Fidelis Munyoro Herald Reporter
Nearly 60 000 people converged at the National Sports Stadium in Harare yesterday to mark the 34th anniversary of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces Day, where President Mugabe addressed the gathering.
The ceremony saw 21 pioneers of the liberation struggle being honoured with medals, together with six serving ZDF members and three who are retired.
The ZDF members were honoured for their exploits while executing several missions, especially during the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Operation Sovereign Legitimacy.
Pioneers of the liberation struggle who were honoured were Cdes John Makwasha, Loice Chimimba Chuma, Pilate Dube, Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu, Sibongile Ncube Matavire, Phibion Sipanera, Jaison Chirinda, Edison Joseph Khumalo, Tineyi Chigudu, Noel Museredza, Irene Mareesa Dube, Juliet Chitsungo and Onias Garikai Bhasha.
The others who were honoured for their role in pioneering the struggle were Cde Georgina Minizhu, Reuben Vurayayi Mafika, Wereki Sandiyani, Darican Nyarende, Shadreck Chipanga, Florence Miti and Niffa Makoto.
Reading the citation of the 21 representative pioneers of the struggle, Defence Minister Dr Sekeramayi said the men and women joined the war of liberation during its formative years and served in different leadership positions both at the front and rear.
“They were principled, dedicated and competent leaders who played a critical role in leading the liberation forces,” said Dr Sekeremayi.
“Their allegiance and dedication to Zimbabwe continues to this day as they contribute in different capacities to jealously safeguard the freedom, independence, sovereignty, norms and values of the Republic of Zimbabwe.”
In his key note address, the President said the genesis of the ZDF sprang from the varied forms of oppression perpetrated by white colonialists on the black majority.
He said it started with white settlers displacing indigenous people from fertile to unproductive land which was unsuitable for either cropping or grazing.
Led by the likes of Cde Benjamin Burombo, President Mugabe said, trade unionism gave rise to a national consciousness, which grew and matured into political parties of the 1950s and 1960s.
He said the formation of the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress, the National Democratic Front, Zapu and Zanu, was largely attributed to these groups of courageous indigenous intellectuals.
He said the UDI, which was declared in 1965 completely shut out the political space for the blacks in the Southern Rhodesia colony.
By the time the nationalists launched the armed struggle, said the President, the international community, particularly the Soviet Union, China and the newly independent states of the Third World, had become seized with the plight of those people still under the yoke of colonialism.
The UN General Assembly, he said, was used to pass resolutions that totally condemned the practice of colonialism, but instead supported the UN Charter’s call for self-determination of people under colonialism.
But closer home, the founding fathers of the OAU, chief among them Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere and Sekou Toure, had declared at their very first summit in 1963 that Africa would not be free until all its people were free, President Mugabe said.
Proceedings at the National Sports Stadium started with the singing of the national anthem led by the parade mounted by officers from the Zimbabwe National Army and the Air Force.
Air Force of Zimbabwe fighter jets flew past as the national anthem was being sung.
The President inspected the parade before a march past in slow and quick time and then advance in review order by the forces.
Defence Minister Dr Sydney Sekeramayi then invited President Mugabe to confer medals upon 21 representative pioneers of the armed wings of the liberation movement, five ZNA non-commissioned members who survived after their boat capsized in the Atlantic Ocean on a tour of duty, two officers and two non-commissioned officers of the Air Force of Zimbabwe.
Retired Squadron Leader Engelbert Mutimuvezwa was conferred with the Silver Cross of Zimbabwe Medal for his daring antics during the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Operation Sovereign Legitimacy.
Squadron Leader Mutimuvezwa (Rtd) was a co-pilot during the Manono operation where he was tasked with supplying ZDF troops with food, medicine, ammunition and in turn retrieve one body, one casualty and two prisoners of war.
There was heavy fighting taking place, but he accomplished the mission.
Within a short period of time after their return to Kamina Air Base, the same air crew was tasked to uplift troops to reinforce the outnumbered troops at Manono airstrip. Their CASA 212 aircraft’s tail was hit by enemy fire and sustained damages on the vertical stabiliser, but the brave pilots were not deterred by the shooting incidences as they professionally and courageously continued to execute their duties under very dangerous situations.
Flight Lieutenant Michael Enslin (Rtd) was conferred with Bronze Cross of Zimbabwe Medal also for his heroics during the DRC war.
Retired Warrant Officer Class One Japhet Kupara, a member of parachute training school who participated as one of the dispatchers during the first bombing sortie of Kalimie in the DRC was conferred with Bronze Cross of Zimbabwe Medal. Warrant Officer Class Two Paddington Nyakorowa was also conferred with the Bronze Cross of Zimbabwe Medal for his role in dispatching food, ammunition and medical supplies to the almost besieged Zimbabwe Defence Forces at Manono airstrip.
The five non-commissioned officers who survived the Atlantic Ocean when their boat capsized were Sergeant Samuel Mapfumo and Corporals Shadreck Mutemera, Wishes Frequency Manunure both of Commando Regiment and Justice Tafadzwa Mukandiona and Obey Jakarasi both of Parachute Regiment.
They were awarded with the honour of Commendation Medals for their act of bravery when they defied odds and swam for almost four hours to safety during a special exercise conducted in Namibia last year.
After President Mugabe’s keynote address the crowd was treated to scintillating military displays by the Commando and Air Force.
Musicians Alick Macheso, Sulumani Chimbetu and Jah Prayzah wowed the crowd before a match pitting the Zimbabwe Defence Forces select team and their Namibian counterparts.