From Wikileaks we learn that Botswana ran to the United States in 2008/9 asking for military assistance, fearing Zimbabwe was about to launch a massive invasion. Knowing the Zimbabwe Defence Forces’ mentality, had they chosen to attack Botswana, it would have been a surgical strike which, only God in high heaven, or the ZDF itself could prevent.
My name is Kudakwashe Kanhutu, Lieutenant Colonel Kudakwashe Kanhutu, Commanding Officer, 1 Commando Regiment; the foremost unit of the Special Forces in the Zimbabwe Defence Forces. My life has been duty bound from the very start, of pride in family possessions, placing others’ lives before my own and holding as inviolable the defence of our territory. Starting with the defending of the family livestock and maize plot from wild animals as a child, to protecting family members in playground fights at school. Destiny, it would seem, had pre-programmed my disposition. I do not know what the exact date is, but I am writing this from the cold hardness of a Botswana Military Prison cell, it is at least 10 years since my capture on 11 February 2009, but for the magnitude of the events I am about to recount to take root in your mind, let me start from the very beginning.
I have never placed much emphasis on riches, in fact, I have what borders on disdain for worldly riches as they distract from the duty of service to the Nation. This is manifest, from the onset, in my decision not to take sole ownership of my parents’ property and livestock, as was my right as eldest son when my parents passed away while I was only 15. Choosing instead communal ownership where a greedy disposition would have assumed sole ownership and demanded that everyone else be subservient to that decision. There was no shortage of acts of bravery in my childhood. My family’s settling in the Zambezi Valley at the end of Liberation Struggle meant that we had to compete for living space with wildlife such as Lions, Leopards, Elephants and – the deadliest of them all – the Black Mamba. I have lost count of the number of times when I had to come to the aid, with other boys, of a homestead that had to fend off these predators. Many times these predators would attack people, but yet I find myself thinking, in retrospect, that none of these predators were as deadly as the politician, with his fickleness, his double dealings, conniving, scheming and deception.
Soldiers are a breed apart, especially in my experience those of 1 Commando Regiment. Anyone who is willing to die for his country without question qualifies for that distinction. Politicians on the other hand concern themselves with ‘pulling strings’ when conscription is necessary, so that their sons and their friends’ sons do not end up serving in the military. For their own children, service in the military is to be avoided like the plague. It is ironic that people who depend that much on the military for their survival should hold it in such poor regard.
My joining of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces was the most natural thing. After University I could have applied directly to the Zimbabwe Military Academy, to start life of service as an Officer but instead I went via the basic entry route; General Duty Infantry. The aspersion I held then was that in choosing to become an officer from the onset, I could never really be a soldier. I feared that the stratification of our society was also mirrored in the military by division between Officers and their men; where Officers would be living a life of privilege and enjoying trappings of wealth far removed from the asceticism that is a prerequisite for an honorable military life. I was pleasantly surprised to find this to be contrary to the truth. As soon as I had finished my basic infantry training I was transferred to the Zimbabwe Military Academy on merit, where I soon found out that my Officer training was doubly harder and more demanding than the one at Infantry School. The reasoning at ZMA was that as Officers we can only lead men into battle if we are at least equals with the best man in our units in all the physical requirements of our mission: we lead from the front.
Excellence at training saw me transferred to 1 Commando Regiment. Subsequent combat operations saw my meteoric rise to Commanding Officer of the same unit, notably the last minute defense of Kinshasa from Ugandan and Rwandan troops; an operation executed with great precision but whose details I will neglect in this account for brevity’s sake. I will only defend our deployment to the Democratic Republic of Congo in its context as a humanitarian effort to give civilians of that country a moment of peace as civilians everywhere deserve. The DRC had continually never known peace with various foreign governments, including America, implicated in the instability. At the time of my DRC tour of duty, I was not yet privy to operational decision making, but I understood the necessity of the mission in the humanitarian context as opposed to the aspersions cast out by the media.
My life, therefore, was a life dedicated to serving Zimbabwe to the exclusion of all else. In this sort of setting, where you are driven by the honor within you, the most common mistake is that you will think everyone in the Country to harbor the same feeling, which is a fatal mistake. You will essentially have no prejudices or suspect that some are driven by greed.
