ZNA looking for GI Janes

The Zimbabwe National Army is appealing to women to come forward and serve in the Commando crack unit.

The ZNA says it wants to offer the 'GI Janes' provisional places in the forthcoming intake to undergo one of the world's toughest military training courses.

If they succeed, the women will win the coveted red beret. But before they can swear the 'wafa wafa' slogan and wear the Commando beret, the women face 10 weeks on a gruelling course which has led to the deaths of male recruits almost every year.

The Zimbabwean understands no quarter will be given to the women hopefuls who will be expected to complete exactly the same course as the men.

Colonel General Staff at Army headquarters, Steven Gwekwerere, said the Zimbabwe National Army did not discriminate against gender, but women were shying away from the tough training.

“Commando training by its nature is tough and those who join it do so voluntarily, many at times women are leaving this to males alone," he said. "The army wishes to see women also making it where their male counterparts are.

“This training is the toughest that a soldier can undergo because it is the ultimate test of physical and mental endurance designed to separate men from boys.

“The diversity of the curriculum seeks to create commandos who are not only able to keep abreast of complex military concepts and practices, but can easily adjust to the changing global environment,” he said.

Zimbabwe's special forces are divided into five categories, the elite One Commando regiment, the One Parachute Regiment, the Combat Driving Unit, the Special Air Service, the Zimbabwe Mounted Infantry or Grey's Scouts, a horse-mounted reconnaissance unit; and the Boat Squadron.

The move to train female commandos comes as Defence minister Emerson Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe was following SADC's guidelines on gender and allowing women into the front line.

The hopefuls face an uncompromising battle against pain which reduces soldiers to tears. Few make the grade.

The toughest assignment is a four-day navigating day and night in the Zambezi Valley while carrying a 30kg weight on an empty stomach. The endurance swim in the crocodile infested area is the hallmark of the training. Further training curriculum include river crossing, mountain climbing, reconnaissance, anti-hijacking, sniping, unarmed combat, tracking and bush craft. Also included is jungle survival on wild fruits and natural remedies for medical treatment.

Other tasks include a 20km speed march and a high-speed 'death' slide. Zimbabwe's Commando crack unit is famed for many highly successful regional missions, including the final assault on UNITA leading to the eventual killing of Jonas Savimbi. Zimbabwe sent 2,000 troops to help the Angola government end the war.

The crack unit has also saved Mozambique from a rebel insurgency and in Congo defended Kinshasa at the last minute when it was on the brink of falling to rebels to invading Ugandan and Rwandan army units.

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