…fake promises anger army, police
DESPITE efforts by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to create the impression that it is supportive and taking good care of the uniformed forces, morale remains low in the military barracks and police cantonments, with reports that promises by the regime to pamper the armed forces remain pie in the sky.
Commemorating the Heroes and Defense Forces Days this week, Mnangagwa was at pains to depict himself as and a Commander-in-Chief who is looking after his troops. He promised decent wages and accommodation for the uniformed forces, but during interviews in a snap survey by The NewsHawks, the men and women in uniform said they are living in abject poverty.
This adds to the anger of unfulfilled promises to mainly young members of the force who feel they were used in November 2017 when the army went into the streets and cleared the way for the removal of the late former president Robert Mugabe via a military coup amid myriad promises that remain unfulfilled.
In 2020, the Mnangagwa administration promised to set up subsidised grocery shops inside the barracks to cushion restive members of the uniformed forces from the rising cost of living.
This came as mainly junior soldiers had begun raising questions on the sincerity of the government over their welfare and airing their concerns and “protesting” openly over their welfare — developments which appeared to jolt the regime into action, but the promises have remained mere talk.
Cabinet then announced the new measure but, two years on, no subsidised garrison shops have been introduced as reflected by observations in some military and police cantonments and as attested by serving members who remain hard-pressed by the economic crisis.
“Garrison shops (will) be established to enable all members of the defence forces who will be on the GEMS fund (Government Employees Mutual Services Fund) to have the additional benefit of accessing subsidised basic commodities that will be sold in the specialised shops located within cantonment areas,” Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said back then after a cabinet meeting.
A member of the uniformed forces who spoke to The NewsHawks said they are still waiting for the fulfilment of the promise.
“We have seen nothing yet,” he said. “All we have is the salary that will see us on the black market like any other person to get the US dollar to pay for services.”
At some of police camps, the news crew observed rundown facilities, including tuckshops operated by individuals. Ncube’s garrison and cantonment shops were nowhere to be seen.
In most instances, those running the businesses are charging in US dollars and their prices are the same as those of other retail outlets, a far cry from the 2020 promise.
Recently, some cantonments were switched off by state power utility Zesa over unpaid bills, piling on the misery for members of the armed forces who stay within the camps.
The government had said the garrison shop facility will not only benefit members of the uniformed forces staying within the cantonment zones, but also those staying outside.
“They can only access those coupons once a month to buy those goods so they can be in these cantonments or outside, it doesn’t matter,” Finance minister Mthuli Ncube said back then.
“It is a global norm and we will not be the first to do that. Uniformed forces have such shops in cantonment areas as part of their service benefits. For the teachers, there are Silo shops and they must be subsidised. These shops have not been rolled out fast enough for teachers, nurses, but it will with time,” Ncube said.
No Silo shops, however, have been established.
Zimbabwe is faced with a multi-faceted crisis worsened by chronic high inflation that has eroded salaries and cash challenges that have also affected soldiers and the police.
So dire is the situation in the barracks that the opposition has found a campaign voice around the welfare of the armed forces.
“We are aware of your challenges, circumstances and predicament in resources, livelihoods and welfare,” Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) leader Nelson Chamisa said in his Defence Forces Day message.
Chamisa felt the Mnangagwa administration was undermining the uniformed forces.
“We will honour and respect you by advocating and providing decent wages and living conditions commensurate with the pivotal and vital role you play and responsibilities you bear. Above all, we will advocate that you have a fair share of our resources, decent housing and title deeds.”