The background to my head on collision with the politicians of Zimbabwe, the subject of this account, is indeed the economic quandary and political stalemate the Country was in. Politicians’ arguments, personality clashes and all else that played out needlessly. Each trying to out-do the other in showing who could damage the Country the most if he was not at the helm. Each flexing political muscles, the one ordering his supporters to slash and burn, and, the other – not to be outdone – running to the International Community and demanding they cut credit lines to Zimbabwe. The only one suffering being the ordinary man. In this vein, I find the best argument for rule by the military in developing infant democracies as opposed to the oversight of the military by civilians that is prevalent in the come-of-age democracies. The true military man gets his inspiration from the duty to protect the weak from exploitation, and, his strength is derived from the honor instilled in him by an inviolable military code. The true military man has no need for exploitative deception.
Politicians on the other hand are ungrateful parasites, every four to five years they abandon their expensive suits, they dress down and descend on the ordinary people like vultures. They pretend to identify with the ordinary man’s plight, they lie, how they lie? They invoke fictitious backgrounds of trial by fire, and, because the ordinary man is not wise, this deception takes root and the tragedy is that it is repeated regularly and, still, ordinary people are none the wiser. All this is done to legitimate the group of politicians whose turn it is to plunder the Country’s resources. The anomaly of politicians having oversight over the military then ensures that the military is then obliged to be a blunt tool in the hands of politicians, subject to abuse.
All the problems we were having in the Country, the economic meltdown, the political hate, the closure of hospitals and every other malady, were manifestations of dishonourable people having control over things they should not have control over. Of course because of the subservience to the Zimbabwe Constitution of the institution that was my station of contribution to the good of the nation, I found myself unable to initiate a course that I am now able to argue from solitary confinement in a Botswana Military Prison. How did this come about?
Again the politicians came to us, with substantial proof that Botswana was training disaffected Zimbabweans to act as insurgents against the Zimbabwe government. This was not made up as some quarters argued at the time, sixteen men from my unit had actually joined these groups and so substantiated the existence of these acts of aggression. In a serious breach of protocol Botswana had also amassed troops on the border for maneuvers. These maneuvers had been observed by the Air Force of Zimbabwe’s reconnaissance planes.
The Botswana Defense Forces had foolishly conducted these actions as a back-up to the foolish rhetoric their Commander-in-Chief and President was spouting at regional meetings. Whether he wanted to immortalize himself in the history books or driven by a heartfelt cause I do not know but, either way, he had chosen the wrong vehicle for these hands. Of course, when the politicians came to us they wanted the army to invade Botswana and attack the camps where the insurgents were being given training, reminiscent of their experiences with Rhodesian Armed Forces. Here, as so often happens, even to the most stringently opposed dictates, the military’s duty to maintain peace and stability coincided with the politicians’ need to preserve and perpetuate themselves. As the military our duty to maintain peace and order makes us very circumspect. It is necessary to have absolute peace in the Country, once that has been breached, we lose control and the outcome becomes very fluid, with never before known players surfacing with invariably ridiculous agendas to promote.
The politicians were quoting their precious books of International Law and were desirous that we should set an example that will be remembered into eternity, or even occupy Botswana indefinitely. Such was their dexterity with empty words that, this was going to be “our War on Terror”. I, personally, do not like wars of conquest because they stretch the military and are unwinnable as the United States’ campaigns in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan holds testimony. Furthermore, you have to take on duties of civil government like policing, a mammoth task among hostile foreigners. Personally I prefer defensive wars. I was also averse, in discussions with HQ, to attacks on fellow Zimbabweans without warning and reasoned that the guilty party was the most powerful man in Botswana. It was he who should come to answer questions on behalf of the Zimbabweans he had made criminals out of by providing military training to. After all, it was he who was most vocal and, he who was displaying all that great bravado. My dearest wish is that people who endanger lives while hiding behind political office should be made to answer questions on their actions away from their great offices. It is a simple psychological exercise.
We also absolutely had to make a response because non action was dangerous in that it would embolden our detractor and award him allies who otherwise were not convinced. So to avert the danger of Botswana galvanizing countries on our borders into a coalition which would potentially set the whole Southern Africa region on fire, we needed something unheard of in war; the one single and instantaneous blow that would win the war. From our standpoint, the military maneuvers on our border by the Botswana Defense Forces was an act of aggression.
