Zimbabwean army officials have been advised not to appear in uniform in public for fear of retribution from angry civilians.
An internal memorandum was circulated on Friday, instructing service men not to wear their uniforms outside their barracks.
“[The] Zimbabwe National Army [ZNA] has directed that with immediate effect no military uniform will be worn outside cantonment areas. This applies to members commuting to and from places of work, intra- and intercity commuting.
“Take note that after working hours, members are to put on civilian clothes and leave their uniforms in cantonment areas… Some members have also been attacked by hostile civilians whilst in uniforms,” reads the memorandum.
The military has been patrolling the streets, particularly in Harare’s high-density areas, since January protests against sky-high petrol prices turned violent. More than 50 people were reported dead while thousands were arrested as the army led a crackdown on civilians in the country’s major cities of Bulawayo and Harare.
The ZNA said in a statement it only became involved in civilian matters because the police were overwhelmed.
“During the unrest in the country that occurred from January 14 to 16, the protesters targeted police stations and members of that force on whom they vented their anger. This resulted in the [police] calling for assistance from the ZDF (Zimbabwe Defence Forces) to quell the rowdy elements in the streets,” read the statement.
There have since been reported cases of uniformed officials being targeted by the public. Constable Alexio Maune, 32, who was based at Entumbane police station in Bulawayo, was recently said to have died after being stoned by rioters.
Last week, ZDF inspector general Maj-Gen Douglas Nyikayaramba told journalists his men would return to the barracks because “peace and security have returned to the country.”
He added that if the armed forces had not intervened, the country would have been looted.
“Had the military not come in support of the [police], one wonders whether the whole country would not have been looted that day,” he said.