"A hungry and angry soldier can be very dangerous" – Warns Army member

HARARE, (IRIN) – Robert Charamba (not his real name) is a soldier in the Zimbabwe National Army. He was not among the soldiers who recently rampaged through the capital, Harare, because he was in the border town of Beitbridge visiting his wife, a cross-border trader.

"But if I had been around I would have joined my colleagues, because I understand colleagues who mugged and robbed foreign currency traders made enough money to see them into next year.

"It is very difficult to say exactly what forces are at play, but in a crisis situation such as we have, it is possible for some people to manipulate people and events. 

"On the eve of the nationwide demonstrations against money shortages, [held on Wednesday 3 December] officials from the Reserve Bank [of Zimbabwe] visited all military barracks with truckloads of money and doled out Z$15 million [US$8] to all soldiers. I don’t know how long they can go on paying money to calm restive soldiers.

"The soldiers are angry and restive. The generals are the only ones who are happy under this government. They have farms, get free food meant for soldiers which they divert to the parallel market; they receive free fuel and have several official cars, while the soldiers have to do without food and a decent uniform.

"Because of the nature of our job, which is different to that of police officers, we cannot solicit for bribes. Police officers are mounting ‘private’ roadblocks where they demand bribes as a way of supplementing their income. The only route open to soldiers is brazenly grabbing from the civilians.

"There is a facility under which soldiers are supposed to withdraw all their monthly salaries through the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, but the senior officers take that money and order us to go and queue like the rest of the population.

"The [Reserve Bank] governor [Gideon Gono] has presided over a chaotic period in the banking sector, and the feeling among soldiers is that a new person with fresh and innovative ideas should have been appointed. [Gono was recently reappointed for another five-year term by President Robert Mugabe].

"As far as we know, Gono is sending the local currency onto the parallel market in order to buy US dollars for himself and the ruling elite.

"So, when soldiers can’t get money from the bank, where it should be, they naturally follow it to the parallel market, where the dealers are awash with freshly minted bank notes.

"We are human like everybody, and we have families which need to be fed, clothed, housed and educated. And when we can’t get money from the normal places, like everybody is doing in Zimbabwe, we make a plan and unfortunately that is the chaotic route.

"Remember, a hungry man is an angry man, and a hungry and angry soldier can be very dangerous."