|The Interview: Air Force technologically advanced|
|Saturday, 11 August 2012 00:00|
TWO days from now, Zimbabwe commemorates the Heroes and Defence Forces holiday, which underpins the work of gallant freedom fighters, the brave men and women who fought for the independence of Zimbabwe. Our Senior Reporter Peter Matambanadzo (PM) talks to Air Force of Zimbabwe Commander Air Marshal Perence Shiri (PS) about this and other issues.
PM: What is your overview of the Air Force of Zimbabwe?
PS: The Air Force of Zimbabwe looks at the future with great hope. There are a number of issues that need to be attended to, to guarantee a successful future. We realise what we do today have a direct bearing on the future. As a result we pay special attention to a number of areas which we regard critical to the success of the organisation, amongst others we have the issue of the welfare of our members and their dependence.
The result of that concern we have paid special attention to the quality of meals we provide to our members, adequate provision of medicines and drugs and, also the provision of kit. We realise those issues have a direct impact on the morale of the members and a force with high morale is likely to succeed in its various endeavors as opposed to a demoralised force. That is why we tend to pay special attention to those areas. We also have to understand that one can only fight as good as one would have been trained.
I am happy to say that we have 100 percent indigenous Air Force and we have the ability to train ourselves though once in a while we send members to other friendly countries for purposes of benchmarking and also learning from their experiences. We have established a number of training institutions starting from administrative training institutions, technical training institutions, school of flying training, which is our core business.
We have also become the school of excellence in the region in many respects and that can be confirmed in that a number of regional countries have been sending their officers men and women to our training institutions so that we share our experiences with them.
We also have got our sister organisation Zimbabwe National Army. We are like Siamese twins actually in that we fight together and die together. We achieve victory together hence it is important that we train together we have a number of joint training programmes with the ZNA and has contributed to our effectiveness as a fighting force as the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.
PM: How has the operating environment impacted on the shape and form of the organisation and how have economic challenges impacted on the Air Force of Zimbabwe’s capabilities?
PS: The operating environment has been quite challenging in that as you appreciate the country is under illegal economic sanctions and those sanctions were meant to make the citizens suffer so that by the end of the day they would revolt against the Government. The purpose of the sanctions is actually to reduce the quality of life of our nationals and that does not affect our nationals only it also affect us we are part of the nation as the Air Force. We are affected in many ways in that the bulk of our equipment is imported and having been a British colony you find that most of our equipment was bought from Western world. And with the imposition of sanctions we have been unable to secure spares for the various types of equipment. However, we are benefiting from the Look East policy introduced by Government some years ago in that we became aware of the need to diversify in terms of the sources of equipment. So as you know the Eastern countries did not impose sanctions on Zimbabwe hence we are using that channel as a window for our survival. On the other hand when it comes to Western procured equipment the imposition of sanctions has come as a blessing in disguise in that we were compelled to be creative and innovative. Our officer’s, engineers in particular, had to be involved in research and development and as a result they have come up with a number of inventions, which have helped us to avert the impact of the sanctions.
We are now capable of manufacturing some of the spares, which we would normally import from the West and even some of the Eastern supplied spares because of that technological breakthrough we had as a result of our experiences with sanctions.
PM: The government has called for gender equality in all sectors. How has the Air Force of Zimbabwe faired in this regard?
PS: As you might appreciate, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces comprise of former liberation movement cadres, that is the foundation of the current defence forces. And historically as liberation war movements it became apparent that both men and women had a role to play in the military. During the liberation war women were used in carrying logistics to the fighters on the front line, but with time as they received training like their male counterparts, a decision was taken to deploy some of them in the front. It was proved that they could be as effective as their male counterparts. There is quite an example of outstanding female commanders who participated as field commanders during the liberation war. We have the likes of Cde Freedom Tichaona now called Freedom Nyamubaya, Cde Oppah Muchinguri, Cde Teurai Ropa Mujuru and many others female combatants who participated in actual combat.
That helped us carry that culture into modern day Airforce of Zimbabwe. we realise the involvement of women in the defence forces creates an enabling environment, it actually enriches our capability.
Yes! We still have challenges. We still have some long way to go and its our objective and we have been doing that to convince our women counterparts especially the younger generation that with adequate training they can be as good as their male counterparts. We also convince young boys that female soldiers can be just as good as themselves and today we have managed to have women breaking barriers by being involved in what would be traditionally male domains. For example we have female aircraft technicians and engineers, pilots, fire fighters, drivers and we continue encouraging each other because we realise together we are stronger.
