The poverty situation in Zimbabwe is getting alarming and affecting the country’s soldiers severely.
Conditions were so bad that regional partners were reluctant to visit Zimbabwe for exchange programmes, said the minister of defence, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri.
“We are expected to host other defence forces but no-one wants to come here because of these conditions,” she told parliamentarians at a conference to plan for finance minister Mthuli Ncube’s budget speech on Thursday.
Ncube said this week that he planned to allocate at least ZWL$28bn (US$77m) to the army. “There is need to get [soldiers] a decent three meals a day, a decent uniform, and then there’s housing,” he said.
Muchinguri-Kashiri painted a dismal picture of the Zimbabwe Defence Force (ZDF), telling parliamentarians: “We can’t beg for food for soldiers. These are people who have sacrificed themselves.”
She said soldiers were receiving only a third of their diet. “We need food rations, as we are expected to provide 30 items, but we are only giving them 10.”
Uniforms were threadbare. “We are expected to provide four sets of uniforms but they have only one. You can identify a Zimbabwean soldier by their worn-out uniforms,” said Muchinguri-Kashiri.
Lack of proper health care meant many skilled soldiers died and others resigned because of poor conditions. “We are losing soldiers who are leaving the force and others due to health complications,” she said.
Lack of equipment was to blame for the ZDF’s failure to deal with the Cyclone Idai disaster in March, she said. “Idai was a stern test for us as it took us three days to reach affected areas. We had to seek assistance from SA, and that’s embarrassing. We need all-weather helicopters.
“In order for us to deal with threats, we have to modernise and equip our air force because our equipment is obsolete.”
The minister said ZDF barracks could accommodate only 10,000 troops, and more accommodation was needed.
Muchinguri-Kashiri urged the government to help the soldiers because of the strategic role they played. “We should not take this peace for granted,” she said.
“What we are asking for is a financial injection and you will see wonders.”
In November 2017 the army helped oust Robert Mugabe as president.
After the power grab, senior army officers were rewarded with top-of-the-range cars and plush homes in affluent suburbs while the rank and file got nothing.
Senior officers, including army commander Gen Constantino Chiwenga, Air Marshal Perence Shiri and Lt-Gen Sibusiso Moyo, retired to take jobs in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime. Chiwenga became vice-president.
Speaking on Defence Forces Day in August, Mnangagwa promised to reintroduce the “military salary concept”, saying soldiers were not immune to economic hardships. “My government is prioritising upgrading of equipment in both the army and air force,” he said.
“My administration remains committed to improving the conditions of our armed forces. Our defence force is equally affected by the economic difficulties faced by the general citizenry.”
A soldier who spoke to the Sunday Times said that in contrast to the rank and file, ZDF commanders led lavish lives.
“Our commanders have farms, company cars and fuel. They don’t get it as bad as us. Even when it comes to food rations, they don’t suffer like us,” he said.
“We have no issues with them. We are disciplined, and a soldier should follow command. One day some of us will become commanders too, and we fully embrace our situation.
“But when it comes to the economy, the political leadership should fix the mess because, remember, we are breadwinners, our families are not trained to sustain hunger and endure suffering like us. Our job is to protect the country, but we should be equipped for such.”