Army morale lowest as economy implodes

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MORALE within the Zimbabwe Defence Forces has reportedly hit rock bottom, the lowest ever since the country’s Independence in 1980, amid reports that the troops are disgruntled over the rising cost of living, poor salaries and working conditions, among several other grievances, the Zimbabwe Independent can report.

Tinashe Kairiza

In separate briefings this week, military sources said there was simmering disquiet on the ground over the skyrocketing prices, general spiralling cost of living and deteriorating conditions of service.

They said the build-up started more than three months ago and everything came to a head at last week’s protests, sparked by a 150% fuel price hike. The latest disclosures come at a time President Emmerson Mnangagwa and army bosses have been at sixes and sevens to explain the shooting of 12 civilians during a brutal crackdown by the security forces and when several women, including young girls, were raped, with scores of other civilians injured.

Mnangagwa, who had to cancel his trip to Davos, Switzerland, where he was scheduled to attend the World Economic Forum (WEF), which ends today, to deal with a rising tide of discontent at home, has pledged to launch an official probe into the brutal crackdown on protesters by members of the security services.

Millitary bosses, sources said, were edgy, amid fears that if the grievances raised by the restive soldiers were not urgently addressed, the situation could have grave consequences.

The military sources said the Directorate of Signals has been receiving alarming situation reports (sitreps) for the past three months from various units of the army, showing growing discontent among the soldiers over a myriad of issues.

“Signals that gauge the morale of the army sent by the Directorate of Signals to each army unit have been very worrying over the past three months,” one Zimbabwe National Army source said.

“Basically, sitreps serve the purpose of gauging and determining the morale levels within the army. Over the past three months, morale has been recorded at its lowest ever. In fact, morale is at the lowest now, since Independence (in 1980).”

Disquiet within the barracks, the sources say, had been escalating since 2017 when the army ousted former president Robert Mugabe in a dramatic military coup that was supported by the generality of Zimbabweans, culminating in the rise of Mnangagwa to the presidency.

“You must understand that during Operation Restore Legacy (military coup) soldiers were verbally promised a number of things, which include payment of salaries in foreign currency, as well as better conditions of service. This was meant to boost their morale,” another army source said.

“But almost two years after the coup, the real beneficiaries of the coup have not yet fulfilled any of those promises hence the growing dissatisfaction within the military.”

Government, battling to mobilise foreign currency to finance key budgetary priorities, has said it cannot afford to pay salaries of its workforce in hard cash.

On average, low-ranking civil servants earn around $500 per month, paid in the local Real-Time Gross Settlement quasi-currency, which has lost value against the United States dollar, despite official claims that the two are at par.

Conditions within the barracks, military sources said, have deteriorated, as Zimbabwe reels from the devastating impact of a multi-faceted economic crisis.

“The conditions of service have dropped. You cannot expect soldiers to be happy when they are given a diet of sadza and beans every day. It is a terrible situation. In some cases, soldiers have to take tea without sugar,” the source said.

Government has since introduced a hardship allowance meant to cushion civil servants from the rising cost of living.

The sources said the situation has created general mistrust and suspicion among the different levels at a time when there are reports of deepening fissures between Mnangagwa and his deputy Constantino Chiwenga.

In a rare development, Military Police were assigned to secure the Robert Mugabe International Airport ahead of Mnangagwa’s arrival on Monday evening from a four-nation Eurasian trip, which took him to Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

“Well ahead of Mnangagwa’s arrival from his four-nation tour, the Military Police conducted picketing, a duty which is the responsibility of the Presidential Guard,” a source, based at Josiah Magama Tongogara Barracks, said.

In military terms, picketing refers to an operation undertaken by a small unit of soldiers, placed on a line forward of a position to provide warning of an enemy advance.

Shortly after his arrival, Mnangagwa tweeted that undisciplined serving officers would be dealt with in the wake of the brutal crackdown.

“Chaos and insubordination will not be tolerated. Misconduct will be investigated. If required, heads will roll,” Mnangagwa said on his Twitter handle this week.

In the aftermath of last week’s shutdown, a number of serving officers, whom government and the army have described as “rogue soldiers”, were rounded up by Military Police and detained in various army detention barracks for “propping up” protestors, sources said.

A number of soldiers appeared passive when the security forces battled to contain the protests.

Some were even heard pledging support to the protests as they were not immune to the economic hardships bedevilling the country and austerity measures implemented by the government.

Presidential spokesperson George Charamba, however, shifted blame towards the opposition, suggesting that it has “embedded” elements within the security services bent on destabilising the country.

“MDC has said we have our people in the army (tine vanhu vedu in the army) and the police who are heavily embedded,” Charamba said.

“How do they mean to use it, when and under what circumstances?”

Zimbabwe Defence Forces spokesperson Overson Mugwisi denied that the morale within the military was low.

In a statement e-mailed to the Independent, Mugwisi said there were no divisions within the army.

“The Zimbabwe Defence Forces is a disciplined professional force and there is no discord in the organisation which negative forces may wish to portray,” Mugwisi said, but did not respond to the other questions sent to him at the time of going to print.

At the height of Zimbabwe’s economic problems in 2008, restless soldiers looted shops in Harare’s central business district, following an acute shortage of basic commodities that gripped the country.

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