Evolution of ZNA into a formidable fighting machine
Below is a statement issued on behalf of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) by Brigadier General Steven Gwekwerere, Brigadier General General Staff
Integration of the three warring armies
The Zimbabwe National Army was born from the integration of three previously warring parties.
These were the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) and the Rhodesian Army (RA).
Bringing former adversaries to work together and form a formidable force obviously and its own challenges as there was bound to be mistrust.
This called for tact, patience and diligence. Added to this, there were also logistical and administrative challenges but despite all these, a formidable fighting forces was born.
ZANLA and ZIPRA were guerilla armies whose thinking and modus operandi were mainly unconventional military operations.
However, their military prowess and experience gained over a period of nearly two decades of fighting a conventional army in them battle hardened fighters.
The Rhodesian Army on the other hand was a regular fighting force, but it also had some units whose operations were not very conventional.
The integration exercise, therefore, involved the fusion of these three warring armies into one single fighting entity.
The success of this excuse was dubbed independent Zimbabwe’s first miracle and it was also a first for any post-independence former colonies.
The integration exercise involved the training of officers and men throughout the whole organisation.
The former guerrillas were moved to training centres at 1 Infantry Training Depot, Llewellyn Barracks in Bulawayo, 2 Infantry Training Depot, Inkomo Garrison near Harare, School of Infantry in Gweru for officers’ training and Guinea Fowl for battalions would be effected through these postings and thereafter retraining together of the newly incorporated members, that is, officers and men.
This rather delicate training exercise was run at the Battalion Battle School in Nyanga.
By 1983 the integration exercise was complete and this was a success story.
Internal security disturbances
The formative years of our great country were characterised by some internal disturbances, especially in the areas of the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces.
These disturbances witnessed the deployment of the newly integrated army to fight against some renegades who had failed to get integrated and some who deserted from the rank and file.
The new army found itself involved in counter insurgency operations and these disturbances ended with the signing of the Unity Accord in 1987.
In neighbouring Mozambique which was Zimbabwe’s lifeline corridor to the sea, an insurgency was also rearing its ugly head there.
The situation deteriorated when the country’s oil pipeline was blown up forcing the country to suffer fuel shortages which crippled the country’s economy.
For the RENAMO insurgency, the ZNA deployed in 1982.
The army was deployed along the country’s borders with Mozambique from Chikwalakwala in the south, right up to Mukumbura in the north.
The RENAMO incursions affected most rural populations in the eastern districts, but the Army acquitted itself well.
Inside Mozambique, the ZNA’s major task was to guard the three corridors, that is Tete, Beira and Limpopo corridors.
Major decisive battles were fought at Casa Banana in the Gorongoza National Park, Sena, Mtarara, Maromeu, Mupunga, Limpopo and Tete.
The emergency of RENAMO insurgency in the neighbouring Mozambique further compounded the situation as it threatened the country’s economic interests.
This proved to be an early test for the newly established Army and there was need to carefully navigate this political and economic conundrum.
The organisation managed to address the problem in the best way possible given the circumstances.
The conduct of these operations was guided by the Army’s constitutional mandate, that of safeguarding the interests and territorial integrity of the country.
The ZNA withdrew in 1992 after very successful operations. Peace was ultimately achieved and national interests were safeguarded and the ZNA has remained steadfast and resolute in upholding peace in the country and region respectively, up to this day.
External peacekeeping role
During the second decade, the ZNA was called upon to participate in external peacekeeping operations under the UN banner and also under SADC.
The ZNA is a tried and tested force that has been involved in numerous missions and operations both at home and abroad.
Under the United Nations banner, the Army has participated in the United Nations Operations in Somalia (UNOSOM 1 AND 11) in 1992, the United Nations Verification Mission in Angola (MONUA) in 1997 to 1998.
The ZNA also took part in Operation Sovereign Legitimacy in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1998 to 2002 under the SADC Collective Security Banner.
Furthermore, several officers have been seconded to United Nations peacekeeping missions in Sudan, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, among many others.
It is important to note that the current Commander Zimbabwe Defense Forces, General Philip Valerio Sibanda, was entrusted with the onerous task of heading the UNAVEM and MONUA, a task he undertook with distinction.
Suffice to say that in all these missions and operations, the ZNA acquitted itself very well.
Illustratively, there is peace in Angola today, while the DRC enjoys relative peace and stability and this can be partly attributed to the sterling efforts of ZNA.
The DRC war was referred to as Africa’s First World War.
