The Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) is celebrating 40 years of existence. As the country marked the Zimbabwe Defence Forces Day yesterday, The Herald sat down with AFZ Commander, Air Marshal Elson Moyo to talk about the day and what it means, below are excerpts of the interview.
Q: The AFZ is celebrating 40 years of existence. May you share with us some of the significant highlights over the past four decades?
A: The year 2020 is a major milestone in the proud history of the Air Force of Zimbabwe as we commemorate our 40th anniversary.
The long and arduous journey, which was characterised by both trying and exciting times, started way back at Independence in 1980. The AFZ evolved out of the Rhodesian Air Force (RAF), which was a white-dominated entity that was designed to fight for the interests of colonial settlers. However, the past years have seen the transformation of the AFZ into a truly national Force that is mandated to protect the interests of the generality of Zimbabweans regardless of race, colour or creed.
Over the years the AFZ has effectively played its part alongside sister security services in ensuring that an environment of peace and tranquillity, which is a prerequisite for economic development, prevails in the country. To this end, the AFZ has a significant role to play in facilitating the attainment of the vision for the country to become a middle income nation by 2030.
Regionally and internationally, we have excelled in major operations such as the Mozambican campaign, which cleared and safeguarded Zimbabwe’s economic lifeline to the sea, and Operation Sovereign Legitimacy in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The AFZ has also participated in many peace support operations under the auspices of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN).
Outside these main roles in line with defending Zimbabwe’s airspace and territorial integrity and supporting international peace and security initiatives, we have provided support to the civil powers, in the form of search and rescue operations, casualty evacuation, VIP and VVIP transportation, ceremonial displays and flypasts as well as humanitarian work.
Zimbabwe’s economy has faced a number of challenges as a result of a number of factors such as the illegal sanctions imposed on our country, that have presented many challenges for the AFZ in keeping our platforms and other technical equipment in a serviceable state. However, let me hasten to mention that we have not allowed that to undermine our resolve to continuously meet our constitutional mandate. Through innovation and the determination to succeed in the midst of adversity, combined with support from our allies, I am proud to pronounce that the AFZ maintains significant levels of serviceability for training and operations. We are therefore fully capable of carrying out our constitutional roles and contributing to the success of national goals and aspirations.
We are indeed grateful to those countries, organisations, companies and individuals who have supported and cooperated with us over the past 40 years. I also convey my sincere appreciation to the officers, men and women of the AFZ for their sterling work. I urge all officers and members to remain focused and determined as we strive to build our Air Force to higher levels of excellence.
Q: Zimbabwe has enjoyed relative peace and stability over the past 40 years and now the national vision is to become a middle income country by 2030. In the light of this, what are the roles of the AFZ?
A: The major pre-occupation of the AFZ in this environment of relative peace and stability is to maintain a high state of operational readiness for both conventional and unconventional threats. In this way, the AFZ acts as a deterrence to would-be aggressors and also as a responsive Force that ensures that Zimbabwe continues to enjoy peace and stability which is the bedrock of any meaningful development and a success factor in the attainment of Vision 2030.
Guided by the National Vision, the mission of the AFZ is “To develop the AFZ into a patriotic, loyal, highly professional, well trained and hard-hitting Air Force that will effectively and efficiently defend the airspace, territorial integrity and national interests of the Republic of Zimbabwe”.
As you may appreciate that the definition of threats has over the years developed from traditional perceptions that mainly focused on military threats. The modern conceptions of threats are broader in that they identify threats as all those factors that threaten to degrade the quality of life of citizens. Some of these new and emerging threats include both human and natural disasters, pandemics such as Covid-19 and cyber threats among others.
What this means for the AFZ is that while we remained seized with the role of effectively defending Zimbabwe’s airspace, we are also responsive to these emerging threats. In order to fulfil these roles, the AFZ recognises the need to train our officers and members to the highest levels so that they professionally discharge their duties in order to effectively respond to these new threats. In line with this, we have taken deliberate steps to review our training syllabus at all the AFZ training schools.
Further to having a highly trained and professional workforce, we require serviceable equipment. To this end, we have placed emphasis on research and development in line with our vision “To have well equipped, robust and hard-hitting Air Force”.
Q: You have highlighted the focus on research and development. What are some of the significant outcomes from these efforts in the AFZ?
A: Research and development is one of the areas where we have scored a number of achievements. I am proud to state that the nation witnessed some of the outcomes during the 2019 ZDF celebrations when, as a result of our aircraft recovery project, the AFZ executed a flypast with a record 21 aircraft from all the Squadrons.
Further to recovering aircraft and other equipment, the R&D effort has moved to focus on innovation to modernise the AFZ so that it keeps pace with the latest technology in military aviation.
As a result of our efforts in R&D we have managed to significantly reduce the budget on foreign currency expenditure by working with local industries to manufacture some spares and critical components. As we look ahead, our thrust is to work with local universities and other institutions of higher learning so that we find local solutions to our challenges.
Q: Another follow up to your response on the AFZ roles, you highlighted the emergence of new threats and currently we are experiencing the Covid-19 pandemic. What measures have been taken by the AFZ to respond to this threat?
A: We are saddened to note that the Covid-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of many people here in Zimbabwe and indeed the world over. As the AFZ, we have recognised this as a threat to the quality of life of all the citizens in Zimbabwe. At the national level, we have our senior health services officers who are working in the National Task Force on Covid-19 and all our health services personnel as well as rapid response teams (RRT) have been put on high alert in order to effectively respond when requested to assist. In support of these initiatives, AFZ personnel have been continuously training on prevention, management and disposal of Covid-19-related matters.
