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Develop me: The plight of an African liberation soldier


On November 11, the United Kingdom commemorated Remembrance Day, which is also known as Poppy Day.

Tapiwa Gomo

It is a day also observed by some members of the Commonwealth countries since the end of World War I to remember the soldiers who died in the line of duty.

The First World War hostilities ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

It is also a day they give respect to the surviving soldiers of the First and Second World War. Despite being on pension packages and living an above average life, it is a day they feel recognised by their people and their governments.

The story of an African liberation soldier is remote from that of a British soldier.

It is characterised by sadness, anger, bitterness, misery, hate, pain and cruelty.

The mere mention of a war veteran in Zimbabwe sends shivers among many, perhaps for the role they played in post–war Zimbabwe.

The story of how the economy plummeted during the dark decade cannot be written without mentioning war veterans.

Similarly, the story of our political drama is to a large extent scripted by the post-war war veterans.

However, despite their overbearing demeanour, social standing and living conditions for the majority of them leave a lot to be desired.

Perhaps the Zimbabwean liberation soldier may be better than others across Africa.

Picture this, young men and women are recruited and conscripted into the army in their teen age to join military battalions fighting for the liberation of their country.

They drop out of school to pursue a real and genuine agenda of freeing their people from many years of oppression and marginalisation.

They want freedom and a good life for their people so they give their lives.

Now, as the war rages, those who remained and who did not join the war, either pursued education or sought refuge in other countries where they accessed education while waiting for the country to be liberated by the unrelenting African liberation soldier.

Both are driven by a dream – that of a better future for their country. As sure as day comes after and before night, the war is finally won.

The African soldier, with his gun in hands, celebrates victory and looks forward to his or her time in a new environment of freedom.

Similarly, the millions of those with their educational papers in hands, including those who fled the country also celebrated and started the journey home to rebuild a country destroyed by many years of war.

The civilian congratulates the African solider for a job well done, while the soldier welcomes the civilian back home. It is sweet victory for both.

By the stroke of the pen that ended the war, the realities start to change. It is time to develop the country, and with that sees industry sprouting and growing fast, so is the need for skilled manpower.

The skill of the gun becomes redundant. As the situation shifts and transforms fast, it is those who went to school, while the African soldier fought oppression, who are now occupying all the good jobs and holding the knife to the national cake while enjoying the hymns and drums of freedom.

As the country develops, the faster the African soldier is also fast marginalised, if not forgotten. It is true that the time for the African liberation soldier is long gone, so is their time to return to school and redeem their relevance to the realities of the day.

But they think they have a stake in the country. They fought for it. They risked their lives, some even lost friends as hostilities intensified. That season is over. There is a new dispensation in town for which the sight of a soldier exudes irrelevance.

Even then, the African soldier must be taken care of. But the new government inherited nothing but a poor system which cannot take care of its own salaries, let alone pension for the African soldier.

The new government even bends over backwards at the whims of the markets and industry, among which includes cutting government expenditure, dashing all hopes of a pension for the African soldier.

Any attempt to raise their voice is now seen as a threat to the economy and to society. Such attempts are linked with threats to human rights, forming rebel groups, terrorism and being undemocratic.

Efforts to meet government leaders are hindered by the formalities of protocols imposed by those educated during the war; and the inability to read, write and account does not help the situation either.

As the African soldier watches his/her family getting hungrier each day, he/she gets impatient and angrier posing a genuine threat to national security. But, their plight is more genuine as well.

But then, why watch their families die of hunger, if the gun can feed their families again?

Why protect peace that does not favour them, if chaos can retain them power?
For several decades, this has been the virus that has caused instability in many African countries. On the surface, the answer is simple; give the African liberation soldier his/her dues so he or she can lay down the weapons.

But, beyond that where does such pension money come from? Unless that question is addressed, rebels will remain part of our history and may be out story.

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