summon the army or police commander to explain issues of policy as and when required. This is what Zimbabweans are yearning for and hope the new constitution will deliver.

Ian Smith abused the army and the police through private ownership, ZANU PF did the same. So if the truth be told, our security services have never operated in a pure democracy. The new dispensation must address this anomaly once and for all.

Members of the police force or army should be quite proud to be associated with serving the nation and state rather than serving a political party or an individual. This is the kind of re-alignment that Giles Mutsekwa alluded to in the interview.

Spending millions or billions on defence artillery when schools have no books, hospitals are without basic drugs, taps ooze out contaminated water and roads are degenerating into death traps, is totally irresponsible and unacceptable.

We are not North Korea. Building a lean, efficient and motivated army and police is the way to go. Can The Herald please tell us what’s wrong with this aspiration?

To join the army or the police, unless you are coming in as a qualified specialist in fields like medicine, law, trades etc, you have to be aged between 18 and 22. At 45, you will have done 23 to 27 years of service.

Should you happen to be at a rank below that of sergeant by then, then it means you are either terribly incompetent or seriously victimised. Therefore, the proposal that you leave the force by that age is not misplaced. Of course, cases of victimisation will be treated on their merit.

Responding to Nkala’s threat, the late astute lawyer and firebrand parliamentarian, Byron Hove, did not mince his words “I beg no favours from anyone, this country belongs to me as much as to anyone else.

Let no one think that they own the army, it is the people’s army, nobody owns the police, it is the people’s police”. Therefore, engaging generals is not at all treasonous since they belong to the people. Those who struggle to understand this are free to leave the forces. We won’t miss them.

Moses Chamboko writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on [email protected]

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