Vincent Gono, Features Editor
NOVELIST, George Orwell of the Animal Farm fame, once made an apt remark about the army when he said, “people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
Orwell did not hesitate to mention rough and violence in the same sentence because, if need be, that is the sort of areas where the men in camouflage are mostly found in defence of the nation. They are trained to be hard. They are trained to be strong both mentally and physically. Weaklings and those with “saladic” happy-luck-go approach to life have no place in the army.
In their barracks, there is a linear reporting structure where there is an unflinching adherence to values of order and respect of higher ranks through salutation “Sir”. Their training and line of duty does not require them to mix too much with the public hence their stay in the barracks that by design and reason of security are usually not in the city centre like police stations but in the periphery of cities and towns.
There is also an African proverb that goes to the effect that when you see an owl flying in broad day, something is after its life. The owl is not known to be friends with the day.
It rarely flies in day light when everything is normal and so are the soldiers, they hardly come out of their barracks to mix and mingle with the public unless when necessary, when something is threatening the peace and security of the country. But there is a soft side to the army, for they are also human beings who love and are also loved. They can also be romantic. They are the most disciplined people in terms of keeping time and carrying out orders, they do not leave any of their job half done.
They are also not only good with their guns, although guns define them. They have different other skills that make them a complete community that needs no civilian help. They have schools where the headmasters and teachers are from within the army, they have hospitals where doctors and nurses are from within the army, they have magazines where journalists and photographers are within themselves, they have cars where drivers and mechanics are from within. In fact, they have everything within and among themselves including technicians, surveyors, architects, designers and builders. They are literally a complete society.
The army has not been instrumental in fortifying the country against internal and external enemies only. In peace time, the different departments are involved in various civil projects such as construction of bridges, dams, roads and even building schools, hospitals and clinics.
They have been involved in cyclone Idai hit areas in the Manicaland Province where there is infrastructure reconstruction work taking place, they have been serving the communities with a professional zeal and commitment as well as a determined spirit. But wait until you get to Mpopoma High School in Bulawayo where the army has shown their mastery in constructing a double storey classroom block in line with their community assistance projects.
The school headmaster Mr Christopher Dube is gratified by the development and applauded the army for a job well done. He said they provided the materials that were bought through the School Development Committee (SDC) levy at an overall cost of $5 million and the construction was done by the army.
“What we did was to provide the building material. When we were sure that the materials were enough for the work to start, we applied to the army for assistance in form of labour and the response was positive. Our idea was to make it a science laboratory but after calculations we realised there was a lot of plumbing that needed to be done so we finally settled for it to be just an ordinary classroom block,” said Mr Dube.
He expressed adoration at the work ethic exhibited by the army during the construction of the block.
“The general perception is that they are specialists in holding and using guns. Yes, that is true but if you see them at the construction site you will marvel at the level of order and commitment that they put. They are so meticulous that at one time I thought I was in the wrong profession. The guys did us a good job and we are full of admiration of their mastery,” he said.
Asked how their intercourse started, Mr Dube said it started when he was headmaster at Lobengula High when he applied for assistance in the form of expert labour in the construction of a library and he realised the army could be relied upon.
“It was around 2003-2004 when I was still at Lobengula. We wanted to construct a school library and we pulled together resources then we applied for assistance and the army guys came and did a wonderful job.
“So, I knew the process from there. One thing I want to tell you is that they are so hardworking, disciplined and professional. They know exactly what they do and that classroom block speaks volumes of their skillfulness,” added Mr Dube.
Primary and Secondary Education deputy minister Cde Edgar Moyo paid tribute to the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) for their efforts in improving educational infrastructure in the country. He said such collaborations in development were supposed to be the basis of intersectoral cohesion in the drive towards national development.
“We acknowledge and appreciate the work that our soldiers are doing in the education system. I am aware of the Mpopoma High School block but that is not the only structure that has been built by the army. There are more. I can’t give the figures off hand but we have been working together so well with the ZDF in school construction in the country. We have a deficit of 2 500 schools and we hope to be closing it.
More schools are going to be built in resettlement areas and the army’s expertise will obviously come in handy. And with covid-19 and the need for social distancing we are going to be mobilizing resources fast so that we do away with overcrowding in our schools,” said deputy minister Moyo.
He said the work that the ZDF has been doing in the communities dovetails with Tuesday’s Defence Forces Day’s theme of “Celebrating 40 years of Excellent Service”