Soldiers who spoke to The Zimbabwean at the two army institutions on condition of anonymity said that the food crisis must addressed “before the situation gets out of hand”.
The sources revealed that soldiers at Imbizo Barracks, located 20 kilometers outside Bulawayo, have for a long time been fed on boiled cabbages or beans harvested from an army farm because ZNA cannot afford to buy meat and other nutritious foods as used to be the case in the past.
“The only food stuffs now found in our canteen are salt, tea leaves and maize meal. Since January we have been surviving on sadza served only with boiled beans and cabbages. Most of the soldiers have since stopped dining at the army canteen, preferring to cook for themselves in their barracks,” said a highly placed source at the barracks.
The Imbizo Barracks canteen is supposed to cater for 3, 220 soldiers that included recruits who undergo rigorous training, in addition more senior army officers who stay in the camp.
1 Brigade headquarters which also houses a battalion is worst affected, with soldiers and trainees reportedly fainting during parade or drills due to hunger.
“Unlike Imbizo Barracks, 1 Brigade does not have a farm which supplies it with supplementary food like vegetables. The fitness of soldiers has been totally affected because of poor nutrition,” said a middle rank officer.
Balanced diets are necessary for military personnel to boost their physical and mental readiness and alertness.
ZNA reportedly stopped an intended February recruitment of soldiers at Imbizo due to the dire situation. Because of the worsening conditions at the barracks, soldiers’ morale is said to have reached rock bottom.
Meanwhile former soldiers who retired or resigned last year have not started receiving their pensions, a development that has further dampened the spirits of army personnel intending to leave.
It was not immediately clear why the soldiers had not started receiving their pensions, which are supposed to be processed through the National Social Security Association (NSSA).
Acute food shortages at barracks, disintegrating infrastructure and low morale are not limited to Imbizo and 1 Brigade, with army sources that these problems are common at other military and barracks and police camps.
A visit to the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Braedside residential camp where details are deployed from Harare stations on a monthly basis for quick reactions showed that the place has sharply deteriorated from what it was before 2002.
The canteen used by the resident police families and reaction group details is now poorly stocked and furnished, with sit-in officers preferring to cook in their rooms whereas they used to obtain their food from the mess, while broken windows and doors go without repair.
“This is not the camp that we used to know. We used to have hotel class food here, but all that is left are cabbages, beans and poor quality sadza,” said one sergeant.
The Morris training depot where most police recruits are trained is in a similar situation, with trainees reportedly surviving on two meals a day, while some of them with families in Harare are resorting to sneaking out in the evening and returning in the morning in order to get decent meals.
A recent report by the parliamentary committee for defence revealed that the army and police were going through a severe cash squeeze.
It said soldiers were failing to access health care as the army was not remitting money to health service providers.
“The national army has outstanding medical debts, which have resulted in refusal by some private medical service providers to offer their services to ZNA [Zimbabwe National Army] members due to non-payments,” the report says.
In addition, said the report, the National Defence Forces was struggling to maintain its equipment, training facilities as well as other military projects.
These projects included the Dzivaresekwa, 5.2 Infantry Battalion housing schemes, the sewer rehabilitation project at 42 Infantry Battalion and the diagnostic laboratory at the air force’s Fylde Air Base.
The police is saddled with a $145 million debt to service providers, some of whom had stopped working with ZRP, added the report.
Treasury has been struggling to keep the country afloat due to poor revenue flows caused by the failure by many companies to remit tax, disinvestment, company closures and high unemployment, among others.
MORALE is reportedly at its lowest among the country’s security services after the cash-strapped government postponed their pay date.
The last time Zimbabwe faced the threat of unrest from the normally patient and disciplined security services was at the height of the country’s economic crisis in 2008 when soldiers rioted in Harare after becoming frustrated with queuing to withdraw cash from banks.
The government admits it is facing serious financial constraints with the country’s economy showing no sign of any positive impetus from President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party’s emphatic victory in last July’s polls.
The textile, farming, mining, construction, printing and retail sectors have been hit hard by company closures and downsizings, which caused by, among other things, poor power supplies, dwindling markets, and lack of capital to invest in new technologies and machinery.
The company closures have hit the government’s tax revenues, at a time little meaningful support is coming through from international development partners.
While campaigning for re-election last year, Mugabe vowed to double the salaries of State workers, a promise his Zanu PF government has failed to meet so far.
And, as the cash constraints appear to worsen, government last week changed pay dates for civil servants from the 21st of March to the 27th, citing inadequate finances.
The development appears to have riled rank and file members of the security forces with some threatening to stage protests in what could represent a threat to the country’s peace and stability.
Disquiet has been reported at the army’s KGVI base in the capital, the ZRP head offices at Morris Depot as well as in the prison services.
Security services officers, who are not allowed to go on strike, told NewZimbabwe.com that they would defy the laws if government fails to give them their money.
“It has never happened in the history of Zimbabwe that pay dates of the security services are moved; this signals a disaster,” a senior police officer stationed at Morris depot told NewZimbabwe.com at the weekend.Post published in: News