Harare – Zimbabwe’s military has deployed its most elite disaster management personnel and units across all of Zimbabwe’s ports of entry to help fight the coronavirus pandemic Khuluma Afrika has learnt.
Impeccable military sources confirmed that disaster management units trained in China some 3-4 years ago were deployed on the 10th of March across the country’s airports, and on the 11th of March across all land borders.
Documents shown to Khuluma Afrika show that the issue was first raised in a Joint Operations Command meeting held on 17 February, 2020. Initial intelligence gathering by the army, working with units from the police and Central Intelligence had been dispatched as early as 6 January 2020.
The decision to deploy army personnel to help fight the virus was agreed in the JOC meetings in February after concerns were raised by the country’s President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and several other Generals, including the Police Commissioner.
“One issue was that some of our ports and especially the land ones corruption is so rampant (sic). People pay to cross without passports on both sides and the worry was that people could pay a few dollars and be allowed entry even if they have high temps (sic) and are flagged.”, a top ranking army official told Khuluma Afrika via encrypted chat.
The army is historically thought to be less vulnerable to corrupt advances in Zimbabwe, at least with regards to matters of enforcement. After the November 2017 coup that toppled Robert Mugabe, many soldiers were stationed at police roadblocks and at the time, Khuluma Afrika was told that this was meant to monitor police, prevent ordinary citizens being harassed and bullied as had been the case, and to generally enforce better policing.
Zimbabwe’s borders with its neighbours in Southern Africa are among some of the most porous in the world. To date, none of South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, and Zambia can account for the exact nature of inter-country migration as officials repeatedly allow citizens to cross without passports, or with expired ones after paying bribes that range from as little as USD $30 (United States Dollars).
According to the Military officials who spoke to Khuluma, enforcement had played a small part with regards to the deployment however.
“The main issue though was that the health sector is still recovering from a strike. It is also severely incapacitated with some signs of recovery. And I mean incapacitation in terms of personnel and resources. However the army has elite medical units who were all trained in China, Russia, and a few in Dubai (sic).” an official said.
The official added that the main reasons for the deployment were to help in efficient reporting, testing, enforcement, and disaster management.
“Even in France the army is being deployed. When push is shove (sic) it is normal to deploy the army because only they can save people. Look at China’s command system” she added.
Though frowned upon, China’s command system has been hailed in recent times after curtailing the Coronavirus crisis and lowering new infections to some of the lowest currently in the world.
China’s methods which involved lockdowns, and entire ‘shut-ins’ of several apartment blocks, and deployment of enforcers – military officers who went around using force to make sure people respected the lockdowns – was initially criticised around the world as archaic.
More open and democratic approaches appear to have failed to work in Europe, which has become the new epicentre of the virus, although it is still too early to make any meaningful conclusions about which methods were best applied during the pandemic.
Responding to questions about whether a military deployment was not premature, army personnel claimed that it was necessary.
“We had to do it. Look, people said the country is doing nothing yet the issue of Corona (sic) was first raised in Inter-Intelligence meetings in the second week of December” he said.
Khuluma Afrika was able to confirm that military personnel had been responsible for ordering the quarantine of 20 passengers after one on them, a Malawian national had failed a screening test.
Officials from other departments has suggested quarantining the passenger who was unwell, but a military doctor trained in China had insisted that all passengers must be quarantined as they had been in a confined space and share ablution facilities for over 12 hours before arriving in Beitbridge.
Responding to questions about whether deploying armed personnel would not give a negative picture, the army said all of its officers who were deployed were “elite members in plain clothes who are known to their colleagues in law and health enforcement and passengers would not be able to distinguish them from ordinary border patrol personnel as is the norm everywhere in the world”.
“We have deployed our best physicians, diagnostic experts, disaster management experts and so forth. The army is not about guns and shooting. The army has the best of everything from IT to everything (sic) and we deployed those people to help protect Zimbabwean people from this virus.” the officials added.