IN a desperate move to forestall potential unrest by soldiers — who are already getting preferential treatment on wage payment dates — the Zimbabwe National Army has approached banks to set up facilities at army barracks around the country so that military personnel have access to their salaries in full, Zimbabwe Independent has learnt.
By Hazel Ndebele
The development comes as it emerged the Joint Operation Command which brings together army, intelligence, police and prison services chiefs is deeply concerned by the worsening economic crisis which has culminated in a crippling liquidity crunch and massive cash shortages.
The liquidity crunch and resultant decrease in revenue inflows to government has resulted in delays in the payment civil servants’ June salaries, a development which is worrying service chiefs.
In addition, service chiefs are worried that the crisis has sparked a series of low-key civilian protests which could grow as the economic crisis worsens, and possibly lead to an uprising similar to the Arab Spring.
The Arab Spring revolts began on December 17, 2010 on the streets of the central Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid when an impoverished and desperate street vendor, Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi set himself ablaze. Within weeks, a once seemingly indestructible regime was toppled and riots engulfed the region.
Senior security officials said this week the emergence of a strong opposition, as demonstrated by the large number of people who have attended the MDC-T protest marches in Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare as well as the large crowds that former vice-president Joice Mujuru is drawing, was also worrying securocrats as they fear possible civil disobedience.
“Generally, the feeling is that the deepening economic crisis is cultivating fertile ground for mass protests. We are also looking at the numerous protests by discontented masses who are increasingly getting organised. The social media is making it easier for people to mobilise,” said the official.
“The rapidly decreasing government revenue and with it capacity to pay its workers is a major concern because we know civil servants, particularly, teachers, nurses and doctors are normally quick to go on strike. In the environment that we find ourselves in, a strike can trigger mass protests so we are wary of the situation.”
Government this week offered US$100 salary advancement to its workers so that they can continue reporting for work until they are paid. The amount was rejected. Teachers will only get paid on July 7 while the rest of the civil servants will be paid on July 14.
Sources said army bosses are so worried about the salary delays and cash shortages that they have approached banks to ensure soldiers get their wages at the barracks in full.
Security officials told the Independent there were fears that failure to cushion the army against cash shortages could lead to a repeat of the 2008 fiasco when scores of hungry and desperate soldiers stormed the Harare business district on a rampage, beating civilians and looting shops.
The rioting soldiers had failed to access their salaries from banks at a time most barracks did not have adequate stocks of food.
Some banks are limiting withdrawals to as little as US$100 per day because of the cash shortages in the country, hence the demand by the army to cushion its members.
Army spokesperson Alphios Makotore confirmed the development, but said there was nothing new about the request.
“There are no new negotiations as this facility has always been there since 1990s when some banks actually installed Automated Teller Machines at the barracks, we started during the campaign in the Congo,” Makotore said in a telephone interview this week.
He did not respond to suggestions the army made the request to pacify its members.
Sources said the banking sector has turned down the army’s request on the basis that there is no cash.
“Paying army salaries at the barracks is not possible as we did in 2008 with the Zimbabwean dollar. The major challenge now is that there is no cash on the market as we all know,” said a bank official who requested anonymity.
“It would be pointless to put ATMs for them or carry the little cash that we have to the barracks as it is only enough to pay a few soldiers. What makes sense is to pay as many people as we can at the banking halls where there is a cash withdrawal limit of US$100,” the source said.
Bank officials said that the army undertook to provide security for the money while in transit to the barracks which they said were very secure.
In 2008 the army transported large sums of money from different banks to the army barracks, where restless soldiers were paid their salaries.
Among the civil protests government is worried about is the hashtag #Thisflag campaign by a Zimbabwean Pastor Evan Mawarire and his supporters. Mawarire came into the limelight after posting a video on Facebook decrying Zimbabwe’s decay under President Robert Mugabe, stocking patriotic fever with hashtag #ThisFlag on Twitter.
Moreover youths from 14 different opposition political parties and 45 civil society organisations are also holding demonstrations nationwide. The youths, operating under the hashtag tajamuka/sesijikile campaign, have been moving around the country urging people to take action against Mugabe’s misrule to force him to resign. Some of the organisations include Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Youth Agenda Trust, Harare Residents Alliance and Bulawayo Youth in Action.
Last week some protestors besieged Rainbow Towers Hotel in Harare, demanding that Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko, who has been holed up in its luxurious presidential suite since his appointment in December 2014, vacates immediately. The activists marched into the hotel foyer carrying placards denouncing Mphoko and protesting he was wasting public funds while government failed to pay its workers, let alone invest in capital projects and social service delivery.
Government, which has been struggling to rescue the sinking economy and contain rising social discontent, has bolstered its instruments of repression to combat any possible uprising.
Through its civilian and security structures, it has been trying to identify political minefields and security threats.
In July last year the government acquired 633 vehicles, which included all-terrain troop-carrying trucks, water cannons, buses and equipment, mostly used by military and police worth an estimated US$50 million to contain possible civil unrest.