The Arena Hildegarde
ONE of the famous quotes attributed to Catholic nun Mother Theresa is, “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”
This is another valedictory and a moment of reflection on the state of affairs in Zimbabwe, for on Tuesday, we witnessed some of the personalities that shaped yesterday and today saying goodbye.
Commander Defence Forces General Constantino Guvheya Nyikadzino Dominic Chiwenga was among eminent personalities in the military who retired, pending redeployment.
The new CDF is General Phillip Valerio Sibanda, and there was a colourful grand parade attended by President Emmerson Mnangagwa at Commando Regiment to bid Gen Chiwenga farewell, and congratulate the new team.
It is natural to feel something when such a grand occasion takes place, but also instructive to decipher what the retired general meant in his farewell remarks. Gen Chiwenga (retired) said the ZDF was his “military family”, since he joined the army at 17.
Yes, his military history started at the age of 17 when he joined the liberation struggle until early this week when he stepped down, meaning 44 years of illustrious service for the defence and territorial integrity of Zimbabwe.
Thus Gen Chiwenga (retired) put it on record that the men and women who fought in Zimbabwe’s protracted liberation struggle as Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) and/or the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) combatants were soldiers just like the Rhodesian soldiers they fought against.
Just because they were not on any payroll did not make them lesser soldiers than other members of the military the world over. His years of service and that of all war veterans should therefore not be contentious. Gen Chiwenga (retired) leaves the military after scoring a number of successes in his 13-year stint as the head of ZDF.
He demonstrated leadership at a time Zimbabwe embarked on the land reform programme, and illegal economic sanctions imposed by Britain and her allies were beginning to be felt. The military was not cushioned from the economic hardships felt by the generality of the population.
It remains a miracle that the men and women in uniform stayed so disciplined and focused on their mandate of ensuring the defence and security of the nation. That mark of leadership under trying times was underlined by his successor Gen Sibanda who said on Tuesday, “We overcame most of these because we worked as a team. Team work is our secret to success.”
Gen Chiwenga (Retired) will also be remembered for being a military leader who endured personal insults from a clique within the ruling Zanu-PF party, but still continued to ensure their safety and security.
He had become the punch-bag of some in the criminal G40 cabal, especially former First Lady Grace Mugabe and their point person, Professor Jonathan Moyo. At rallies held in all provinces, there was a deliberate attempt to provoke the military, with Amai Mugabe at one point making unsubstantiated claims that the military wanted to bomb their family business, and also kill her youngest son Chatunga Bellarmine.
In those moments of madness, she would dare the soldiers to shoot her, but vowed she would never stop telling the truth, because she was Mafirakureva (someone who dies for her beliefs).
These rallies also became public charades used to denigrate the liberation struggle and war veterans. But it was Jonathan Moyo, the G40’s think tank, who openly paraded his counter-revolutionary antics as he time and again took aim at Gen Chiwenga and the ZDF.
His Twitter handle, @ProfJNMoyo’s major objective was to weaken all arms of Government, the security sector in particular. The cheer leaders were Amai Mugabe, Saviour Kasukuwere, Patrick Zhuwao, Kudzanai Chipanga, Ignatius Chombo and others. They had become invincible and untouchable.
But Gen Chiwenga remained overly patient, to most people’s amazement. The writer recalls the interview Jonathan Moyo had with Everson Mushava of The Standard newspaper published on July 2, 2017 headlined: “Prof Moyo savages General Chiwenga.”
In the interview, Moyo trashed Government programmes such as Command Agriculture, and went on to narrate an uncorroborated story about his liberation credentials. Below is an excerpt from that interview by The Standard:
Everson Mushava: (Gen) Chiwenga says you are an enemy of the state and that now they have you where they wanted you to be. That’s very serious coming from the Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces. Are you an enemy of the state?
Jonathan Moyo: Where has Chiwenga wanted me to be? Where he can harm me because I have refused to support a subversive succession scheme that is unconstitutionally targeting President Mugabe? …
EM: Can we talk about your relationship with Chiwenga. According to a report published by one publication early this year, Chris Mutsvangwa alleged at a meeting of war veterans in Harare that you tried to cause the death of Chiwenga at Mgagao Camp in 1975 during the liberation struggle. Firstly, is that true and does that explain your frayed relationship?
