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The scars of military deployments

Soldiers are back at the barracks and things look normal. That is as normal as things can ever be in Zimbabwe. But that’s an illusion. Beyond the veil of quiet are ruins — deep scars that will not go away.

Corruption watch WITH TAWANDA MAJONI

Soldiers are back at the barracks and things look normal. That is as normal as things can ever be in Zimbabwe. But that’s an illusion. Beyond the veil of quiet are ruins — deep scars that will not go away.

In January, government deployed soldiers to manage violent protests that had broken out as President Emmerson Mnangagwa was away. The soldiers became the law enforcers, in the stead of the police, which the authorities weirdly think have become too sissy. That was a bad decision, of course, because there is nothing that the soldiers went out to do that the police couldn’t do. What was worse is that the soldiers did the opposite of what the politicians said they were doing.

They got busy breaking, instead of enforcing, the law. That’s abuse of their privileged positions as servicemen. They beat up innocent people blue and black during the day and at night alike. Some say their limbs were broken. A good number of women said they were raped by the soldiers. Well, the authorities deny that and have challenged the alleged victims to come forward and make reports. That’s futile grandstanding. It’s the same thing as prescribing a mosquito bite to cure malaria. Do you think those cowed police officers would ever open a docket against the very people who took away their guns during the 2017 coup? The cops are as scared as the hapless women. Do you reckon the police would cause the army to line up for an identification parade?

There were reports of soldiers robbing people. A tethered goat feeds off the grass close to the tree. That’s what those rogue soldiers did, with absolute impunity. With those perennially sorry salaries, the post-protest mayhem presented a good chance for the soldiers to earn the extra dollar. Forget the absurd lie that it was civilians in military fatigue who did it. Civilians couldn’t also still AK47 rifles and army trucks. That has been settled.

The soldiers did more bad things. They led shocking campaigns to raze down informal business structures in Harare and Chitungwiza. They did it with so much passion you would think they had learnt that the rats and roaches in those structures were about to invade Zimbabwe and commit treason. But that was sadistic. The real reason why the army led that campaign is that the politicians just wanted to administer pain and fear in the people.

Somehow, the politicians suspected that the vendors were responsible for the protests. Wrongly, of course. Granted, there were hooligans who burnt things and looted. But they did that as the vendors were busy at their stalls. In fact, many of those vendors were victims of the crooked protestors. The truth is, destruction of the informal business structures was an act of political vengeance. The majority of the vendors, no doubt, voted the opposition in last year’s elections.

That’s not a secret, most urbanites have been voting the opposition since 2000. That’s because they are disillusioned with Zanu PF, which has presided over probably the worst joblessness in a country that is not at war. Vending has become the alternative means of survival in a country suffering an unemployment rate of more than 90%, never mind all those official attempts to use technical but useless definitions of employment.

So, the ruling politicians decided to use the army to do what they spun as a clean-up campaign to retributively cause pain among those informal traders. What they seemed to have skipped is the fact that urbanites don’t possess genes that generate hatred or dislike for Zanu PF. In fact, it’s Zanu PF that is so genetically engineered to cause people to hate or dislike it. It has been driving the economy down like its survival depends on it. And it responds to dissent with anger and sadism as it did during the January military clampdown.

The informal traders are trooping back slowly. There is no other way because they need to survive. The sad reality, though, is that after the January persecution, they have to start by raking out the debris and trying to build something from the ruins. They lost their goods. They lost income. They lost the money they had invested in setting up the structures. The destruction of their stalls happened as government was moving to officialise the informal market. At least, that what they were jaw-jawing about all this time along.

For some time, they will operate at a loss. That means the parents and breadwinners will not be able to raise enough money to buy school uniforms, food and medicines for their dependents. They will be fighting with their landlords because they can’t raise enough money for rent. Needless to say, some children will die or get diseased, but there won’t be anyone to document this and establish the link between the military deployments and the vendors’ misery.

And, amidst all that misery and the grotesque signature of militarised political brutality, those in power will be losers too. The victims are living in fear now. They might be wincing in pain and may be shedding tears all the time they go to bed. But that doesn’t mean that will make them vote Zanu PF or hail its leaders as saints.

Many have already abandoned their small business because they won’t be able to raise the capital to start afresh. That comes with a whole host of other problems. No-one may be able to document this either, but there is likely to be a spike in robberies, housebreakings, thefts and prostitution. No-one ever wishes their children, friends or relatives to take up such despicable “professions”, of course.

Already, hundreds of young women and men have left the country to look for economic options in neighbouring countries. They were trying to earn an honest living at home, but have been hounded out. Young single mothers have left their children behind. Young men have left their wives and children behind too. That means an inevitable breakdown of the family fabric.

There is bitterness among the people. They can’t understand why an army that is supposed to protect them and guard the country can be used as a tool to persecute them. The politicians may be satisfied that their decision to deploy the army has brought what they selfishly call stability, but the truth is that it has wrought wounds that won’t heal fast and scars that will stay forever.

And, as the wounds fester and the scars set, you are sure that those in power will not bring redress.

Tawanda Majoni is the national co-ordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT), a member of the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN), and can be contacted on tmajoni@idt.org.zw