Battle-scarred soldiers battle mental illness

via Battle-scarred soldiers battle mental illness – The Zimbabwean 14.10.2015

Soldiers who participated in post-independence battles in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Mozambique are now grappling with mental health issues as a result of traumatic experiences they encountered in combat.

In 1998 the government deployed thousands of soldiers to DRC to assist the embattled government of the late Laurent Kabila to fight Hutu-led militants. In the early 80s the government sent a large contingent of soldiers to assist the government of the late Samora Machel in Mozambique to quell RENAMO insurgents.

In both operations, Zimbabwe lost a significant number of troops and large amounts of military hardware. Scores of soldiers were maimed. Soldiers who participated in these operations  were never rehabilitated, leading to some of them suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Some have left the army and, years later, they still experience a constant sense of danger and painful memories.
“A lot of soldiers who took part in the DRC and Mozambique wars have been affected by combat stress. They were never rehabilitated or assisted with coping skills after witnessing horrendous events while in combat.

I know some who have become mentally disturbed and some have become alcoholics because of the unspeakable situations they encountered during the war,” said Moses Kumbweya, the secretary of the newly-formed Zimbabwe Ex-Servicemen’s Association Trust (ZESA).

Struggling to cope
Kumbweya, who participated in the DRC war, said since his resignation from the army in 2008 he has been struggling to cope with trauma and stress associated with the battles he fought.

“For me the Mtotomoja battle will linger in my mind for the rest of my life. In that battle alone, we lost 33 soldiers. Imagine the trauma and experience of burying the decomposing bodies of these colleagues at a cemetery in a foreign land. This incident haunts me and I feel like crying whenever I recount this incident,” he said.

Another soldier who participated in the famous Kabinda battle in eastern DRC, where a significant number of Zimbabwean troops were killed, said he was haunted by horrific experiences encountered in the battle.

“I experience hallucinations when sleeping because of the Kabinda battle on 20 March 1999. Blood was spattered all over and up to this very day I do not eat beef because of that incident. I lost four close friends in the battle and we had to endure the agony of burying these people in Lubumbashi, thousands of kilometres away from home,” said the soldier, who refused to be named for fear of victimisation.

Families suffer
Dr Frances Lovemore of the Counselling Services Unit said her organisation was greatly concerned about the issue of battle-scarred soldiers. “The lack of systematic mental health support to the military, particularly after active service has remained a concern to mental health practitioners. This vacuum has contributed substantively to family and community relationship challenges,” she said.

“The development of support and rehabilitation programmes is a challenge that both citizens and the government should meet to assist in the promotion of peace and tolerance in communities and to allow people who have served their country to return to normality,” she said.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a major health challenge in any person who has experienced conflict. If no mental health support services are offered, people tend to develop abnormal methods of coping, which further alienates them from family and friends and erodes their ability to re-integrate into society.


  • comment-avatar

    In my opinion, the whole of the Zanooo govt are “battling with mental illness”. You just have to read the Zim news every day for confirmation of that . . .

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    Mugarbage 7 years ago

    Meanwhile in the jungle, a baboon died from cyanide poisoning.
    What a sad story, tears roll down my cheeks.
    Maybe the offer of a former white farm could cure those freedom fighters second generation.

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    Gukurahundi stresses remain unresolved. Buried people are better off than those who simply disappear. Family members will never have closure. Generation to generation will suffer from that madness.

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    krnedziwe 7 years ago

    who looked after the villagers,the mujibhas and chimbwidos after he War of liberation? My own faher(he died in 2007 at the age of 96, MHSRIP) in the 70s was one of the very few senior citizens in our village had the responsibility to bury the remains (in whatever condition) victims on both sides of the war.In 1979, I personally had to bury my cousin(cant relay the state of his remains here). Am only stating events in my little village, his can be repeated for every village in the he so called learned people in high offices want us to look after those who willingly went to war in DRC and wih RENAMO for selfish reasons. We are WATCHING.

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    Msizeni silwelani 7 years ago

    If the last paragraph is anything to go by, Zimbabwe is a broken society. There is a plethora of sad events perpetrated by both the former coloniser and the current regime bar the scenes that occured outside our border.