PM: ZNA has been known to send officers to various UN peacekeeping missions, have you done the same?
PS: Yes, we have been involved very much. According to a UN resolution on Women Peace and Security it was agreed that women should be involved in peace keeping operations, mostly because its women and children who are affected by conflicts. Hence, the participation of women as soldiers go a long way in making life more comfortable for the female victims. As a result we have trained a lot of our women officers and various ranks to be able undertake peacekeeping and peace support operations.
As we speak we have women officers deployed for UN and AU operation in Sudan, Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire. These women have acquitted themselves very well indeed. Women are better officers when dealing with victims of conflicts. They have proved to be actually more effective than male officers.
PM: According to you the Air Force of Zimbabwe’s primary role is to defend Zimbabwe’s airspace. What is your secondary role?
PS: Well our secondary role is to aid civil authorities in power. We support the civilian communities and we support the civilian ministries. A lot of people misunderstand the military in that we are there to fight wars only. Yes that’s our primary role, which is to defend Zimbabwe’s air space, our territorial integrity and defence of our sovereignty. But over and above that we have secondary roles, which would involve disaster management. For example, when we are faced with situations of floods, drought or accidents and when there is need for search and rescue operations we are equally involved. We have the equipment, the manpower, which is trained and readily available for such purposes. Last year alone the Air Force undertook over 10 missions involving humanitarian assistance and search and rescue operations. The last year, we had to fly our medical personnel as well as provide our aircraft to Ngundu, which is along the Masvingo-Beitbridge Highway where a bus had been involved in an accident. We ferried the injured to nearest hospitals and some who were in critical condition had to be flown all the way to Harare. That is actually one of our roles, a lot of our people seem not to appreciate. We heard reports of many disasters taking place and people seem not to realise that the Air Force of Zimbabwe can offer assistance in such dire situation.
PM: You have this Murongwe School Project. Can you tell us more about this project?
PS: It is again in our pursuance of our secondary role in that we deal with disadvantaged communities to that extend we have established the Air Force Commander’s Charity Fund, which looks at those areas of disadvantaged communities, which we could chip in. Co-operation from individuals and the corporate world is required so that we look after the disadvantaged girl child. When resources are scarce you find out that the girl child is the last to be looked at. Some of them have got some great talent we try and identify and assist them. On the other hand Zimbabwe is on record having the highest literacy rate in Africa, but on the ground we have got a number of schools in remote areas especially on our border areas which don’t have adequate facilities.
We have identified one school Murongwe Primary in Dande Communal areas in Mt Darwin right on the border with Mozambique. We came across a school, which was made of pole and dagga and thatched with grass during rainy season it was not conducive to learn. The community chipped in by way of molding bricks. The Air Force then went on to engage individuals and the corporate world made various donations, and we bought cement and roofing materials. To date four classroom blocks and headmaster’s house have been completed. These structures will allow the school to be registered as an examination centre. The project is on going with classroom blocks, administration block, teacher’s houses, an Early Childhood Development Centre, computer laboratory, borehole and toilets at various stages of development. This will be the first school in Dande to have computers. We look forward to financial assistance from the corporate world, individuals and well-wishers for completion of this noble project.
PM: What does the future hold for the Air Force of Zimbabwe?
PS: The Air Force of Zimbabwe is a military organisation operating alongside other security organisations in Zimbabwe. The country has a number of challenges its us nationals of Zimbabwe and of course the air force has to play a role in creating a better and conducive environment for the future generations. As a result we realise for us to be successful in the future we have to involve the younger generation in the various activities of the Air Force. We recruit youth both boys and girls aged between 18 and 22 to come and be trained. The challenge is actually with the youth who have to take over the culture, which we have already established and continue developing it. We also realise technology is changing at a pregnant speed and we have to prepare ourselves for that. As a result we have gone into partnerships with a number of training institutions, universities where we are training officers men and women to undertake studies in various areas so that we remain abreast with the changes that are taking place in our society and the world.
PM: Finally, your last words.
PS: To the staff members, I would like to say thank you very much for your resilience. We have been through difficult and trying times, but we have managed to keep our heads above the water. We have been exemplary in other countries when faced with such challenges it’s the military who turned to be the source of problems but in our Zimbabwe we have become the source of stability. It’s a job well done. To Zimbabweans we need to remain united. We need to remain focused and we should not forget that we are Africans and together as Africans we shall make it. To the youth, I would like to say the time has come whereby you should come and takeover the mandate. We have played our role its now your turn so that you continue safeguarding our territorial integrity. Come join Air Force.
PM: Thank you so much for your time
PS: Thank you.