Young men and women from southern Zimbabwe are shunning recruitment in the army – largely because of bitterness over past military atrocities.
Since the 1980s the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) has been struggling to attract sufficient numbers from the Matabeleland provinces, say military sources.
Whenever recruitment for general or officer cadet training courses is done, the 10 provinces are supposed to contribute equal numbers of recruits.
“We tend to get overwhelming responses from other provinces, but we always have a headache getting interested recruits from Matabeleland South and North. Bulawayo is not much of a problem because it is a mixed urban province,” a senior officer told The Zimbabwean recently.
During the 2014 officer cadet screening exercise, the army recruiting office had the same problem and was forced to relax its conditions in order to meet the quotas from southern Zimbabwe. The selections took place in several provinces and wound up at the Zimbabwe Military Academy (ZMA) just outside Gweru, the Midlands provincial capital, last month. Each province was supposed to contribute about 75 recruits. “The maximum recruitment age is 22 years, but in order to get enough numbers, we ended up accepting aspiring officer cadets well beyond the limit. We also relaxed the requirement on education and were forced to consider some who had not passed O-Level English or Maths,” said another source. Because of the need to fill the quotas for the southern regions, army aspirants from other regions who turned out overwhelmingly and had good passes at A-Level, missed out as the military bent over backwards to accommodate defaulting provinces.
Young people from that area still resent the army because of the atrocities it committed during Gukurahundi in the early 1980s, which claimed an estimated 20,000 innocent civilians, according to the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace.
President Robert Mugabe unleashed a Korea-trained crack army unit, 5 Brigade, in the region purportedly to suppress a military uprising by the late Joshua Nkomo’s (PF) Zapu. The crackdown was based on military intelligence information that claimed that (PF) Zapu was sponsoring dissidents who planned to violently overthrow Mugabe’s government following the party’s defeat in the 1980 majority general elections that removed white minority rule.
In his memoirs, The Story of My Life, and at other forums, Nkomo vehemently denied the claim and accused Mugabe of political victimisation.The army, working in collaboration with other state security agencies, also cracked down on parts of the Midlands where CCJP said entire families were wiped out.
“These young men might be too young to have witnessed Gukurahundi, but their parents and relatives keep reminding them. The ghost remains and a large section of the population from that region see the army as the animal that wanted to wipe them out,” added the source.
In addition, the resistance to military recruitment is fuelled by young people preferring to go to South Africa and Botswana to look for jobs, instead of the rigours of army training.
The army public relations office had not responded to e-mailed questions sent more than a week ago at the time of going to print.