The DRC war is one of the darkest episodes in the history of Africa. Regional political leaders acted timeously to avoid a catastrophic situation and ZNA played its part as mandated by the SADC bloc.
Significantly, the ZNA was heavily involved in some of the decisive battles of the war such as those of Kinshasa (1998), Manono (1999), Kabalo (1999) and Kabinda (1999).
In the current SADC Millitary Operation which is launched to fight Islamic insurgency in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Province, the ZNA role is to provide a training team that would prepare the Mozambique Armed Forces (FADM).
This is a very noble and prestigious role considering that the rest of the training teams are from European and American countries. This indeed is a feather in the cap of the ZNA.
During the same period, we see the emergence of Regional Field Training exercises such as Exercise Blue Hungwe.
Training is an integral part of any professional military force. To that end, the ZNA regularly conducts training programmes to enhance its capabilities. The Army has also taken part in regional training exercises to enhance regional cooperation and interoperability.
Some of the regional exercises the organization has participated in include: Exercise Blue Hungwe conducted in Nyanga in 1997, Exercise Blue Crane in South Africa in 1999, Exercise Tanzanite in Tanzania in 2002, Exercise Thokgamo conducted in Botswana in 2005, Exercise Golfinho in South Africa in 2009 and Exercise Mahombekombe in Kariba in 2015.
Currently, the ZNA has also been sending teams for the international military events such as Russia International Army Games.
The army participated in the games from 2016 up to 2019. Participation in the 2020 and 2021 editions was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, hence there were no editions of the games.
Impact of illegal sanctions
The period 2000-2010 is a painful one as the economy took a downturn due to the illegal sanctions imposed by the West after the land reform programme.
Incessant droughts also characterized the decade, and this had a profound effect on the ZNA operations in terms of logistics and equipment procurement.
In a bid to address the land question, itself a painful legacy of colonial subjugation, the nation embarked on the fast track Land Reform Programme from year 2000.
This did not augur well with the affected white minority who enlisted the support of their kith and kin in Britain and other Western countries.
This former power and its allies imposed Illegal sanctions on the country in a bid to reverse the land reform programme.
These illegal sanctions adversely affected the economic performance of the country, resulting in reduced Government revenue inflows and ultimately budgetary support.
Like any other department that survives from the yearly budgets and fiscus funding, the ZNA endured the sanctions that manifested through low budget funding, and constrained equipment procurement.
To this end the organisation ventured into food production projects through farming activities to enhance its ration supplies and ensure sustenance of the force.
On the area of equipment, the organisation had to venture into robust research and development programmes.
The illegal sanctions negatively affected the country’s productive capacity of all sectors.
In this regard, the ZNA played a significant role in the maintenance of food production and security through initiating and facilitating the running programmes such as Operation Maguta and Farm Mechanisation and ultimately Command Agriculture.
In the area of health, the organisation assisted the Government by providing health professionals and specialists to man the health sector which had suffered the brain drain through mass exodus of staff.
The critical health staff migrated to the countries of the colonial powers through an orchestrated campaign to cripple the economy and bring the nation down.
As part of its secondary role of providing military aid to civil ministries and communities, the ZNA conducts operations in disaster management and community assistance programmes.
The Army has assisted communities affected by floods in Muzarabani, Chiredzi, Tsholotsho, Chipinge, Chimanimani, Gutu and Lupane.
During the drought periods, the Army has deployed its prime movers in the form of heavy duty trucks to ferry grain to all the affected drought stricken districts of the country.
Its personnel have also been deployed to carry out the distribution of grain to the communities. This has endeared the ZNA to the people.
Recently, the organisation played a crucial role during operations to assist victims of Cyclone Idai in 2019.
Furthermore, the army continues to assist affected communities in restructuring amenities such as schools, bridges and clinics as part of its community assistance programmes.
Some of these projects have been designated as Star projects and handed over to communities during the 2021 ZDF Community Assistance Week.
The week is commemorated in the first week of August annually.
For this year, projects that had been earmarked for the handover include Mberengwa hospital maternity ward, a classroom block at Zhompempe Primary School in Matabelalend South Province, two classroom blocks at Charleswood Primary School in Chimanimani and two classroom blocks at St Mannocks Secondary School in Mt Hampden.
Each and every formation of the ZNA carries out community assistance projects throughout all the country’s provinces.
However, for this year, most projects were not completed because of the Covid-19 exigencies.
It has generally been peaceful in the country and region, hence creating a conducive environment for manpower development in the Army.
Resultantly, a lot of strides are being made in these areas.
