Edmore Chaipa Features Correspondent
A booming sound reverberates around the serene hills in whose midst the country’s fine daughters and sons lie.
Though deafening to the ears of mourners and residents of the nearby Warren Park suburb and Belvedere West, to those in the know, it is the burial of yet another hero at the country’s esteemed National Heroes’ Acre.
Although the sound emanating from the firing guns may be devastating to passers-by and onlookers alike, it is another salute in honour of a departed hero or heroine.
The sound is a symbol that a very important person is being laid to rest and thus has to be accorded a befitting send-off.
As a phenomenon of bestowing honour on very important people, misconceptions abound this ceremonial procedure.
Many who have set foot to the national shrine, a sacred place where those who sacrificed their lives to the well-being of Zimbabwe lie buried, testify to the excitement the guns bring.
But, sadly quite a number of Zimbabweans still lack knowledge about this type of honour.
Most Zimbabweans do not understand the meaning importance of the gun salute.
Many refer to it as just one of the several procedures associated with burial at the shrine.
Mr Takudzwa Machingura of Glen View 7 suburb said he did not understand the gun salute although he said he has occasionally witnessed it being conducted during burials at the National Heroes’ Acre.
“I have often heard that the gun salute is conducted at the burial of those who have been declared national heroes, but I do not really understand the meaning of it,” said Mr Machingura.
Mr Precious Mabhidhi, who hails from the nearby Warren Park, said he lacked knowledge of the honour and appealed to members of the
Zimbabwe Defence Forces to teach people about its significance, especially when they exhibit at fairs and shows.
“I am one of those who do not understand anything about the gun salute and when it should be given.
“I hope in future the army is going to provide more information about the gun salute for the majority of Zimbabweans to understand this type of national rituals”, said Mr Mabhidhi.
Another resident from Budiriro 5 suburb, Mrs Selina Nyemba, said she often gets alarmed when the booming sound of guns fired in honour of departed heroes are fired.
The sound of guns brings wartime memories for many people.
“I have never followed the gun salute procedure, but mostly, when people hear sound of guns without prior warning they get frightened and there is need for them to understand this military culture”, said Mrs Nyemba.
To get more information about the gun salute, this writer caught up with the Presidential Guard Ceremonial Troop at the National Heroes’ Acre during the burial of the late Vice-President Landa John Nkomo on January 23.
Vice-President Nkomo passed away on January 17, at St Anne’s Hospital after battling with cancer and was interred at the National Shrine.
May his soul rest in eternal peace.
The Ceremonial Troop is a detachment from the Cranborne Barracks based 1 Field Artillery Regiment, which is stationed at Headquarters Presidential Guard solely to provide the gun-salute honour at state events whenever required.
The Ceremonial Troop Leader, Lieutenant Morris Makandeni said the troop uses inert rounds to fire the guns in honour of visiting foreign heads of state or fallen national heroes or heroines.
Lt Makandeni, who joined the Troop in 2011, said conducting a gun salute required co-ordination and thorough preparations.
“Thorough rehearsals and co-operation among troops is crucial to the successful execution of a gun salute,” he said
Acting Troop Sergeant Major, Staff Sergeant Muguyo John, who has been with the troop since 2005, said gun salutes differed on the numbers of volleys to be fired depending on whether the person being honoured was a head of state or not.
“Foreign heads of state officially visiting Zimbabwe for the first time are accorded a 21-gun salute. The 21- gun salute is also given or accorded to the Head of State and Commander- in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, President Mugabe at the official opening of the Parliament of Zimbabwe,” he said.
Sergeant Trymore Nyamukuvhengu, one of the crew commanders, said he felt greatly honoured to be associated with the firing of guns in honour of both local and foreign VIPs.
“Our duty exposes us to different people in high places, but at the end of the day, one needs to be brave and execute their duty professionally,” said Sgt Nyamukuvhengu.
In Zimbabwe, a 21-gun salute is reserved for honouring the Commander-in-Chief, President Mugabe at the official opening of Parliament only.
In the event of death, a Commander-in-Chief is also accorded a 21- gun salute as a last sign of honour and respect, while a Vice-President is granted a 19-gun salute.
Military generals are also conferred the honour on visits or on their burial depending on rank.
A 17-gun salute is fired to honour visiting or departed four star generals, while 15 is for three star generals and 13 for two star generals.
The gun salute is usually fired simultaneously with the Air Force of Zimbabwe jets flying past, during the singing of the national anthem just before a Guard of Honour mounted by the Presidential Guard is to be in- spected.
The President of Equatorial Guinea, Theodore Nguema Mbasogo, was honoured with a 21-gun salute at the Harare International Airport on his initial State visit to Zimbabwe.
The same honour was granted the United Arab Emirates member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Ras al Khaimah, Sheikh Saud bin al Qasimi in February this year.
Many other foreign heads of state making first time official visits to Zimbabwe have also been accorded similar honours in the past.
Commander of the Botswana Defence Forces, Lieutenant-General Tebago Carter Masire, who officially came to Zimbabwe for the first time at the invitation of the Commander Defence Forces, General Constantine Chiwenga in January this year, received a 15-gun salute on arrival at the Zimbabwe National Army Headquarters.
The late General (Rtd) Solomon “Rex Nhongo” Mujuru, who died in August 2011 in an inferno at his farm in Beatrice and was laid to rest at the National Shrine, was honoured with a 17 gun-salute.
A two-gun salute is fired at all Heroes’ Day commemorations at the National Heroes Acre to honour the country’s departed sons and daughters for their supreme sacrifice to liberate Zimbabwe.
Besides granting a gun salute to very important people, members of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces and other security arms, who would have passed away serving in their organisations and those individuals who would have died and declared liberation war heroes for provinces or districts are honoured with three volleys fired from small arms as salutation for their contribution to the liberation struggle.
“Like a gun salute, three volleys are also recognised as a sign of honour to a soldier who would have passed on still in service.
The three volleys honour is generally granted to departed soldiers of the rank of colonel and below.
“For making immense sacrifices for the liberation of Zimbabwe, war veterans also get the three volleys honour at their burial ceremonies, which is mostly at a provincial heroes’ acres,” said Warrant Officer Class 1(WO1) Lawrence Ndou.
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