THE Zimbabwe Republic Police Band yesterday refused to play the national anthem during a function to mark the review of the Medium-Term Plan (MTP), which was graced by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Report by Bernard Mpofu
Proceedings briefly came to a standstill when Economic Planning permanent secretary Desire Sibanda asked the band to play the national anthem after VIPs were invited to the high table to mark the launch of the first annual MTP implementation progress report.
A deafening silence ensued after Tsvangirai, Minister for State in the Vice-President’s Office Sylvester Nguni — who was representing Vice-President Joice Mujuru — and Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe had risen to observe the anthem.
The band refused to lead the singing of the anthem.
Moments later an unidentified senior police officer approached Nguni apparently to notify him on the developments.
A clearly frustrated Economic Planning minister Tapiwa Mashakada then told delegates about the developments, which he blamed on a partisan police force.
“It’s really embarrassing to the country for us to privatise a national anthem,” he said.
“The national anthem is national, the national flag is national.”
“It doesn’t belong to one political party, but we have stooped so low as a country to actually pontificate about playing the national anthem. It’s really a disgrace. It embarrasses us as a country, as a nation, that when we are launching a national government programme, we cannot sing the national anthem.”
“That’s the extent to which things have gotten in this society and I’m embarrassed by this incident.”
Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba blamed the incident on confusion over protocol.
“What transpired this afternoon arose from a misunderstanding on when the national anthem or Presidential salute is played,” she said.
“Protocol dictates that the national anthem is played at occasions which are presided over by the Presidium and in this case Vice-President Mujuru was supposed to officiate. She later did not turn up at the function, but the Police Band was already at the function.”
“No official communication was given to the Police Band by the organisers on who was going to stand on behalf of the Vice-President.”
She said according to protocol, the national anthem was played at the beginning and end of a programme.
“In this case, proceedings had already commenced and the Police Band could not play the national anthem outside protocol,” Charamba said.
“There are laid-down procedures on when to play the national anthem and there is always an individual to liaise with the Police Band at functions and this person should be one of the conveners.”
She said after consultations, the band was ready to play, but Mashakada “announced that he was no longer interested in having it (the national anthem) played”.
The launch of the policy document review was mainly attended by MDC-T ministers.
Only Nguni, deputy ministers Samuel Undenge (Economic Planning) and Mike Bimha (Industry and Commerce) and some lawmakers were in attendance.
Service chiefs, including Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, have vowed never to salute Tsvangirai even if he is elected President of the country.