Government recently adopted Education 5.0 initiative in an effort to accelerate development of the nation towards Vision 2030.
In line with this drive, the ZNA has shifted its focus to sponsoring officers, men and women who are interested in pursuing science related programmes so as to meaningfully contribute to research and development (R and D) within the military and the country at large.
The Army and its higher learning institutions now have fully fledged R and D structures which are fully manned.
Recent developments have seen the manufacture of a mobile field kitchen, the construction of biogas digesters, the modification of weapon systems and troop carrying vehicles.
Many of these projects are on the drawing board, especially at the National Defence University.
It is inherent to note that the ZNA has a policy on the sponsorship of non-military courses for its officers and non-commissioned members.
The policy appoints 75 percent of available vacancies to those pursuing science related programmes, while 25 percent is allocated to those pursuing social sciences, arts and humanities.
Historically, it is a truism that ancient and modern development the world over has been pioneered by the military.
This is through scientific breakthroughs which drive technological and innovations, hence the ZNA’s endeavour in this field.
In this thrust, the Army thrives to develop its manpower through sending members for further studies at the Zimbabwe National Defence University, other universities and colleges to attain professional qualifications in various fields of study.
It has also pursued such efforts by sending officers, men and women abroad.
The focus is to develop a professional hard hitting army that is capable of being employed efficiently in all operational theatres whilst having the capacity to be fused in all sectors of the economy for the development of the country.
The ZNA has adequately addressed the issue of gender equity on recruitment quotas and subsequently staffing for appointments in all its structures.
Indeed, notable achievements have been made in the sphere of promoting gender equality in the ZNA.
Promoting gender equality within the organisation is viewed as a process of being fair to both women and men.
To ensure fairness, strategies and measures are always instituted to compensate for women’s historical and social disadvantages that prevented women and men from otherwise operating on a level playing field.
To correct the identified social and historical gender imbalances within the organisation, the ZNA has made it a point that at the recruitment level, a prescribed quarter of the recruits is dedicated to women.
This also goes down to the prestigious Officers Corps where a prescribed quota is left to recruitment points have also cascaded upwards to ensure that on all mainstream courses, such as, the Platoon Commanders Course, Company Group Commanders Course, Junior Staff Course and Joint Command and Staff Course, women are represented equitably.
Promotions to higher ranks in the ZNA today are based on merit, hence the organisation continues to see women attaining higher promotion posts, albeit slowly owing to the historical imbalances alluded to earlier on.
However, thanks to the deliberate efforts to correct these historical and social gender imbalances in the organisation, more women continue to attain higher ranks and related posts in the organisation than previously witnessed.
Currently, there are now three women generals and numerous colonels within the rank and file of the ZNA.
In the area of employment, women have been employed in all departments of the organisation, which include the Operations Department, both as combat troops, commanders and staff officers in various capacities.
This is in addition to the usual office clerical work that has come to be associated with women. Still in the area of employment, the organisation has moved a notch up by seconding women appointed to higher posts to other government ministries, thereby fulfilling our constitutional obligation in the provisioning of services to sister ministries.
In the same vein, we have also witnessed exceptional leadership and employment proficiency in our women deployed internationally with various African Union and United Nations missions.
All thanks to their deliberate efforts to correct the historical and social gender imbalance in the organisation.
These women continue to raise higher the national flag undoubtedly just as their male counterparts.
In the ZNA today, women are taking up posts in various fields such as motor mechanics, heavy duty truck drivers, electricians, earth moving equipment operators, to mention just a few.
Even such dare devil special forces fields like para trooping, mountaineering, abseiling, commando operations and unarmed combat operations, are now being undertaken by women.
We also witness women being employed as Armoured Personnel Carrier drivers, and even tank operators.
They have not only ended there, but have ventured further to become weapon systems operators and technicians. Women are now represented in all specialist corps of the ZNA.
In the sports field, the Army Women Football team, Black Rhinos Queens, has risen to become perennial log leaders on the national scene.
Currently, it is representing the nation in the African Champions League.
Even the composition of the national women’s football team, the Mighty Warriors, speaks volumes about the status of Army women in the organisation in particular and the nation at large.
This is the success story of the Zimbabwe Women Services (ZWS).
Last, but not least, it should be borne in mind that the promotion of gender balance is a continuous process which everyone of us must embrace.
A lot still needs to be done to correct this imbalance, but as the ZNA, we remain focused and ready to continue on this trajectory until we attain well balanced ratios where discrimination on gender will be a thing of the past.