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ZIMBABWE-POLITICS: WEARING THE FORMER ENEMY’S GARB

LEWIS MACHIPISA

HARARE, Feb 17 1995 (IPS) - OLD WOUNDS HAVE REOPENED IN ZIMBABWE FOLLOWING A DECISION BY THE ARMED FORCES TO WEAR A CAMOUFLAGE OUTFIT USED BY ITS PREDECESSOR, THE ARMY OF THEN WHITE-RULED RHODESIA.

ONE MILITARY EXPERT SAID THE MOVE IS PURELY A QUESTION OF DOLLARS AND CENTS. RATHER THAN SPEND MORE ON NEW OUTFITS, THE ZIMBABWE NATIONAL ARMY (ZNA) WILL USE UNIFORM MATERIAL LEFT OVER BY THE RHODESIAN ARMED FORCES WHEN MAJORITY RULE CAME IN 1980.

BUT THE RETURN OF THE COLONIAL UNIFORM HAS CREATED AN UPROAR AMONG FORMER FREEDOM FIGHTERS IN THE ARMY AND OPPOSITION POLITICIANS WHO DESCRIBE THE MOVE AS “INSULTING”.

“IT IS AN UNFORTUNATE POSITION BY THE GOVERNMENT WHICH JUST SHOWS THAT ALTHOUGH WE ARE INDEPENDENT WE ARE MOVING BACKWARDS,” CHARGED WURAYAYI ZEMBE, SECRETARY-GENERAL OF THE OPPOSITION DEMOCRATIC PARTY (DP).

“LAWS AND FORCES THAT WERE AT PLAY DURING THE COLONIAL TIMES ARE STILL VERY MUCH ON THE GROUND,” HE SAID, ADDING: “YES WE ATTAINED SELF-RULE BUT WHAT HAS ONLY CHANGED IS THE COLOUR OF THE RULERS.”

AN OFFICER IN ZNA’S LOGISTICS DEPARTMENT WHO DECLINED TO BE NAMED SAID HE WAS PUZZLED BY THE GOVERNMENT’S MOVE TO RETURN TO THE “COLONIAL UNIFORM” AS IT WAS NOT ANY BETTER THAN THE CAMOUFLAGE IN USE.

” WHY THEY WANT TO CHANGE THE CAMOUFLAGE BOGGLES OUR MINDS,” SAYS THE OFFICER.

ZIMBABWE, FORMERLY CALLED RHODESIA, ATTAINED INDEPENDENCE IN 1980 AFTER A PROTRACTED WAR OF LIBERATION IN WHICH THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE, MOSTLY BLACKS, WERE KILLED.

“PSYCHOLOGICALLY, THE RETURN OF THE OLD RHODESIAN FORCES’ UNIFORM WILL OBVIOUSLY OPEN OLD WOUNDS IN SOME SECTORS OF THE COUNTRY,” EXPLAINS UNIVERSITY OF ZIMBABWE WAR STUDIES LECTURER MARTIN RUPIYA.

“I AM SURE IN THE RURAL AREAS PEOPLE WILL NOT TAKE IT LIGHTLY BECAUSE THEY ARE THE ONES WHO SUFFERED THE BRUNT OF THE WAR. THEY ASSOCIATE THE UNIFORM WITH SUFFERING,” HE ARGUED.

RUPIYA FEELS THE GOVERNMENT IS TRYING TO STRIKE A BALANCE BETWEEN THE RISK OF REMINDING THE PEOPLE OF AN UNPLEASANT PAST AND THE CONSTRAINTS OF HARSH ECONOMIC REALITY.

THE MINISTRY OF DEFENCE HAS OVER THE YEARS RECEIVED THE LARGEST SINGLE BUDGET ALLOCATION DESPITE MOUNTING PRESSURE ON THE GOVERNMENT TO CUT DOWN ON MILITARY EXPENDITURE.

ACCORDING TO ‘THE MILITARY BALANCE 1994-1995,’ AN ANNUAL HANDBOOK PRODUCED BY THE INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR STRATEGIC STUDIES IN LONDON, ZIMBABWE SPENT 217.7 MILLION DOLLARS ON DEFENCE IN 1994.

“FROM AN ECONOMIC POINT OF VIEW CHANGING THE UNIFORM MAKES SENSE BECAUSE WE HAVE IN STOCK LOADS AND LOADS OF THE OLD UNIFORM. THE ARMY WOULD SAVE LOTS OF MONEY INSTEAD OF LETTING IT GO TO WASTE,” SAYS RUPIYA.

WHEN SANCTIONS WERE IMPOSED ON THE THEN BREAKAWAY BRITISH COLONY OF RHODESIA IN 1965 AFTER IT MADE A UNILATERAL DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE (UDI), THE ARMED FORCES STOCKPILED MATERIAL FOR UNIFORMS.

ACCORDING TO RUPIYA, THE MATERIAL WOULD HAVE LASTED THE RHODESIAN FORCES ABOUT 25 YEARS HAD THE COUNTRY NOT ATTAINED INDEPENDENCE. EVEN THOUGH THE ZNA USED SOME TO MAKE TENTS, IT STILL HAS TONNES LEFT OVER.

HOWEVER ZNA PUBLIC RELATIONS OFFICER CLAUDIUS MAKOVA DENIES THAT THE OLD RHODESIAN GARB IS BEING REINTRODUCED AND CLAIMS THAT THE UNIFORMS ARE “JUST SIMILAR.

“AFTER INDEPENDENCE WE DESIGNED OUR OWN UNIFORM BUT AS TIME WENT ON WE REALISED THAT OUR GARB WAS OF LOW QUALITY AND SO WE DECIDED TO CHANGE (BUT) IT IS NOT TRUE THAT WE ARE CHANGING TO THE COLONIAL UNIFORM,” SAYS MAKOVA.

HOWEVER, PEOPLE ARE SCEPTICAL. WHEN, THREE WEEKS AGO, AN ARMY COMMANDER WAS SEEN WEARING THE ‘NEW’ UNIFORM, SET TO BE INTRODUCED IN MARCH, NO ONE COULD TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN IT AND THE ONE USED BY THE RHODESIAN FORCES.

WAR VETERANS ASSOCIATION CHAIRMAN CHENJERAI HUNZVI IS NOT SURPRISED AT THE REPORTED RETURN OF THE COLONIAL UNIFORM.

“THERE ARE SEVERAL COLONIAL STRUCTURES STILL IN PLACE WITHIN GOVERNMENT THAT REMIND US OF AN UNPLEASANT PAST WHICH WE FEEL GOVERNMENT SHOULD HAVE CHANGED BUT HAS NOT,” SAYS HUNZVI.

“IF THERE ARE EX-COMBATANTS WITHIN THE ARMY WHO FEEL THEY DO NOT WANT TO WEAR THE UNIFORM BECAUSE IT REMINDS THEM OF AN UNPLEASANT PAST THEN THEY ARE JUSTIFIED TO DO SO. IT IS THEY WHO WILL WEAR IT AND NOT WE,” SAYS HUNZVI.

“PERSONALLY I DON’T SEE ANYTHING WRONG WITH RETURNING TO THE OLD UNIFORM USED BY RHODESIAN FORCES. THEY ARE A LOT STRUCTURES WHICH REMIND US OF THE PAST AND WE CANNOT RUN AWAY FROM IT,” HE ADDS.

 
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