The Army and the state youth militia, organisations crucial to President Mugabe’s continued grasp on power in Zimbabwe, are demoralised and fast running out of money.
The Defence Ministry has already exhausted its budget of Zim$32 billion for rations this year, Trust Maphosa, the Secretary for Defence, told a parliamentary committee this week. The sum was worth £10 million when it was allocated at the beginning of the year but its value has been shrunk by hyperinflation and the collapse of the currency to about £400,000.
A private’s monthly pay in February mounted to Zim$300,000, he said, worth nearly £50. The figure was the result of a sharp increase in army salaries after alarming reports of officers resigning and troops going absent without leave. The 35,000-strong Army is now in a significantly worse position. A private’s pay is equal to about £4.
Mr Maphosa said that training would have to be suspended. The defence forces were suffering from a severe shortage of spare parts for vehicles and machinery and water supplies to several military installations had been cut off because of nonpayment of bills.
The revelations came as Conservatives at Westminster called on Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, to beef up “woefully inadequate” EU sanctions on Zimbabawe.
The Army and the youth militia have been widely used in the past three months of violent repression as President Mugabe reacted to a new surge of discontent.
Claudius Makova, the ruling party MP who chairs the parliamentary portfolio committee on defence, said that the financial situation had severe implications for national security.
Economists have repeatedly said that inflation, now running at 3,700 per cent, is President Mugabe’s worst enemy. “The time between each big pay increase is getting shorter and shorter,” a Western diplomat said. “The day is coming, like it did in any number of South American dictatorships, when the new pay rise will be worthless as soon as it is awarded.”
Another report this week by a second parliamentary committee revealed the abysmal conditions at camps for the youth militia, whom President Mugabe in March described as the “big, hard-knuckled fist” of Zanu (PF).
It described the dormitories as uninhabitable. The buildings were crowded and filthy, and many had no doors or windows, and recruits had been fed on an almost nutritionless diet of boiled cabbage and stiff maizemeal porridge since January. There were reports of violence and abuse, and women recruits were constantly in fear of being raped.
At one camp, youths had risen against soldiers in charge of them over the state of food. As a result, “one student had his arms broken” the report said.