Editor’s Memo

Line of fire

LAST Wednesday I spent two interesting hours under heavy fire from the military at the KG VI garrison. The assault from the four dozen or so mostly three-star officers was incessant.

I survived because they were not using guns. I had entered their territory and provoked them. But I would like to think I held my own against the men in uniform who displayed undisguised partisanship and gullibility not expected of soldiers.

I had been invited to KG VI to make a presentation on an expansive subject of “The Zimbabwe Defence Forces’ image in the eyes of the public and the role of the media in military issues”.

Two other media colleagues, Dr Rino Zhuwarara, the executive chair of Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings, and Herald editor, Pikirayi Deketeke, were also part of the panel discussion aimed at helping the military understand the role of the media.

In the end I felt the officers had not learnt much from the three of us as they took defensive positions in aid of the political establishment. Some of them sounded like party commissars.

Forget about Deketeke and Zhuwarara, they all wanted a piece of me because my brief presentation in kicking off the discussion, accused the military of partisanship, unnecessary secretiveness and occasional lapses of professionalism.

The officers were not impressed. They had to defend themselves from this civilian invader with no respect for the military.

The officers believe that Zimbabwe is under threat of attack from the West. They believe the media has been used as part of the military build-up to create a crisis, mobilise international opinion against Zimbabwe and to justify military intervention.

They believe in particular that the Zimbabwe Independent and other critical media have been “demonising” (this appeared to be the buzzword for the officers) President Mugabe and government as part of this build-up.

“By demonising the president and the government, does that mean you do not have a sense of belonging — you do not feel you are a Zimbabwean?” asked a female officer in civilian attire.

“Highlighting corruption, inefficiency and repression by government is not the same as demonising the president or the country. It is a way of providing checks and balances on the ruling elite,” was my answer.

Part of the exchange went something like this:

“Why do you think that the army buying motor vehicles is a story?”

“Because they are using my tax money to do so.”

“Can you deny that your paper is demonising the government as part of the build-up to justify the invasion of Zimbabwe?”

“Yes, I deny that. It is absolutely not true.”

“I fought for this country in the liberation war. Do you think I should sit back and allow a traitor to come in and run this country?”

“I think the army has been sucked into this unfortunate belief by African leaders, including ours, that because they liberated their countries from colonial rule they hold a monopoly over our freedoms and should prescribe them in measured doses. As a modern army you should break from that partisanship…(interjection).”

There were interesting questions from a South African officer who wanted to know if Zimbabwe had a properly constituted media complaints council to deal with complaints from the public. Another officer in civvies wanted to know what was wrong with Aippa.

Then came the issue of regime change. The army is taking the statements by Tony Blair that “there is no salvation for the people of Zimbabwe until that (Mugabe’s) regime is changed” and another by United States secretary of state Condoleezza Rice that Zimbabwe is an “outpost of tyranny”, seriously.

President George Bush announced last month that Zimbabwe posed a major threat to America’s foreign policy aspirations.

There is all the evidence of serious indoctrination of military officers. They seriously believe, as propounded by Mugabe, that the MDC is a creation of the British and the party’s ascendency to power means a return to British rule.

While there might not be visible evidence of military readiness, the army has been readied for the psychological warfare which is crucial in protecting ideologies and ultimately the ruling order. The military has donned its gloves to mimick Mugabe in shadow-boxing the apparitions of Bush and Blair.

A senior officer conducting the course had this to say about regime change: “There can never be regime change in the United States unless a communist government takes over. A regime change in Zimbabwe means replacing the legitimate elected government with one that does not believe in the values and ideals of the liberation struggle.”

That rang a bell. Remember former Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Vitalis Zvinavashe in 2002 threatening not to salute anyone without liberation war credentials? The indoctrination started long back and is being consolidated.

Perhaps the officers have seen this definition by online free encyclopedia Wikipedia: “Regime change is an overthrow of a government (or regime) considered illegitimate by an external force (usually military), and its replacement with a new government according to the ideas and/or interests promoted by that force.

“In contrast to a revolution or a coup d’état, regime change happens as the result of an external force. Regime change may or may not replace the whole administrative apparatus, existing bureaucracy and/or other regime remnants.”

But do you know that during the heat of the campaining for the US presidency last year, Senator John Kerry, who eventually lost the poll, called for a regime change in that country? Does anyone believe he meant bringing Fidel Castro into the White House?

Regimes that permit indoctrination of the armed forces, and few can now doubt ours, have been thoroughly immersed in the puerile mantras of the ruling party, should be careful. Egypt (1952), Nigeria (1966, 1983, 1985), Libya (1969), Ghana (1966, 1972, 1978, 1979, 1981), and Uganda (1971, 1985), among others, all suffered military interventions by young officers who had been introduced to political ideas by their rulers in the hope of securing their loyalty. Instead they got the opposite.

Of course that couldn’t happen here!

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