Open Letter to Zimbabwe National Army
Brotherly greetings to all serving Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) officers who, at this juncture in our troubled history, are caught up in a difficult space.
File picture of Zimbabwean soldiers patrolling the streets of Glen View in Harare
I am writing to you with the full appreciation of your invidious position regarding the choices you have to make in your work places.
I know that as commissioned officers you are duty bound to obey orders and instructions from your superiors at all times even when such orders and instructions conflict with your own rational disposition and personal moral judgments.
Many of you, like most other citizens, are facing the same economic challenges prevailing in the country. You have families to support, children to send to school and are seized with the determination to improve your own living standards.
Those of you who are accommodated in army barracks or police camps may feel more privileged than others because of your subsidized living expenses, but you still yearn for a better life that provides greater comfort and happier circumstances.
Traditionally, police officers are trained to investigate crimes, arrest criminals and submit evidence to the judicial process to determine the nature of punishment for those convicted of wrong-doing. It is seldom the case that policemen are called upon to be apprehend criminals and deliver justice at the same time.
Crowd control in the extraordinary circumstances created by riots and demonstrations present policemen with difficult choices on how they should react. I must assume your training in the field provides for how you must act in dangerous situations where life and limb are threatened.
I say this because it can not be an easy decision to raise a truncheon and deliver a bone- shattering blow to someone’s skull or body for what ever reason. It becomes even more onerous when a bunch of policemen gang up on a defenceless old woman and brutally assault her as was recently witnessed during skirmishes between police and demonstrators in Harare. This particular incident, of which a graphic video clip went viral on social media, showed the dilemma policemen face in the execution of orders from their superiors.
The old woman was obviously someone’s mother, grandmother or wife probably out in the city on the daily grind to eke an existence in our comatose economy. Her only crime was to be found at the wrong place at the wrong time.
She became just one of growing statistics of innocent citizens who find themselves victims of the latent war between officialdom and civil society. Policemen and lately, soldiers are caught in between – the proverbial rock and a hard place.
Officialdom tells them they must fight demonstrators in order to defend law-abiding citizens, but in reality, they are defending officialdom against the same law abiding citizens. Their own station in life is with the generality of the population with whom they share the same grievances about the state of the economy and political uncertainty.
Many policemen and soldiers, earning perhaps US$200-00, US$300-00 or even US$500-00 may feel privileged to be in employment and receiving wages, although sometimes delayed, but their economic circumstances are not that much better than the average Zimbabwean worker.
In other words, it’s no great secret that privately, they too yearn for a better Zimbabwe where they do not have to live hand-to-mouth with little spare cash to put aside for the future.
I therefore appreciate that yours is an invidious position because you are duty bound to obey instructions from yours superiors whose wealth and lifestyles you can only envy from a distance.
The superiors of your superiors, the ministers and commanders do not themselves have to soil their hands wielding baton sticks, firing tear gas or water cannons on demonstrators because they have you to carry out the dirty work for them.
They issue out their orders from air-conditioned offices away from the turmoil on the ground and are never exposed to the acrid stench of tear gas. They never have to dodge rocks hauled by demonstrators but egg you on to risk your lives to keep the marauding mobs at bay.
When President Robert Mugabe says there can never be an “Arab Spring” in Zimbabwe, he is relying on you guys to suppress by all means fair or foul, dissenting voices that threaten the privileges of officialdom. You are the storm troopers hence his great anxiety to ensure that despite prevailing shortages of cash to pay civil service salaries, priority has to be given to uniformed services so that you guys remain loyal to the status quo.
I am saying all this to show you guys that I appreciate your predicament. The undeniable truth is that you are, like most of us, the povo, but are forced by your peculiar circumstances, to defend offialdom against criticism for not discharging the responsibilities for which you and me, as tax-payers, pay them.
They tell you those complaining of unemployment, corruption and poor government policies that have impoverished you and me are enemies of the state. The tell you law abiding citizens are those who endure the suffering silently and peacefully while they continue to amass wealth, build mansions in their exclusive suburbs – generally enjoying a standard of living you and I can only dream of.
I was surprised that the War Veterans Minister, Tshinga Dube was even contemptuous of war veterans who have acquired modest personal cars chiding them about the source of such luxuries. According to a recent media report, Dube accused war veterans who have acquired private motor vehicles of colluding with enemies asking “Who bought them those vehicles.”
This is the same condescending attitude of officialdom towards the general population. The constant and consistent narrative that any dissenting voice among Zimbabweans is a product of western manipulation speaks to the notion that Zimbabweans are generally incapable of thinking for themselves.
Officialdom wants you to believe this so that you can isolate the demonstrators from other “law abiding citizens” – but even you know within your hearts that there is no evidence whatsoever of western influence behind the demonstrations. After all, that is your traditional role – to investigate such matters and provide evidence to the judiciary to act on those breaking the law.
The saddest thing, my brothers and sisters, is that you have been set up against your own kith and kin to defend and egregious system that will sink the country, along with you and me, deeper into hopeless despair and poverty.
You and me have to think twice about being able to afford a regular visit to our rural homes due to the shortage of cash, yet the president and his ministers are constantly on trips abroad, apparently with abundant financial resources at their disposal.
I also do appreciate that many of you are probably beneficiaries of the fast-track land reform programme and feel you have an obligation to defend the system that made this possible. I must however, remind you that as a Zimbabweans, it is not a state-given privilege to enjoy national resources such as land, but your birth-right.
It is wrong for the men and women we elected to lead us, be it in Zanu PF or government, to pretend that they own national resources like land which they can parcel it out to secure the loyalty of citizens. Through systematic propaganda, they have ingrained this notion in your minds so that your loyalty is no longer to the state, as it should be, but to officialdom which has conflated itself with the state.
You my friends have been ensnared into the grand conspiracy to identify with particular political interests, against others. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom that demands that critical national service institutions such as police and army should be apolitical and should be prepared to serve under any political party elected into power.
This is very dangerous because in the event that Zanu PF loses power, a distinct possibility I dare say, that may necessitate a massive purge in the uniformed services. Needless to say such an eventuality would be disruptive to national security structures dangerously compromising national interest. I know that you guys appreciate this more than anyone else because that is how your critical role is framed in the national constitution. You should be guided accordingly.
Desmond Kumbuka is a freelance journalist based in Harare and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org