1. Home
  2. Africa
  3. Southern Africa
  4. Zimbabwe

"A hungry and angry soldier can be very dangerous"

Robert Charamba (not his real name) is a soldier in the Zimbabwe National Army. He was not among the soldiers who recently rampaged through the capital, Harare, because he was in the border town of Beitbridge visiting his wife, a cross-border trader.

"But if I had been around I would have joined my colleagues, because I understand colleagues who mugged and robbed foreign currency traders made enough money to see them into next year.

"It is very difficult to say exactly what forces are at play, but in a crisis situation such as we have, it is possible for some people to manipulate people and events. 

"On the eve of the nationwide demonstrations against money shortages, [held on Wednesday 3 December] officials from the Reserve Bank [of Zimbabwe] visited all military barracks with truckloads of money and doled out Z$15 million [US$8] to all soldiers. I don't know how long they can go on paying money to calm restive soldiers.

"The soldiers are angry and restive. The generals are the only ones who are happy under this government. They have farms, get free food meant for soldiers which they divert to the parallel market; they receive free fuel and have several official cars, while the soldiers have to do without food and a decent uniform.

"Because of the nature of our job, which is different to that of police officers, we cannot solicit for bribes. Police officers are mounting 'private' roadblocks where they demand bribes as a way of supplementing their income. The only route open to soldiers is brazenly grabbing from the civilians.

"There is a facility under which soldiers are supposed to withdraw all their monthly salaries through the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, but the senior officers take that money and order us to go and queue like the rest of the population.

"The [Reserve Bank] governor [Gideon Gono] has presided over a chaotic period in the banking sector, and the feeling among soldiers is that a new person with fresh and innovative ideas should have been appointed. [Gono was recently reappointed for another five-year term by President Robert Mugabe].

"As far as we know, Gono is sending the local currency onto the parallel market in order to buy US dollars for himself and the ruling elite.

"So, when soldiers can't get money from the bank, where it should be, they naturally follow it to the parallel market, where the dealers are awash with freshly minted bank notes.

"We are human like everybody, and we have families which need to be fed, clothed, housed and educated. And when we can't get money from the normal places, like everybody is doing in Zimbabwe, we make a plan and unfortunately that is the chaotic route.

"Remember, a hungry man is an angry man, and a hungry and angry soldier can be very dangerous."


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

Share this article
Join the discussion

We uncovered the sex abuse scandal that rocked the WHO, but there’s more to do

We just covered a report that says the World Health Organization failed to prevent and tackle widespread sexual abuse during the Ebola response in Congo.

Our investigation with the Thomson Reuters Foundation triggered this probe, demonstrating the impact our journalism can have. 

But this won’t be the last case of aid worker sex abuse. This also won’t be the last time the aid sector has to ask itself difficult questions about why justice for victims of sexual abuse and exploitation has been sorely lacking. 

We’re already working on our next investigation, but reporting like this takes months, sometimes years, and can’t be done alone. 

The support of our readers and donors helps keep our journalism free and accessible for all. Donations mean we can keep holding power in the aid sector accountable, and do more of this. 

Become a member today and support independent journalism

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.