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Soldiers riot over cash shortage

MDC demonstration in Harare confronted by police, 23 Jan 2008.
Police share in the hardships (IRIN)

Uniformed Zimbabwean soldiers raided one of the capital's money-changing haunts after becoming frustrated with queuing to withdraw cash at a Harare bank, according to an IRIN correspondent who witnessed the event.

The soldiers descended on foreign currency dealers in "Roadport" in central Harare on 27 November, where they assaulted money dealers and robbed them, an indication of the low morale among Zimbabwe's rank and file soldiers.

A soldier, who declined to be identified, told IRIN that there were increasing levels of despondency among soldiers deployed by President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF government to suppress unrest and protest.

"We have no food in the barracks. There is no medication in military hospitals, while we can not access our money in the banks. The general attitude is that even if people are to riot, there would be no enthusiasm to stop them. After all, we are all suffering, and the irony is that we have done our own rioting," the soldier said.

''We have no food in the barracks. There is no medication in military hospitals, while we cannot access our money in banks. The general attitude is that even if people are to riot, there would be no enthusiasm to stop them. After all, we are all suffering''

Zimbabwe's official inflation annual rate is estimated at 231 million percent, but independent economists cite the inflation rate in the billions of percent; hyperinflation is causing widespread cash shortages.

Banks have set a maximum daily limit of Z$500,000 (US$0.25), creating long queues at banks each day, with no guarantee there will be any money to withdraw.

Go slow

Soldiers and police officers are paid in local Zimbabwean dollars, and although in theory they are granted preferential treatment, in practice this is not occurring.

A junior police officer, who declined to be named, told IRIN: "The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has a facility for us to collect money from the banks, but senior officers are looting all the money and asking us to go to get ours from the banks, and we have said we will not do much work, as we have no money."

Low-ranking police and prison officers have embarked on a go-slow to protest their inability to access their wages, while the country's largest labour federation, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and civil society organisations are calling on people to demand that banks allow them to withdraw all their money on 3 December.

The cash shortages join other shortages such as food - the UN estimates that in the first quarter of 2009 nearly half the 12 million population will require food aid - medicines, electricity, fuel, potable water and agricultural implements.

The collapse of municipal services has combined to produce a cholera epidemic that is sweeping the country, while Zimbabwe's power-sharing deal has stagnated; the latest dispute appears to be more about whether the power sharing deal has collapsed, or is on the verge of collapse.

Bad blood

A senior official of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), who declined to be named, told IRIN a solution to the political impasse was not in sight.

"The issues of genuine equal power-sharing, including the provincial governors and diplomatic appointments, will have to be ironed out before it is steered through Parliament. The matter of [former South African president] Mr [Thabo] Mbeki continuing as a facilitator would also have to be addressed."

Mbeki was appointed as the Southern African Development Community's (SADC) negotiator, but the deal he brokered between the ruling ZANU-PF party and opposition MDC began unraveling at the first hurdle, when the signatories tried to decide on the allocation of government ministries.

The MDC has questioned Mbeki's partisanship in recent months, but correspondence between MDC negotiator Tendai Biti and Mbeki, published by a South African newspaper on 28 November, has illustrated the bad blood between the Zimbabwe's opposition and the former South African president.

In a letter to Mbeki on 19 November, Biti said the SADC decision to force the MDC to share the home affairs ministry with Mugabe's ZANU-PF was a "nullity", and warned that the Zimbabwe situation, "if left unresolved, will explode or implode, and indeed such an explosion or implosion will have a contagious multiplier effect in the region."

Biti also said there was another wave of political violence against MDC supporters, contrary to the September power-sharing agreement, and that "the ZANU-PF regime is crafting an assassination plot, code-named Operation Ngatipedzenavo (Let Us Finish Them), intended to eliminate the MDC leadership."

In his reply, addressed to MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, Mbeki said: "I must confess that the contents of this [Biti's] letter came to me as a complete surprise, causing me grave concern."

Zimbabwe's regional burden  

Mbeki privately acknowledged in his correspondence to the MDC leader the Zimbabwean crisis was detrimentally affecting the SADC region, but "loyal to the concept and practice of African solidarity, none of our countries and governments has spoken publicly of this burden, fearful that we might incite xenophobia, to which all of us are opposed.

''Loyal to the concept and practice of African solidarity, none of our countries and governments has spoken publicly of this [Zimbabwe] burden, fearful that we might incite xenophobia, to which all of us are opposed''

"This particular burden is not carried by the countries of Western Europe and North America, which have benefited especially from the migration of skilled and professional Zimbabweans to the north," Mbeki said in the correspondence.

"It may be that, for whatever reason, you [Tsvangirai] consider our region and continent as being of little consequence to the future of Zimbabwe, believing that others further away, in Western Europe and North America, are of greater importance."

Mbeki's solution to the power-sharing deal impasse was: "All that is required is that you, the leaders of the people of Zimbabwe, should do what you have committed yourselves to do, and that is all!"

Mbeki then used the opportunity to address the MDC's repudiation of the SADC as "cowards" after rejecting the SADC's recommendation that the MDC share the home affairs portfolio, which controls the police, with ZANU-PF.

"All of us [SADC] will find it strange and insulting that because we do not agree with you on a small matter, you choose to describe us in a manner that is most offensive in terms of African culture, and therefore offend our sense of dignity as Africans."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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