GOVERNMENT is anxious to improve the welfare of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) and other security services amid growing agitation within the 40 000-strong force following delays in paying last year’s bonus and poor conditions of service, it has been established.
By Bernard Mpofu
Despite coup-proofing — creation of structures and taking measures to limit the possibilities of a coup — the military pressured out former president Robert Mugabe last November after 37 years in power. He was succeeded by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Military sources told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that the army is moving to address transport problems experienced by soldiers, review salaries and provide better housing for the troops as part of sharing the spoils of Mugabe’s toppling. It is also running around to pay bonuses. At least 20 000 houses would be built for the army, a source said.
This comes at a time some restless soldiers have written anonymous letters to recently appointed ZDF commander General Phillip Valerio Sibanda, demanding an improvement in their conditions of service. The troops have been particularly been anxious over the bonuses which they expected to be paid last month.
The restlessness of the soldiers is heightened by the realisation that only the top security brass has so far benefitted from Mugabe’s dramatic ouster. The chief beneficiaries of the removal of the long-serving ruler in the army were former ZDF boss retired general Constantino Chiwenga who is now vice-president in change of the Defence ministry; Sibanda who succeeded him, Zimbabwe National Army commander Edzai Chimonyo who replaced Sibanda, former ZDF chief-of-staff (quartermaster) Sibusiso Moyo now Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and ex-Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) Marshal Perrence Shiri appointed Agriculture minister. As a result of Shiri’s elevation, Elson Moyo came in to replace him.
Former Zimbabwean ambassador to South Africa Isaac Moyo became Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) boss replacing Aaron Nhepera who was acting.
The biggest losers in the security forces were police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri who was succeeded by Godwin Matanga.
Mugabe’s head of security Albert Ngulube was also removed, together with many other senior CIO officers. Several army officers in the last two months were also promoted to higher ranks. Twenty lieutenant-colonels were promoted to the rank of colonels this week, while 10 senior AFZ officers elevated.
However, the rank and file of the army — the foot soldiers — are yet to see the benefits of their sweat in removing the then entrenched Mugabe.
Sources said in order to ensure that there is no intensified unrest in the army, the military, which is struggling to improve salaries and benefits, as well as pay bonuses, is moving to build 20 000 houses units which may end up increasing to 60 000 units for soldiers and other security personnel. The military sources said a local building society will partner the military in the construction of low cost houses for the servicemen.
“The initial phase will include construction of 20 000 houses for the soldiers and ultimately the project should yield 60 000 houses for other all security personnel, which means the army, police and other security services,” a senior army officer said.
“A team of senior military commanders has been meeting stakeholders in Zimbabwe and even travelled to South Africa in January to finalise the project. The military will also look at how salaries can be improved, address the transport situation and the touchy bonus issue.”
Currently, the public service wage bill accounts for over 85% of government revenues, suggesting there is no fiscal space to increase salaries and pay bonuses.
Another source said accounts clerks at army units had already calculated and adjusted February salaries in anticipation of either bonus or salary adjustments. However, nothing came.
“Meetings were held and Treasury has committed to urgently address the situation,” a source said.
“Payday had to be moved to Friday (a fortnight ago) from the Thursday then over this issue. Commanders are taking seriously things like anonymous letters written to them. The soldiers who wrote the letters are demanding to also be rewarded for carrying out Operation Restore Legacy which led to Mugabe’s removal. They want a fair share of the spoils. They think that only the top brass benefitted from through promotions, associated remuneration and perks.”
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa could not be reached for comment as his phone went unanswered. Questions sent to army spokesperson Aphios Makotore were not responded to at the time of going to print.
Early this month, Sibanda ordered soldiers to be on high alert, warning the servicemen against taking bribes from politicians amid concerns that expelled Zanu PF officials, particularly Mugabe’s supporters grouped under the outgunned Zanu PF G40 faction which lost the succession war to Mnangagwa’s clique, are regrouping and could have their own military sympathisers inside.
Last week Treasury promised to announce dates on which the public servants’ staggered 2017 bonuses will be paid.