THE Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) is forcing its members countrywide to go on two weeks’ leave every month to reduce spending on, among others, food and utility bills at barracks, the Zimbabwe Independent has learnt.
Army sources said the officers are being sent on forced leave as the cash-strapped government devices more ways of cutting down on expenditure in most government departments in the face of dwindling revenue inflows to Treasury, as the country’s economic malaise persists.
This comes as government has already asked soldiers to look for alternative accommodation to reduce the number of personnel staying in barracks.
“Since January we have been taking two weeks’ off duty and we were told by our superiors government is trying to cut expenses,” said a junior officer based at the Battlefield (BF) army base near Kwekwe who requested anonymity.
“We have also had to seek alternative accommodation because each time we are off duty we should be out of the barracks as well,” he said.
The sources said the government’s cash squeeze has also stalled the army’s construction projects, which include the Dzivaresekwa housing project, the 5:2 Infantry Battalion housing project, the Zimbabwe Military Academy project, the rehabilitation of the sewer system at 42 Infantry Battalion and the construction of flats and a diagnostic laboratory at the Air Force’s Fylde Air Base.
They said most of last year, canteens at barracks were serving simple meals like sadza and beef, sadza and cabbage or beans because the army was unable to buy better foodstuffs which it provided in the past including starters and desserts.
In early April, a parliamentary report on defence and home affairs painted a gloomy picture of the financial position of Zimbabwe’s defence forces.
The report stated that some soldiers have not been able to access healthcare because of the army’s debts. The report also stated that Zimbabwe’s security forces were failing to fulfil all their functions because of a lack of funds.
In 2008, President Robert Mugabe faced threats of unrest from the military at the height of the country’s economic meltdown and hyperinflation when disgruntled soldiers rioted in Harare after frustration over queuing up to withdraw worthless Zimdollars from banks.
However, in an interview on Wednesday, Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) public relations director lieutenant colonel Overson Mugwisi denied that soldiers were being sent on forced leave.
“I am not aware of any cases of that nature. Of course we have problems here and there like everyone else, but no one is being forced to go on leave,” Mugwisi said.'