Mugabe tries to calm restive soldiers
By Richard Chidza
HARARE – President Robert Mugabe yesterday moved to placate poorly paid and increasingly anxious soldiers by promising them improved conditions of service, including salaries and accommodation.
The 88-year-old leader’s Defence Forces Day statement came barely a week after some units of the armed forces tried to impose themselves on a planned census programme countrywide in the hope of augmenting their wages and in protest of government’s decision to allocate them just 1 500 places out of the 30 000 enumerators’ slots needed.
“Conditions of service for the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) remain an important and critical aspect that continues to be reviewed,” Mugabe said.
“It is in this regard that ZDF commanders in conjunction with the Defence Forces Services Commission continue to explore various ways of improving conditions of service of ZDF members and have since approved the payment of military salary concept (MSC) and X–factor allowances,” he added.
However, the Zanu PF leader would not disclose the source of funding and how exactly the new payment regime would work.
According to the Public Service Commission, the MSC entails a review of regulated and general service allowances by the Uniformed Forces Service Commissions Agency, although this has not been possible due to resource or financial constraints.
“However, the payment of the allowances has not commenced… owing to scarcity of resources. It is our hope that these will be paid once resources become available,” Mugabe said.
Apart from their recent run or charge on the census programme, Zimbabwean soldiers’ 2008 attack on banks and the public after failing to access their salaries has often raised alarm.
With the country in the throes of a debilitating poverty cycle, particularly after violent farm invasions decimated a once thriving economy, leading to widespread hunger and industrial stagnation, Constantine Chiwenga’s men have not been spared as most of them earn a little more than $300 a month.
Like most government workers, these uniformed forces were hoping to cash in on extra allowances paid to those participating in the census programme.
But after the snub and violent run-in, Acting Finance minister Gorden Moyo moved in to temporarily cancel the process after consultations with ministers in the security cluster such as Emmerson Mnangagwa (Defence), Sydney Sekeramayi (State Security) Kembo Mohadi and Theresa Makone (Home Affairs).
Prior to that development, the service men had demanded 10 000 slots in the programme or at least a third of the number of government workers taking part. But yesterday, Mugabe continued his praise of the uniformed forces and called on them to continue supporting him.
“My wish as Commander-in-Chief is that you continue to support us as we explore other ways of adequately defending the country to enable Zimbabweans and the business community to engage in economic development activities without any disturbance,” he said.
The uniformed forces are believed to be the real power behind Mugabe after he reportedly turned to the army for help after losing first round voting to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in March 2008. Daily News