Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa was confronted in Parliament Wednesday with allegations that Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) members were part of the mercenaries hired to suppress the popular revolt in strife-torn Libya and to protect leader Muammar Gaddafi.
MDC-T Chief Whip Innocent Gonese quizzed Mnangagwa on the veracity of reports emanating from the North African country that Zimbabwean soldiers were shooting down unarmed Libyan civilians protesting against Gaddafi’s 42-year rule.
“Mr Speaker, I would like to know from the Minister of Defence, Emmerson Mnangagwa, whether there is any truth in the recent press reports that many mercenaries assisting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi are personnel from the ZNA,” said Gonese. “What is the government policy regarding the use of force by armed forces against civilians?”
Speaker of Parliament Lovemore Moyo ruled Gonese’s question was not a policy issue.
“Honourable Gonese, that is not a policy question.
However, if the Minister of Defence feels he needs to shed light on the issue, we will give him the opportunity to respond to it,” the Speaker said.
Parliament Standing Rules and Orders stipulate MPs should ask ministers policy questions only during Wednesday’s question and answer sessions.
Mnangagwa did not hesitate to respond but his answer did not specifically relate to Gonese’s question on whether the ZNA was actually participating as mercenaries in Libya.
“That there are mercenaries who are African and are in Libya – I have no mandate in my duty as Minister of Defence to investigate activities happening in another African country.
“It is possible for the honourable member to direct his question to the Foreign Affairs ministry, who might also enquire through foreign relations if there are any African countries participating there,” said Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa said there was no provision in the country’s laws to participate in events outside the country.
“Whether the government of Zimbabwe has any policy where members of the Zimbabwe National Army are allowed to participate in cases or in events outside the country, I would like to advise honourable members that we do not have that provision in the Defence Act,” said Mnangagwa.
However, in 1997 Zimbabwe sent thousands of combat troops backed by jet fighters and heavy artillery to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to prop up the late Laurent Kabila against rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda.
The Zimbabwe military managed to halt the rebels’ advancement to Kinshasa, the DRC capital.
The protracted war, which sucked in several countries including Namibia, Angola and Chad, ended in 2002 after peace talks.
Mnangagwa said any person who became a member of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces – even after retirement — should maintain loyalty to the country.
“I have some MPs from the other side of the House who are still loyal to me. They are still loyal to the Zimbabwe Defence Forces and not alien foreign forces.
“I am delighted you have created an opportunity for me to educate many more than yourself,” Mnangagwa said.
Gaddafi has been resisting pressure to step down from civilians in Libya, resulting in civil unrest and warnings from him that “his enemies” would be executed.
On Tuesday he said he would choose to “die a martyr” than to bow down to pressure that he should leave office, and to date human rights groups have revealed up to 1 000 people have been killed in the violence so far.