because of its inhospitable climate and rugged terrain but also because it is a place where animals of the wild roam free, and dangerous.
It is in this crucible at the “Wafa Wafa” where Zimbabwe’s commandos, the special forces of the national army, are hardened. Whoever goes there does so voluntarily and, as depicted by the name, some die and some are seriously injured during the training. Wild animals add an extra threat.
The place is not habitable to human beings; it is only a wildlife jungle and no crop survives there as it is rocky. Only drought-resistant plants such as the cactus thrive there.
As you arrive at the entrance to the Wafa Wafa training area you are welcomed by a signpost in bold green and white letters: WELCOME TO WAFA WAFA, HOME OF THE COMMANDOS, NO MISSION IS IMPOSSIBLE UNTIL ONE DROPS DEAD.
It means once you are in a battle you will never surrender, retreat or run away from the enemy, you have to fight on with everything at your disposal until you drop dead.
Not many of us if any will dare join such a group of individuals who sacrifice their life for the defence of their motherland not just ordinarily but serving with the best force on earth.
The world over they are known as the green family or commandos. Those who know their mettle accord them great respect wherever they go. It all starts off with a month-long selection period where volunteers’ physical and mental stamina are tested to the extreme.
Briefing Colonel Steven Gwekwerere, who is the colonel responsible for general staff at Army Headquarters at the passout of 44 commandos at Wafa Wafa Training Camp, the officer commanding the training unit, Major Vengai Musanga, said commando training builds character, courage and a positive attitude in a soldier.
“The training kicks off with a four-week selection phase where volunteers are subjected to fitness tests and battle marches with weights. The phase is so demanding and stretches to 24 hours non-stop action. Fatigue and sleepless nights are the order of the day. In this phase many volunteers fall by the wayside as they fail to catch up with the daunting task,” he said.
The selection phase once complete will culminate into the endurance phase which is regarded as the ultimate test of physical and mental stamina designed to separate men from boys.
In this exercise students navigate through the rugged Zambezi Valley terrain for a distance of 120 kilometres while carrying 20 kilogrammes packs on their backs.
This phase is supposed to be completed in 48 hours and marks the end of the selection phase. In this phase volunteers are subjected to severe dehydration and body fatigue, situations they will face in real battles.
Volunteer commandos then graduate to a more demanding skills phase meant to mould them into proficient, multi-talented and fully fledged troops who are highly reliable.
In the skills phase the trainees are taught map reading. They navigate through a series of checkpoints for 82 kilometres day and night.
The trainees also undergo a three-week watermanship training where they swim while firing their rifles, rubbing shoulders with crocodiles which are plenty in Lake Kariba.
It is spine-chilling just to know there is a crocodile at a certain water point but the commandos get into the water while the crocodiles are wagging their tongues by their side.
The commandos are also taught combat skills which include water procurement from plants, traditional fire making, silent signalling techniques and food procurement from wild plants. In case of injuries they use tree bucks and traditional medicines to treat snake bikes and stomach problems.
They are also taught urban warfare, covet operations, long-range reconnaissance patrols, tracking down the enemy using its spoor, use of explosives, sniping, anti-hijacking, hostage rescue, voice procedure, water assaults, abseiling from helicopters and mountains.
In an interview recently after a passout of 44 commandos at Wafa Wafa, Major Fanuel Muzerengwa, who is the second in command of Commando Regiment, said the unit is not for the faint-hearted but is the home of the brave.
“The training a commando receives here will never be found anywhere else. If you survive this place you will survive anywhere on this earth.
“The most challenging phase when I trained here years back is the dry and hot terrain. There is no water and one needs to have water discipline to survive.
“All the big five animals except the rhino are found here. We had one encounter where a trainee was trampled on by a buffalo. Another group was attacked by a lion. The area is very dangerous,” he said.
Commanding officer of the regiment Lieutenant Colonel Hwami Vengesai, whose son Reuters also graduated at the recent passout, said the training hardens commandos and makes them lethal weapons even if they are not armed.
“The next time you see a soldier with a coveted dagger and wearing a Green Beret accord him or her great respect. They are the cream of the Zimbabwe National Army,” he said.
“The training is aimed at creating battle-hardened soldiers who will survive under any battle weather and condition. This training proved valuable to commandos and the ZNA during our tour of duty in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”