The young AFZ was put to test, as early as 1983, in Mozambique against the apartheid sponsored RENAMO bandits. The bandit group was also an offspring of the Rhodesian regime that was created to fight liberation forces in Mozambique and to prevent Mozambique from supporting the liberation struggle. The bandits were now posing a new threat by denying Zimbabwe access to the port of Beira and carrying out acts of sabotage along the Beira Corridor which was Zimbabwe’s life line to overseas markets.
The intervention of the AFZ in Mozambique against the RENAMO, contributed to the final peace that ensued and is still being enjoyed in Mozambique to date.
OPERATION SOVEREIGN LEGITIMACY (OSL)
The AFZ only had five years to recuperate after the end of the Mozambican campaign in 1993 before it was called to join the SADC Allied Forces, in defence of the territorial integrity of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in August 1998.
The DRC campaign, code named Operation Sovereign Legitimacy (OSL), proved beyond any doubt the expertise and professionalism of the AFZ and established the AFZ as a force to reckon with in the region.
The enemy forces were forced to withdraw in disarray after the historic battles of Kinshasa and Selo, where the Hawks, Alouette III and Cessna 337 (Lynx) forced the rebels to withdraw.
After the battles of Kinshasa the front shifted to the Eastern DRC, where the introduction of a new AFZ helicopter gunship, the Mi-35, provided the cutting edge that finally broke the rebel’s war machine. The war ended in 2002 and the victorious SADC Allied Forces withdrew from DRC to give way to a United Nations Peace Keeping Force.
HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE OPERATIONS
SEARCH AND RESCUE OPERATIONS
The AFZ has a wide range of aircraft available for casualty evacuation and search and rescue purposes. The AFZ helicopters, the AB 412s and Alouette IIIs as well as some fixed wing aircraft, have been widely used.
Rescue operations have been very common in the low-veld areas of Beitbridge, Chiredzi and Muzarabani. Cases of fishermen being trapped in flooded rivers during the rainy season have become routine in such rivers as Runde, Umzingwane, Mutirikwi, Shashe, Tokwe, Save and Limpopo. Notable operations that the AFZ has successfully conducted include:
- Cyclone Idai Search and Rescue and Relief Operations
In March 2019, Cyclone Idai caused flooding and landslides which claimed the lives of many people and destroyed homes and infrastructure in parts of Manicaland and Masvingo Provinces. The Air Force of Zimbabwe initially deployed personnel and air assets to conduct search and rescue for people affected by floods. After the flood waters had subsided, the Air Force of Zimbabwe helicopters conducted relief operations by uplifting food, medicines and non-food items to the survivors.
- Tokwe-Mukosi Search and Rescue Operations
In 2013, the country received excess rains which caused flooding in Tokwe-Mukosi in Masvingo Province. Thousands of lives were threatened as a result of the floods and shortages of food and clean drinking water. The AFZ responded to the disaster by deploying personnel and air assets to uplift marooned people and deliver food and non-food supplies.
- Ngundu Bus Disaster Evacuation Operations
In the past year, the Air Force of Zimbabwe has conducted more than 10 casualty evacuation and search and rescue operations. The most recent was the operation to save lives at Ngundu Halt after an unfortunate road traffic accident along the Masvingo-Beitbridge Road. The Air Force of Zimbabwe swiftly responded to the disaster by deploying an aircraft and medical personnel to uplift the seriously injured people to better medical facilities in Harare.
- Cyclone Eline Rescue Operation
The AFZ saved hundreds of lives who had been marooned on small islands after cyclone induced flood in 2000.
- Muzarabani Food Relief Operation
In 2002 the AFZ airlifted food relief to areas that had been rendered inaccessible because of floods.
- Zambia Food Relief Operation
In 2003 the AFZ assisted the Zambian Air Force in the distribution of relief food in draught stricken areas of Gwembe District.
- Katima Mulilo Operations
Floods in the Caprivi Region in Namibia in March 2004 left hundreds of villagers homeless and marooned on small islands. The AFZ swiftly responded to the calls for assistance by dispatching two helicopters and a fixed wing aircraft. The AFZ helicopters uplifted people from flood-affected areas to higher ground and also ferried food and non-food items to the areas where the villagers were relocated.
SADC AIR FORCES DISASTER RESPONSE EXERCISES
The regional air forces under the auspices of the SADC Standing Aviation Committee (SAC) have acknowledged the importance of combined operations in response to disasters such as floods and famine. A number of exercises have been conducted to train the air forces to enhance inter-operability in responding to disasters. The AFZ has actively participated in the following regional exercises:
- Blue Angel in Zambia in 2003. The exercise was aimed at enhancing cooperation and regional response to disasters.
- Blue Ruvuma in Tanzania in 2006.
- Blue Cluster in South Africa in 2011.
- Blue Kunene in Namibia in 2017.