Training and maintaining a high state of readiness is, however, not enough to respond to the Covid-19 threat within our AFZ establishments, hence we have complemented these measure with a number of interventions. Our measures to prevent the outbreak and spread of Covid-19 pandemic have been guided by the national guidelines and these include:
- Enforcement of lockdown measures,
- Primary screening,
- Hand sanitising at all entrance and exit points
- Ensuring face masks were worn by all passing through entry and exit points and on mass transport such as buses and troop carriers.
While we implement these measures, we are aware that we cannot manage the fight against Covid-19 in isolation. We are therefore collaborating with the ZDF HQ, ZNA, other uniformed services and the Ministry of Health and Child Care in order to share information on case handling and also in resource mobilisation.
Q: The economy has faced a number of challenges resulting from a number of factors such as the economic sanctions and most recently the Covid-19 pandemic. In such an environment, what measures have been taken by the AFZ to ensure self-sustenance?
A: The AFZ has been proactive in response to some challenges arising from limited funding. To this end, we have initiated a number of projects aimed at ensuring that our AFZ bases become self-reliant in terms of their basic food requirements.
The welfare of our officers and members is a top priority and this is why we have placed much emphasis on agriculture projects to ensure that we provide our personnel with adequate meals. We therefore have embarked on farming ventures on our bases and at AFZ farms, where we have cattle, poultry, maize and vegetable projects.
We are happy that we are beginning to see the results from these initiatives and in future we plan to further expand these projects so that we become fully self-reliant.
Q: As the AFZ celebrates 40 years, how would you say the force has fared in ensuring gender mainstreaming?
A: Over the past years, we have pursued deliberate policies on gender mainstreaming after noting the wide gap that existed between men and women in terms of representation in the AFZ. As we celebrate this 40th anniversary, we are proud to reflect on the successes that we have scored in this regard.
Some of the recent achievements include graduation of the first female fighter jet and helicopter pilots. You may recall that the AFZ had the first female pilot, Chipo Matimba, and thereafter a number of female pilots joined, but they all specialised in flying transport aircraft. It was only in 2019, that Flight Lieutenants Angeline Bosha and Annita Mapiye successfully completed their training to become the first female officers to fly fighter jets and combat helicopters respectively.
These achievements by women to defy the traditional stereotypes on gender roles have been registered in many trades in the AFZ such as engineering, parachute jumping, firefighting and Anti-Aircraft Artillery, among others. Further to these achievements, female officers have proved their mettle and taken up key decision-making positions in the AFZ. We presently have two female director generals with the ranks of air commodore and a number of female directors.
All these achievements show that the AFZ offers equal opportunities in terms of gender and we also go further to ensure that our recruitment achieves regional balance by recruiting from all the provinces in Zimbabwe.
Q: Lastly, on the civil-military relations. What measures have been taken by the AFZ to create and maintain good civil-military relations?
A: The theme for this 40th Anniversary celebrations for the ZDF is “ZDF Celebrating 40 years of Excellent Service to the People.” What this means for the AFZ is that over the past years we have remained committed to serving the people of Zimbabwe, which is a legacy of our liberation history where, as liberation movements then, we established an unbreakable bond with the people.We have maintained this bond with the people of Zimbabwe by remaining alive and responsive to their needs. On our part as the AFZ, as alluded to earlier, we recruit our personnel from all Provinces, hence we have endeavoured to identify and respond to the needs of disadvantaged communities from all parts of the country.
As you may recall, we have empowered disadvantaged communities by providing them with access to schools, health services, assistive walking devices and other social welfare services. This year, we handed over two houses for teachers at Murongwe Secondary School in Dande, in Mashonaland Central Province. The school was completed and handed over to last year, but could not be registered because there was need to provide accommodation for the teachers. The Commander AFZ Charity Fund with the support of our corporate partners constructed the houses and now the school can be registered as an examination centre.
This year, we have undertaken to assist three communities in Simuchembu in Gokwe North District in the Midlands Province, Neromwe in Chiredzi North District in Masvingo Province and Honde Valley in Manicaland Province. As you can see we have spread our wings to many parts of the country as part of our efforts to assist the people.
In Simuchembu, there is a Tonga Community that has been marginalised for some time. In response, the Commander AFZ Charity Fund partnered with the Midlands State University to identify the urgent needs of the community. The needs assessment study revealed that the community needed their satellite secondary school to be upgraded with Administration and Sciences Blocks so that it could be registered as an examination centre. What was most pleasing to note was that despite the challenges faced by the pupils from the school, they had consistently performed well above the national average in the ordinary Level examinations.
We therefore began to mobilise resources from our well-wishers and I am pleased to note that the response has been humbling, especially when you consider the hardships that are faced by many as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. A ground-breaking ceremony was held in June and we have since started construction of the structure at the school so that the pupils from the school would no longer have to travel long distances to sit for their examinations.
In Neromwe, we identified a community that was equally in need of assistance, but in this case they required health services. The nearest health facilities are located more than 80 kilometers away and we therefore committed to assist with construction of a clinic. We also had a ground-breaking ceremony in June and construction work is progressing well.
In Honde Valley, the community mobilised resources and requested our expertise in the construction of a Ground Water tank to harvest water to be used by the community. We have therefore seconded our artisans who are working with the community on the project.
As we look ahead, our resolve to assist the people will remain unshakable and we are hopeful that we will continue to form synergies with individuals and corporate partners so that we reach out to assist more people and communities in Zimbabwe.