DISASTER: Hunger hits army barracks, soldiers put on forced leave, generals slam garrison shops idea

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In a desperate bid to pre-empt mutiny among it’s middle and junior ranks over growing inadequate food rations and supplies, together with appalling conditions of service at the barracks, the country’s army is reportedly mooting to create food banks and pantries to feed hungry soldiers, Spotlight Zimbabwe, has been told.

A food bank, is a place where stocks of food, typically basic provisions and non-perishable items, are supplied free of charge to people in need to avoid hunger. Food banks acquire donated food and grocery products, much of which would otherwise be wasted, from farms, manufacturers, distributors, retail stores, consumers, and other sources, and make it available to those in need through a network of agencies.

Food pantries, are a distribution center where the hungry can receive food, supplied with food from a food bank.

Military bosses, according to senior defence ministry officials fear that if the situation is not urgently rectified, disgruntled elements in the army will soon revolt and riot, sending the governmental system into a crisis, with the possibility of an armed insurrection against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s failed leadership.

Former cabinet minister, Jonathan Moyo, last week in an interview with Spotlight Zimbabwe, revealed that Mnangagwa has been told by military commanders to step down or risk another coup which is simmering within the army’s middle ranks. Moyo, a long time information minister under the late President Robert Mugabe’s government, also recently disclosed that Mnangagwa had “foiled an insurgency by army elements against his embattled administration” last November.

In a sign of the growing food crisis disaster within the defence forces, Moyo, also last month tweeted pictures on his Twitter handle, showing sights of army trucks that were forcibly collecting subsidised mealie meal at National Foods in Bulawayo, after refusing to join the queue and all but demanding preferential treatment over civilians, for the allocation of the scarce staple commodity.

The disclosures come at a time when government’s plans to set up garrisson shops, to provide subsidised foodstuff to army officers is said to be facing resistance, as some military generals are arguing that, the development will “set up the force against drown- trodden civilians”, who have to pay for the garrison groceries, through a controversial 2.5% tax regime to be levied on struggling civil servants.

Teachers, represented by the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), this week described the decision by government to set-up garrison shops for members of the uniformed forces as a “violation of the country’s Constitution and a threat to national security”.

“Truth of the matter is that there is insufficient food in the barracks,” said a top army official based at Defence House in the capital.

“A good number of officers are being put on forced leave, because we have embarassingly run out of food. As an urgent panacea to the crisis, recommendations have been forwarded to the defence minister by the army leadership to fund the creation of food banks and food pantries to feed our hungry troops. The idea of garrison shops is facing resistance, as some generals feel the new development, will potentially set up the force against drown- trodden civilians. The food banks and pantries are now seen as a last resort contingency measure, to prevent a possible armed insurrection against government, because there is a growing constituency of disgruntled soldiers, who also feel disenfranchised by appalling conditions of service.”

A close aide to defence minister, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, confirmed that the minister was working on recommendations by military bosses to establish the food banks and pantries, while asking for supplementary budget support to improve conditions from the finance minister, to avert a worse crisis.

“These are confidential matters, but I can confirm that government is preparing additional funding for the army,” she said.

“The Joint Operations Command, has raised the state of affairs insofar as the working conditions and food situation in the army is concerned, as a high security issue. President Mnangagwa has been advised to instruct his finance minister, to come up with a supplementary funding package for the army before it’s too late.”

Muchinguri herself, has admitted, that the country’s 30,000-strong defence force is hungry, sick and ill-equipped.

The minister told parliamentarians at a conference to plan for the 2020 budget speech, by finance minister Mthuli Ncube, in November 2019, that conditions were so bad that regional partners were reluctant to visit Zimbabwe for exchange programmes.

“We are expected to host other defence forces but no-one wants to come here because of these conditions,” Muchinguri-Kashiri said.

“We can’t beg for food for soldiers. These are people who have sacrificed themselves. We need food rations, as we are expected to provide 30 items, but we are only giving them 10. We are expected to provide four sets of uniforms but they have only one. You can identify a Zimbabwean soldier by their worn-out uniforms.”

Last May, the commander of One Commando regiment in Harare, Lieutenant-Colonel Enock Chivhima, was arrested for allegedly stealing army rations valued at more than $500 000, according to private media reports. Chivhima, who was sent to Chikurubi Remand Prison pending a court martial, allegedly stole foodstuffs and other accessories meant for junior soldiers over a long period.

Efforts to get a comment from Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) Commander, General Philip Valerio Sibanda, were fruitless as his mobile phone was out of reach the whole day yesterday.

— Spotlight Zimbabwe


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