Feature: ZNA officers trade guns for trowels to safe lives

Local News
The Clinic being built in Whunga

IN 1998, Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) servicemen acquitted themselves well in combat in far flung N’Djili in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a central African country still torn apart by war today.

They fought the enemy with distinction as they faced real chances of being killed and, indeed, many perished.

After the DRC war, which became known as the Great African War, DRC villagers looked at local soldiers with pride as they left that country with their heads high, having defended people unknown to them.

Back home 25 years later in Whunga, 30 kilometres west of Zezani growth point, Matabeleland South province, three ZNA soldiers are involved in a different type war: To save lives, but not through the gun.

The three, from the army's building unit, have been deployed to help villagers build a clinic, which will help reduce the distance travelled for health service.

And they are not alone in the new battlefield, having been joined by Simbisa Brands' Chicken Inn, a fast food take away outlet known as a kitchen away from home.

While many of the Whunga villagers might not have tasted the food outlet’s delicacies, they have come to know the company as a life saver.

Away from the chips, chicken, pizza, hot coffee, ice cream and bread supplied by Simbisa brands, the organisation has contributed to the building of Whunga Clinic to serve close to 1 000 households in Beitbridge West.

"We have so far donated US$10 000 towards the building of that clinic. We are strengthening the community we work in. We benefit from a strong community and that is what drove us. We are giving them another US$2 500," said Simbisa Brands operations manager at Beitbridge Frank Mudau.

 The ZNA and Simbisa have partnered villagers in a project totally different from their lines of business namely war and food, something previously unheard of in the district where health services are still to be within five kilometres of all beneficiaries.

It might also be a first in the country.

"I feel proud to tell people in my area that builders helping us are soldiers. People associate soldiers with war and I am happy about this as a former soldier myself," said Headman Mazibeli born Mbulawa Wisdom Mazibeli.

He is a veteran of the DRC war who later became an instructor in support weapons at the Mbalabala Military Academy.

"Soldiers must do these community projects in these times of peace," he said.

Chairperson of the project Ratang Muleya said the clinic’s brickwork was done and they were working on the roof.

"We have a quotation of US$14 700 for the roof. This amount will help us a lot. We cherish this gesture by Simbisa and hope other corporates take a leaf and plough back to communities," said Muleya. "Apart from the roof we have costs for guards and we also feed the members of the ZNA who have done wonderful work for us."

The adviser to the clinic building committee and former headmaster of Manama High School, Taelo Muleya appealed to residents locally and in the diaspora, to donate towards the completion of the clinic.

Villagers contributed by buying a bag of cement per five households and also moulded bricks.

"And if those in the diaspora chip in, we will finish this project faster. We have done our best and will continue. This is our project and we are the ones to benefit," he said.

"Our target is it should be operational soon rather than later," he said.

Whunga, Tshokotshoko, Dombolidenje and Dendele villagers, who moulded 86 000 bricks for the clinic, will benefit from the clinic which soldiers hung their guns for shovels, spades and trowels to build.

Meanwhile, Simbisa Brands did not, like Vasco Da Gama, the 15th-16th century Portuguese discoverer of new worlds, invest in to discover a new market for its chips, chicken and pizza, but put money in a community needing it most.

It is hoped that others will take a leaf.

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