HomeOpinion & AnalysisThe tall lies about garrison shops

The tall lies about garrison shops

corruptionwatch:WITH TAWANDA MAJONI

Different places around Zimbabwe are known for different things, nice and ugly. For Gokwe, it’s cotton, witchcraft and mind-blasting weed.

Well, there is no more cotton to talk about in Gokwe, just like in any other part of the country. But hardly a day passes without you hearing about bizarre witchcraft in Gokwe. And they are still growing marijuana there like the Lowveld is doing sugarcane.

Did you know that Victor Matemadanda, the Defence deputy minister, comes from Gokwe? If you didn’t, you would still give it a good guess, on a scale of one to 10. You wouldn’t say he is one of the famed witches from that area, if you wanted to be nice with him and sound like you are full of tact. But one thing looks certain. That guy must be smoking the strong stuff from Gokwe in his blankets, at the office and on his way back home.

That doesn’t come as a surprise. He is also part of the post-coup establishment that is always doing crazy things. Banning good money but stashing it away at home for personal use. Urging people to eat potatoes and vegetables while addressing a braai party. Growing looting clubs. Threatening to unleash the police on hapless villagers for letting roaches breed in their huts. Silo shops and garrison shops. The list is long.

Talking about garrison shops, Matemadanda last week gave a weird interview to a local online publication. These shops are not about selling webbing belts, helmets, boots, bullets and military fatigue. Government wants to stock up cantonment areas with basic commodities for sale to soldiers, cops and prison wardens at heavily subsidised prices.

The only thing that the deputy minister got right about these shops is that there is nothing new about them. We have always had shops within military and quasi-military camps and barracks. Of course, they were dying a natural death because no-one cared about them. And this is where the real conversation must start. What people are questioning is the motive and attitude around the re-invigoration of the cantonment shops.

Everything else about Matemadanda’s interview where he is even laughing at himself for his own gook is not only wrong, but absurd too. In summary, the deputy minister wants us to believe that, even as hunger is acutely affecting the majority of the populace, the army in particular — but also the police and prison services — must get preferential treatment in the roll-out of accessible and affordable foodstuffs and other basic commodities.

For him, our soldiers are a special species which makes rare sacrifices by choosing to go to war knowing that the chances of survival and death are 50-50. He even cites the wars that Zimbabwean soldiers have fought in the DRC and Somalia, among other forays. In that sense, according to him, soldiers must be fed ahead of everyone else, the bony old granny in Mberengwa included. And, without provocation, he claims the post-coup establishment is not trying to pacify a restless army.

For a long time now, we have been hearing lots about how angry the soldiers are. Their salaries can hardly buy them a loaf of bread. They move around in tired fatigues. Their situation has been deteriorating fast since they were used to spook Robert Mugabe out of power in late 2017. Only the big chefs are eating.

Fairly big guys are stealing rations and stocks because they are not part of the eating club. Naughty speculators are also saying soldiers are baying for another coup. This makes a good case for people to think that the garrison shops are a trinket agenda to pacify the swelling anger.

But back to Matemadanda. What the weed didn’t get him to think around is the lie about military self-less sacrifice and the wars that he says the army has been fighting over the decades. Let’s get it loudly clear here. The Zimbabwean army has never fought in a war that defends the citizens of this country, right from the time it was formed in 1980.

And all those wars the soldiers were forced into were never for the benefit of the ordinary person, so this mumbo jumbo about self-less sacrifice quickly falls away. The army was deployed to help quell internal rebellions in Somalia, Mozambique, the DRC and a few other cases. Ordinarily, there is nothing wrong with deploying the army to help contain strife beyond our borders. That’s international practice, also considering that we are a member of the United Nations, the African Union and Sadc where it is agreeable and expected that a nation contributes in quelling disturbances.

But in almost all those deployments, the successive governments — to mean the executive arms of government — have been motivated by sinister reasons. In Somalia, the point is, it’s so remote from us to even start thinking about direct and indirect benefits to the citizenry. The deployments there were so as to divert attention from local problems and give the international community that we were a macho nation. It’s called political flamboyance.

DRC is the worst case of self-centred military deployments that the executive has ever done. The late Mugabe avoided parliament, in direct contravention of the constitution and attending statutes. He also circumvented Sadc. And, using an unbudgeted US$1 million a day in the DRC war to prop up Laurent Kabila, who was later assassinated by his own people, the decision to get into that troubled country got us into such a huge financial mess. We are still smarting from the ripple effects of the extravagant war. No need to mention that our soldiers who went there and died like flies in the DRC swamp battles were dragged into a war they didn’t even understand.

But that’s not all. In retrospect, the main reason why the Mugabe establishment rushed into that war was not to quash the rebellions. It was to get opportunities to eat. And that’s what happened. Ask the current Foreign Affairs minister, Sibusiso Moyo. If he is honest with you, he will tell what Osleg, the commercial vehicle they formed at that time and which in which he was the director, did with the minerals and other resources in DRC. For a measure, the extensive UN report in the early 2000s will give you blow by blow accounts of how the Zimbabwean elite looted in the DRC. These are the people who are ruling us today, and they never got the tongue to deny it. Not that they would succeed if they tried.

Don’t get fooled about how they have tried to justify the Mozambique deployments. They say we needed to protect the Feruka oil pipeline. The truth is that they wanted to use the deployments there to get a chance to control the Mozambican underworld economy. Intervening in Mozambique was also going to give Mugabe and his cronies, political advantage. As they say, there is no free lunch. They always come up with what sounds like plausible excuses to get into these wars.

The point is, you can’t then start celebrating the forays by the army in foreign lands and say, let’s give the soldiers garrison shops because they fought those wars. It’s abuse of the privileges that come with power. In fact, in post-colonial Zimbabwe, there has never been a good reason for the army to be involved in any war. In the early 1980s, they deployed crack military units in the Midlands and southern Zimbabwe to deal with a mere six bandits led by the likes of Gayigusu and Gwesela. Since six was not a good number to be fighting a war against, they manufactured thousands other rebels and the rest is what you already know.

If the disgruntlement that we hear is swelling within the army is a reality, the post-coup administration must just stop playing trinket games. It must stop the thieving clubs and fix the economy so that the soldiers and the rest of the people are happy and nobody gets into another coup mode.

l Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust and can be contacted on tmajoni@idt.org.zw.

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