NINE soldiers arrested last month for allegedly going on a rampage in Harare, looting goods from shops, beating up illegal foreign currency dealers and robbing them of their money, have been acquitted.
Sources in the army said the soldiers were arraigned before a court martial last week and early this week and charges against them were dropped because of lack of sufficient evidence linking them to â€œmutinousâ€ behaviour.
â€œThe case against the soldiers collapsed,â€ one of the sources said. â€œThey could not be punished for the crimes they were alleged to have committed because of lack of evidence.â€
The names of the soldiers were not made public.
On Wednesday, rowdy soldiers led a group of suspected war veterans and Zanu PF supporters to invade newly built flats in Mbare, Harare, before the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the Military Police were deployed to evict them.
The flats were built by Harare City Council in partnership with the Infrastructural Development Bank of Zimbabwe, and were to be occupied by people on the housing list.
This comes amid growing concerns in government about increasing cases of indiscipline by soldiers who are disgruntled over poor wages and conditions of services.
Harare mayor Much Masunda yesterday confirmed to the Zimbabwe Independent that soldiers, suspected war veterans and Zanu PF supporters had occupied the flats before they were forcibly evicted the same day by the police.
According to Masunda and witnesses, the soldiers from 2 Brigade and the Zanu PF supporters occupied the flats claiming they did not have decent accommodation. Â
Masunda, a lawyer and businessman, said the flats were built to reduce the housing backlog in the capital and address the squalid conditions in Mbare.
â€œThere was a group of soldiers from 2 Brigade and war veterans who occupied two blocks of flats near George Stark School, but the situation is now under control,â€ Masunda said before referring further questions to his director of housing Justin Chiwawa.
Chiwawa could not be reached for comment.
A soldier who was part of the group that occupied the flats told the Independent that the flats were lying idle.
â€œThese flats are lying idle, but we donâ€™t have anywhere to stay,â€ he said.
Police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena denied that the flats were invaded, but said the uniformed forces had â€œdispersed people who were gathering near the flatsâ€.
In a related case of indiscipline, Chief Discipline Master of the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ), Warrant Officer Class 1 Shista Gurajena, was this week sentenced to six months in jail for stealing 110 litres of petrol from the AFZ last October.
In Bulawayo, three soldiers were on Tuesday sentenced to 12 months in each jail for stealing 20 cans of beer from a police officer.
Tongai Gwenzi (19), Mudiwa Liketso (21) and Simbarashe Machaya (21) based at 1 Commando Brigade in Harare, would, however, serve only nine months each after magistrate Shepherd Munjenga suspended three months of the sentence.
Prosecutor Leonard Hlebani told the court that on January 23, the three met Tinashe Boroyodzo at Mnethi Shopping Centre in Bulawayo carrying a bucket and asked him to open it.
The complainant refused to follow their order and the soldiers became angry and forcibly took the bucket and fled. The bucket contained 20 cans of beer.
The soldiers were arrested the following day while selling the beer.
Gwenzi, Liketso and Machaya told the court that they committed the offence because they wanted to raise bus fare to return to Harare, and also that they were paid $30 trillion in January, which was not enough for the fare.
Indiscipline in the army has been rising since December.
Some soldiers were recently accused of looting shops in Marangeâ€™s Chiadzwa diamond fields and last week some reportedly looted a shop in Masvingoâ€™s Chivi district belonging to MDC-T legislator Amos Chibaya.
A fortnight ago, a group of soldiers reportedly raided Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gonoâ€™s farm and got away with over 100 chickens after telling his manager that the central bank boss owed them a lot of money and was responsible for their suffering.
BY WONGAI ZHANGAZHA AND TINASHE FARAWO