THE cash-strapped government this week failed to pay soldiers their January salaries on time amid reports that it has also ruled out paying them in foreign currency in the near future – a move that has resulted in morale in the army hitting rock bottom.
Reliable sources told the Zimbabwe Independent that soldiers were due to be paid yesterday, but were advised by officers at army barracks throughout the country that government was unable to pay them this week.
The sources said a senior army officer, Colonel Mbonisi Gatsheni, former defence forces spokesperson, on Wednesday told soldiers at KGVI barracks that they would not receive their salaries on time, but did not disclose the reasons for the delay.
“We were initially supposed to get our salaries on Tuesday, but the payday was moved to Thursday. During the course of this week we were informed that the salaries were not deposited in our accounts,” a source said. “Gatsheni told us that our salaries will be in local currency and this incensed us.”
The soldiers, the sources said, were now expected to get their salaries in local currency next week. The sources said during a commander’s parade on Monday, Brigadier-General Douglas Nyikayaramba told soldiers not to expect salaries in foreign currency because the government did not have adequate hard cash.
Nyikayaramba, the sources added, said the government was working on paying allowances in hard currency in the interim.
“He said the government didn’t have enough foreign currency to pay soldiers, but was considering paying our allowances in hard currency,” one soldier said. “Nyikayaramba didn’t specify when we will start receiving the allowances in foreign currency.”
The sources said junior soldiers were bitter that the government had refused to pay them in hard currency when senior army officers from the rank of colonel had for months been partly paid in foreign currency.
“We are angry. The economy has been dollarised and how are we going to buy goods and services with the Zimbabwe dollar?” a soldier from Llewellyn Barracks in Bulawayo asked yesterday. “What makes us more bitter is that some of our chefs (high ranking army personnel) have for months been paid in foreign currency.”
Efforts to get a comment from Defence minister Sydney Sekeremayi and defence forces spokesperson Ben Ncube were in vain yesterday.
Sekeremayi was unreachable on his mobile phone, while Ncube’s office telephone was not being answered.
Zimbabwe’s army has since last year been saddled by many problems after exhausting its budgetary allocation, among them shortages of food to feed soldiers in barracks.
Last week, the Independent reported that the government had resorted to slaughtering elephants to feed soldiers.
The army has, in addition to shortages of food, also struggled for basics such as boots and uniforms for troops while the bulk of military equipment and hardware is said to be old and in need of replacement.
Secretary for Defence Trust Maphosa last year told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Home Affairs that the government was fortunate that it was not being sued by soldiers for failing to provide adequate and nutritious food to the army as is required by law.
In an unprecedented show of discontent, some soldiers last year rioted in Harare, assaulting civilians, stealing cash from street currency traders and looting shops.
BY CONSTANTINE CHIMAKURE