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Police and soldiers clash

Robert Mugabe continues his unbroken rule.

Police and soldiers from President Robert Mugabe's presidential guard engaged in running battles through the streets of the capital, Harare, on 1 December.

An IRIN correspondent said the police had intervened after about 100 soldiers began another looting spree in the city and fighting between the two groups ensued. Gunshots were heard.

The soldiers from the presidential guard were also heard singing the songs of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, and seen making the open-handed MDC salute.

On 27 and 28 November, armed and uniformed soldiers embarked on looting sprees in the capital and also in Mutare, capital of Manicaland Province, according a resident who wished to remain anonymous.

The catalyst for the military indiscipline is an acute shortage of cash caused by hyperinflation. The soldiers, unable to withdraw their salaries from the banks, have resorted to robbery.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said in a statement after last week's rioting: "About six soldiers have been arrested for assault and are still in police custody while investigations are continuing. What the soldiers are doing is illegal and they will be arrested."

A senior army officer, who declined to be identified, told IRIN that the soldiers responsible were very junior. "Those rioting were privates and corporals, the lowest ranks in the Zimbabwean military.

Junior soldiers rioting

"The junior soldiers are angry that very senior officers are stealing money meant to pay the salaries for the soldiers. The economic hardships felt by the soldiers has made many of them very desperate, to the point of robbing civilians."

Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF government has increasingly relied on Zimbabwe's defence forces to fulfil all manner of functions; apart from suppressing dissent, the army has also become integral to the disbursement of agricultural inputs.

Soldiers received large payouts ahead of the general elections at the end of March 2008, but an annual official inflation rate of 231 million percent quickly eroded any benefits from the pay rise.

''Inflation has spiralled completely out of control and money has no value, so there is no way to appease anyone anymore. It has got to a point where something has to give ... this is where things become very worrying; but it is not surprising that this is happening''

Judy Smith-Hohn, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, a Pretoria-based think-tank, told IRIN that "inflation has completely spiralled out of control and money has no value, so there is no way to appease anyone anymore. It has got to a point where something has to give ... This is where things become very worrying; but it is not surprising that this is happening."

She said in such scenarios the likelihood of unrest increased, and among Zimbabwean citizens "the optimism of the power-sharing agreement has given way to hopelessness."

A deal brokered by former South African President Thabo Mbeki - appointed as negotiator by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) - was signed on 15 September by Mugabe and both wings of the MDC.

The ink on the deal was barely dry before the deal floundered, and is now seen by many observers as moribund. However, Smith-Hohn said the SADC had not admitted that the power-sharing deal had failed, which has effectively prevented other actors, such as the African Union and the UN Security Council, from becoming involved.

Rumblings of dissatisfaction within the presidential guard, said to be the best equipped and best paid soldiers in Zimbabwe's defence forces, first emerged in September.

According to media reports, Lt-Gen Phillip Sibanda, head of the Zimbabwe National Army, was called to the barracks after the soldiers protested that they had not received a promised pay rise. The soldiers at the barracks heckled him after he told them there was no money to give them.

High ranking army, air force and prison officers gave Mugabe their unconditional support ahead of the elections this year, and condemned Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main faction of the MDC, as a stooge of Western imperialism.

After Mugabe - who has been in power since 1980 - won a run-off presidential election in June that was widely condemned as unfair and unfree, the upper echelons of the security services were rewarded with brand new 4x4 vehicles, in spite of disastrous conditions in Zimbabwe.

Widespread hunger

The economy is on its knees, while health, sanitation and water supply services have collapsed, the country is grappling with a cholera epidemic, and the UN predicts that nearly half the population will require food aid in the first quarter of 2009.

The state-run daily newspaper, The Herald, reported that the head of Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Gen Constantine Chiwenga, told the audience at the launch of the National Food Security Programme in the provinces of Matabeleland North and South on 30 November: "There is no need for us to expect manna from heaven, but work hard to produce all the food we need in the country.

"The reliance on non-governmental organisations has left us exposed to some countries that want to take advantage of us. There are organisations which come to us pretending to sympathise with us, when they are actually targeting our resources. If we let them get our land and resources, then we will be definitely recolonised," he said.

According to The Herald, government intends putting 500,000 hectares of land under maize production, with another 20,000 hectares devoted to producing other grains.

"Under the National Food Security Programme, targeted farmers are getting fertilisers, chemicals and seed for maize, sorghum, millet, groundnuts, beans, upland rice and other small grains," the Herald said.


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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