HARARE – Barely a fortnight after executing a smooth transfer of power in a soft, smart rebellion whose sophistication earned them global acclaim, the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) embarrassingly unveiled a plaque with a misspelt name of the country etched onto expensive granite.
Instead of the correct spelling, Zimbabwe, the plaque had the inscription Zimbawe, with the letter b missing.
The humiliating incident happened during the ceremony to rename the iconic King George VI Barracks in Harare.
Until yesterday, the barracks had remained saddled with the colonial era name of George VI, who was an imperial King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 1936 until his death in 1952.
The barracks were renamed Josiah Magama Tongogara Barracks, after the venerated commander of Zanla who never witnessed the independence he so fervently fought for as he died tragically in a suspicious car accident right on the eve of liberation.
Many Zimbabweans have several theories relating to the death of Tongogara, a charismatic guerrilla leader who was widely expected to win the 1980 presidential election.
The ZNA is in the process of immortalising the decorated freedom fighters by renaming all barracks countrywide after ornamented liberation war heroes.
But the beginning of such an exercise was not so rosy as the unimaginable spelling error ended up stealing the thunder, leaving the top military men who skilfully masterminded the former president’s ouster with egg on the face.
A meticulous President Emmerson Mnangagwa spotted the flagrant error.
Flanked by the adored fallen commander’s widow, Angeline, and other dignitaries, Mnangagwa approached the plaque, radiating with confidence before he was struck with the unbelievable error as he read the engraved message.
The plaque read: “Renaming of the barracks was officially commissioned by His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe and commander-in-chief of the Zimbawe (sic) Defence Forces, Cde. E.D. Mnangagwa on 06 December 2017.”
Mnangagwa shook his head and abruptly stopped reading when he got to the spelling mistake.
He immediately called ZNA chief-of-staff, Major General Douglas Nyikayaramba.
“Douglas where are you, come here,” Mnangagwa said softly, scanning the crowd.
Nyikayaramba then quickly weaved his way through a cluster of security men to reach his new uppermost commander.
“Chii ichi? What’s that, a spelling mistake?” asked Mnangagwa pointing at the misspelt nomenclature of the Republic.
Nyikayaramba immediately acknowledged the mistake.
“Your Excellency, we are going to correct it,” said Nyikayaramba and promptly saluted.
Mnangagwa did not salute back.
The two men then shook hands and turned their backs on the plaque.
The incident left watchers wondering how the mistake eluded the army’s usually strict gate-keeping procedures.
The mistake comes days after the weekend boob that saw Mnangagwa dropping two men he had originally named to his Cabinet in the face of public opposition: Lazarus Dokora, the very unpopular Primary and Secondary Education minister, whom he had originally intended to retain from Mugabe’s Cabinet, and Clever Nyathi, who was replaced with Petronella Kagonye apparently to improve women’s representation and to conform to the constitutional requirement that all but five ministers must be members of Parliament.
This is not the first time that a bizarre spelling mistake involving a president has triggered widespread national reaction.
In 2006, two Air Zimbabwe workers who were part of the crew handed Mugabe and his family a menu card with a stomach-churning typographical error during a flight to the Far East in August and got themselves demoted.
The corrupted menu card to the then all powerful Mugabe had an item that should have read “Chimukuyu and Dovi” and yet it turned up as something revolting when as a result of a typographical error, the letter ‘d’ replaced ‘v’, and ended up depicting human faecal material.
The rightful menu would have been dried beef laced with peanut butter.