Thus I found myself accompanied by the Service Chiefs, outlining to the politicians, the alterations I had made to their instruction and detailing the form the mission would now take. I emphasized that the goal would still be the same but practicalities demanded that we follow a surprise commando raid with one objective; a solitary blow. There were great arguments from the politicians who sensed that there would not be great big flashes, jets screaming overhead and, death and destruction to captivate the world media and award them their interviews with CNN. I have to emphasize, away from post factor rationalizations, Botswana indeed posed a threat to the region through their undiplomatic and irresponsible action. Having established this, the mission was an absolute necessity.
The mission would in essence be carried out by 200 men from 1 Commando Regiment with me in the lead, 216 including the 16 who had already been in Botswana in the insurgents training camps, conducting various intelligence works. If that number seems low, that is because if the mission was executed with great secrecy, we would encounter negligible numbers to oppose us. Also, in terms of capabilities, the Botswana Defense Forces are essentially a bow and arrow army, in their whole existence they are not that much better than their civilians because they have never seen active combat anywhere. Conversely I was taking in veterans of the Mozambican, Somali and DRC wars. Support would ensure from the 7th Squadron of the Air Force of Zimbabwe. All military bases in the South West of the Country would be on high combat alert for a defensive war should the Botswana Army choose to cross into Zimbabwe. We would draw Botswana into an invasion, something they would never do especially with their Commander-in-Chief awaiting trial at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison.
Yes, at 2300hrs on February 10 2009, I was the greatest servant of the Zimbabwean Nation, poised to send a message to our neighbors that interference of a military nature in our domestic affairs would have their heads of state punished in a Zimbabwean Court of Law. On February 10 2009, at 2300hrs, I was standing by to rewrite the statute books of international relations. My men were standing by to bring Botswana to a standstill, telecommunications, the airport, Radio and TV stations were within fifteen minutes of my men’s control. Five 1 Commando Regiment Helicopters were standing by just fifteen minutes from Gaborone, to airlift ourselves and “Cargo One” back to Harare, having evaded Botswana radar earlier. The rest of the team would exfiltrate back to Plumtree on commandeered vehicles.
At 2330hrs on the same day, the politicians in my country who had been at each other’s throat all along finally signed on to a Government of National Unity, of course the actual ceremony was done in the day time the following day for the sake of posterity. On reflection this was an agreement to share in the plunder of the Country’s resources. All the same, part of the agreement was to put all the cards on the table, and the 1 Commando Operation so necessary to the stability of the Country was one of the cards to be put on the table. Such that by 0001hrs on 11 February 2009, I was a criminal and adventurer, disowned by the politicians in my Country. A military operation that could have only worked because it was shrouded in secrecy, a precise mission to get into Botswana and arrest the Head of State without great bloodshed was thus compromised. Against the 5000 or so men the Botswana Defence Forces could master when warned in advance my men stood no chance. The numbers advantage was too overwhelming, unsuspecting of our presence we could have been superior to the Botswana Army units we would come across in the execution of the mission. Every single detail of the mission was relayed to Botswana by our great politicians and the Botswana Defense Forces have never had a greater day in their whole existence. I ordered that the men who were manning the outer ring of the operational zone exfiltrate back to Zimbabwe. Still, this left 60 Commandos in the inner ring which comprised the units that were to take charge of the telecommunications and the actual arrest of the Head of State. 60 soldiers sacrificed because the politicians had decided it is better to share the loot, after all…
I used to be Zimbabwean, all those years ago when my heart used to beat with pride at the sight of a Zimbabwean flag fluttering in the wind. All those years ago when I used to stand to attention when the National Anthem was playing, when I would become agitated if I saw anyone, man or child, spell Zimbabwe without a capital Z. I used to be the most Zimbabwean of all Zimbabweans, all those years ago when I could spend hours doing nothing but think of ways to defend the nation from all enemies, foreign or domestic. I used to have a Country, but what happens when the fickleness of politicians overrides the sense of duty inculcated in a soldier’s fabric?