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Chiwenga moves to calm soldiers

Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander General Constantino Chiwenga has moved in to calm the nerves of soldiers ahead of the introduction of bond notes amid rising social unrest over the current cash shortages.

By Bernard Mpofu

Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantino Chiwenga
Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantino Chiwenga

For the past two weeks, Chiwenga has been on a cross-country commander’s visit to all cantonment areas where he spoke at length on issues, including the history of Zimbabwe, welfare of troops and the payment of allowances and annual bonuses.

Sources said the army chief, making his first visit to all army camps since 2009, was concerned that soldiers could go on a rampage following the introduction of bond notes if it affects their welfare issues.

In 2008, a group of soldiers ran amok in Harare, protesting over salaries and the worthless Zimbabwe dollar which was ditched a year later due to hyperinflation.

Zimbabwe is in the grip of a serious cash crunch, which has worsened gradually since December last year due to dwindling exports and weakening regional currencies.

Military sources told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that the army chief is aware of the potential problems that could be caused by the bond notes within the defence forces as well as over the remuneration of generals — who enjoy better perks — and junior servicemen.

“The salary discrepancy between a lowly ranked soldier (private) and a senior officer like a major who commands 120 men is less than US$50, while an immediate boss to the major who is a lieutenant-colonel earns three times as much.

What also causes problems is the worsening economic situation as well as the conditions in the barracks where government is struggling to meet dietary requirements,” a source said.

“More so, most generals and liberation war veterans who hold senior positions now constitute a quarter of the force, while those who joined after 1984 when the first recruitment was made are in the majority. The majority feel that their welfare issues should be attended to, while the old guard might not relate to that. This is something any general would want government to address.”

Sources said Chiwenga, during his address to the soldiers, took a dig at former vice-president JoiceMujuru for challenging the legality of the bond notes. He said troops should not speculate over the monetary intervention that has already triggered a public outcry.

Chiwenga’s visit coincided with a public awareness campaign on the introduction of bond notes being carried out by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.

In September, the Constitutional Court threw out Mujuru’s case with costs, dismissing it as premature and speculative. To avert a looming crisis, Mugabe on Monday invoked his Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures), gazetting Statutory Instrument 133 of 2016, giving effect to the introduction of bond notes.

Chiwenga’s visits ended last week with visits to Magunje barracks, Inkomo garrison, 1 Commando, KG VI and Suri Suri Fylde Air Base near Chegutu.

“Mabond notes akuuya. Totongomamirira. Let’s not do zvana Joice zvekungo speculator. Wakambovhima tsuro mutara here?

(The bond notes are coming. We should accept them. Let’s not speculate on them like what Joice Mujuru did. Have you ever hunted rabbits in the middle of a tarred road?)” Chiwenga, speaking in Shona, told soldiers in one of the meetings.

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