Augustine Mukaro/ Shakeman Mugari
ZIMBABWE’S military has decided to “look East” in line with official policy as it acquaints its officers with new equipment acquired from China, the Zimbabwe Independent has
Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander General Constantine Chiwenga was in China this week to sign agreements for military exchange programmes between the two countries.
China’s Xinhua News Agency on Wednesday reported that Chinese Defence minister Cao Gangchuan met Chiwenga in Beijing on Tuesday. “Cao promised that the Chinese army will continue its efforts to enhance the friendly cooperative relations with Zimbabwe’s armed forces,” the agency said
“Cao, also vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission and a state councillor, made the remark in a meeting with CG Chiwenga, commander of Zimbabwe’s defence forces.”
The agency reported Cao as saying that China and Zimbabwe had carried out fruitful cooperation in various fields since they forged diplomatic relations.
Chiwenga is understood to have held talks with the Chief of General Staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, Liang Guanglie, before meeting the minister.
“Liang, also a member of the Chinese Central Military Commission, said the Chinese army attached importance to its friendly cooperative relations with the Zimbabwean army, and will actively promote the exchanges and cooperation between the two sides in various fields,” Xinhua said.
Highly placed sources this week said government had stopped military exchange programmes and advancement courses with Western countries deemed hostile to Zimbabwe’s interests. The sources said the ZDF had stopped sending military attachés to Britain and other European countries that have cut ties with Zimbabwe over its sullied human rights record.
“The ZDF started sending its officers to China two years ago following the imposition of sanctions,” the sources said.
“As of now almost half of the forces have undergone equipment familiarialistion courses either abroad or through Chinese officers visiting the country.”
Zimbabwean state security departments have been told to phase out all European-manufactured ammunition, vehicles, helicopters and fighter planes after government failed to secure spare parts from Britain and other EU countries following the imposition of sanctions.
The sources said the recent visit to Zimbabwe by a Chinese delegation was part of the mission to assess Zimbabwe’s military needs ahead of an arms deal that is on the cards. The delegation visited the country’s key military training centres such as the Zimbabwe Military Academy (ZMA) in Gweru.
The Independent also established that a Chinese team was rebuilding the ZMA complex. Initially the complex had makeshift structures of timber and metal sheets. The team is putting up permanent structures at the complex.
Zimbabwe still has military attachés in a number of European countries but there are no training programmes taking place.
The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Home Affairs last year toured defence installations and barracks around the country.
Committee chairman and Zanu PF MP for Mt Darwin Saviour Kasukuwere admitted that sanctions had compromised the security situation in the country He said Zimbabwe needed to engage dependable suppliers of equipment in the face of crippling sanctions by the EU which has seen military machinery grounded due to lack of spare parts.
Following up on the report, Kasukuwere together with Giles Mutsekwa of the same committee, visited China to scout for replacements to the sanctions-battered military equipment. Kasukuwere said the five-day tour highlighted the kind of technology that Zimbabwe could import for the use of its defence forces.