JM: These people are not just command liars, they’re also evil. In 1975 I was in high school and nowhere near Mgagao as they allege. I went to Mgagao in mid-June 1976 as part of a contingent that was ferried in the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) trucks from the Liberation Centre in Kamwala, Lusaka.
I got ill on the way and arrived in Mgagao mid-June 1976 when I could hardly walk or sit. One of the OAU officers put me on a bed which, it later turned out, belonged to one of the camp commanders who — on his return from wherever he had been — was so incensed to find me on his bed that he picked me up and threw me down like a stone. I screamed like a baby and the OAU officer who had left me on that bed came to my rescue. Later that night I learnt that some two or so weeks earlier on June 6 1976 there had been a massacre of Ndebele-speaking Zipra cadres at Mgagao…
EM: In his attack directed at you, Chinamasa claimed a whistle-blower had called him to say The Standard would be running an article on Command Agriculture which you had “helped to edit”. Gen Chiwenga, in his interview with The Herald, claimed you have “bought the editorial policy” of The Standard. For the record, would you like to respond to those two particular claims?
JM: Just because Chinamasa and Chiwenga edit The Herald and The Sunday Mail whose editorial practices have gone to the dogs does not mean we are all like them or that Trevor Ncube’s editors would let me edit his newspapers and keep their jobs…”
Jonathan Moyo and the other members of the G40 cabal strongly believed that they were taking Zanu-PF and the Government of Zimbabwe to another level that would serve their interests only, while the rest of the population languished in poverty.
But on November 13, 2017, Gen Chiwenga (Retired) and his team stepped in and said enough is enough; we cannot watch as the country’s Constitution gets shredded, and as the party that fought for the liberation of the country was now posing major security challenges.
Gen Chiwenga (Retired) delivered a statement that launched Operation Restore Legacy aimed at getting rid of criminal elements and revolutionary malcontents surrounding former President Cde Robert Mugabe.
Gen Chiwenga (Retired) said in part: “We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in. Zanu-PF’s standing political virtues are a product of faithful adherence to the founding values, decorum, discipline and revolutionary protocol in the ruling Party. Party orders were strictly adhered to and whatever differences existed, they were resolved amicably and in the ruling party’s closet.”
When the military moved in, they made it clear that it was not a military takeover of Government by the ZDF. After 36 days, the ZDF announced the end of Operation Restore Legacy, as its personnel moved back to the barracks, handing over policing duties to the Zimbabwe Republic Police as per their Service Charter.
The execution of the Operation was professional and the charm offensive won the people’s hearts as the ZDF demonstrated that they are a people’s force. It succeeded in its objectives, chief among them being the resignation of former President Mugabe and assumption of leadership by President Emmerson Mnangagwa. The successes achieved in so short a period are numerous, and the way the transition was handled was highly commended by the regional and international community.
It also resulted in the retirement of some ZDF personnel, one of them being Gen Chiwenga, and the elevation of a number of securocrats. As he moves on, the best way this writer would remember Gen Chiwenga’s shrewd and strategic leadership is through his address of November 13, which I compared to Mark Antony’s eulogy at Julius Caesar’s funeral.
Said Mark Antony: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, give me your attention. I have come here to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do is remembered after their deaths, but the good is often buried with them. It might as well be the same with Caesar.
“The noble Brutus told you that Caesar was ambitious. If that’s true, it’s a serious fault, and Caesar has paid seriously for it. With the permission of Brutus and the others — for Brutus is an honourable man; they are all honourable men — I have come here to speak at Caesar’s funeral. He was my friend, he was faithful and just to me. But Brutus says he was ambitious, and Brutus is an honourable man. He brought many captives home to Rome whose ransoms brought wealth to the city.” (From Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare).
Tinotenda! Siyabonga! Twalumba! Asante Sana! Merci beaucoup! Thank you very much, and God bless you in your future endeavours!