THE Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) has ordered soldiers to look for alternative accommodation as it seeks to reduce the number of army personnel staying in its barracks and hence the costs of looking after them, the Zimbabwe Independent has learnt.
This, top military sources said, was part of the army’s cost-cutting measures as the country continues to struggle to recover from a protracted economic decline.
Sources told the Independent this week the ZNA was struggling to meet its day-to-day operational needs due to the economic problems bedevilling the country.
“We have to look for alternative accommodation because the army wants to cut expenses like accommodation and food,” said a soldier. “I have been staying here (II Presidential Guard Barracks in Dzivarasekwa) for close to two years and I cannot even imagine how I will manage to travel to and from work because there is no extra income for soldiers staying outside barracks.”
Another source said barracks used to be any soldier’s dream home because virtually everything was provided for and “the canteens were similar to a five-star hotel”.
“We all wished to stay in barracks because the conditions used to be excellent and the food was similar to that served in expensive hotels,” said the source.
Sources said for the better part of last year, barrack canteens were serving only plain sadza because the army was unable to buy more food after its funds allocation was exhausted.
However, Zimbabwe Defence Forces director of public relations Colonel Overson Mugwisi refuted allegations that the army was reducing the numbers of members accommodated in barracks.
“I am not aware of that but what I am sure of is that every soldier is paid well, enough to look after themselves and their families even outside the barracks,” said Mugwisi.
“Those that normally stay in barracks are not working in their areas of origin and we make sure they get accommodation first.”
Mugwisi added: “There is no difference between staying in the barracks or outside because government stopped paying living-out allowances in the 1990s and in any case we are the last to be affected by the economic decline.”
The Ministry of Defence got the second biggest chunk of the total budget allocation for 2014 of US$3,6 billion. It received US$368 million, followed closely by Home Affairs which got US$364 million.
These are major increases from US$26,2 million allocated to Defence and US$2,1 million to Home Affairs in 2013 by then Finance Minister Tendai Biti.
Zimbabwe’s economic downturn that is now in its second decade has increasingly crippled President Robert Mugabe’s ability to keep the army well equipped.
The army is reportedly, in addition to shortages of food, also struggling for basics such as uniforms.
It is credited with keeping Mugabe in power through brutal tactics that keep public discontent in check. In the run up to last year’s crucial general elections the uniformed forces, not for the first time, threw their weight behind Mugabe and even campaigned for him.