Zim armed forces feel economic pinch

A RECENT spate of armed robberies by soldiers and security officers is an indication all Zimbabweans are feeling the impact of the country’s shrinking economy, analysts said.



sans-serif”>Two soldiers in the southeastern town of Masvingo recently went on a robbery spree while in uniform, brandishing AK-47 rifles they had stolen from their battalion’s armoury.


They reportedly targeted official fuel dealers, snatching their valuable supplies for resale on the parallel market, where fuel shortages have guaranteed soaring prices.


Last week a magistrate’s court in the southern city of Bulawayo convicted two soldiers of house-breaking and theft. In another reported case, three members of the Central Intelligence Organisation were arraigned before a magistrate on allegations they used their government-issued pistols to rob fuel dealers before reselling the petrol on the illegal market.


Police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena acknowledged the police had this year fired 24 officers, mainly for corruption. But, he insisted, that “alone is an indication that we are eager to weed out unsuitable officers”.


According to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, an average urban family now needs about $11 million (US $183) a month to make ends meet.


The salary of junior army and police officers is just over $2 million (US $33) – equivalent to 25 litres of petrol.


“Members of the security agencies are not islands, they are part of society and they are affected by economic decline,” said University of Zimbabwe lecturer, Eldred Masunungure.


However, he warned, that the phenomenon of lawless security personnel was a threat to stability.


“The security arms are operating under stress and that poses a great threat to the general populace. Who will guarantee the safety of civilians if armed security officers are now running around staging robberies?”


In its 2005 review, the International Monetary Fund said GDP would fall 7% this year as a result of rocketing inflation, foreign exchange shortages and low farm output. The government, however, insists the economy will grow, but has blamed “sanctions” by western governments opposed to its land reform programme for the present difficulties. According to some estimates, since 1997 the economy has shrunk by over 50%, exports by two-thirds and living standards have retreated to levels last seen in the mid-fifties.


Sociologist and former vice-chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe, Professor Gordon Chavunduka, said lawlessness in the armed forces mirrored what was happening in the rest of the country.


“There is a general breakdown in the rule of law in the country and what is happening in the army is not an isolated incident, the rest of the civil service is now rotten to the core,” Chavunduka commented.


But army spokesman Lt-Col Aggrey Wushe denied that the recent spate of robberies represented a wider problem. “Those robberies were just isolated cases of indiscipline and you cannot draw any other conclusion except that the culprits were just bad apples.” – Irin.

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