ANDREW KUNAMBURA/ TINASHE KAIRIZA
ZIMBABWE National Army (ZNA) commander Lieutenant-General Edzai Chimonyo last week convened an emergency staff meeting where he read the riot act over rampant indiscipline, theft of rations and criminal activities involving soldiers as disquiet within the rank and file of the military sparks concern.
The meeting, attended by about 500 soldiers from the rank of corporal upwards, was held at the ZNA Staff College house at the Josiah Magama Tongogara Barracks (formerly KGVI) on Friday last week.
Chimonyo — the only speaker at the meeting — was accompanied by two of his top subordinates: ZNA Chief of Staff (Quartermaster Staff), Major-General Hlanganani Dube and Chief of Staff (General Staff), Major-General David Sigauke.
High-ranking ZNA members said Chimonyo began his two-hour long address to the soldiers by stating that he had called the meeting after receiving incessant reports of rampant indiscipline among the soldiers and sought to put his foot down.
According to sources, the move was also occasioned by the high rate of soldiers, who are being hauled before military tribunals, also known as courts martial.
Sources said there was general concern among ZNA commanders that the level of indiscipline may spiral out of control.
Chimonyo also told the soldiers that being the man in charge, he was not going to tolerate indiscipline in the army and indicated that so rampant has indiscipline become among soldiers that the army’s internal prisons, known as detention barracks, are being overwhelmed.
The developments come at a time the Zimbabwe Independent has documented widespread unease among middle and low-ranking soldiers over the rising cost of living, poor salaries and difficult working conditions since the start of the year.
The generals are worried that during this period of a deteriorating economic situation in the country, underpinned by skyrocketing prices, high cost of living and hyperinflation, which has rendered salaries worthless, the soldiers are in a desperate condition: ill-disciplined, disorganised, poorly fed and poverty stricken, according to insiders.
To survive the hardships, the soldiers have had to engage in money-spinning activities such as gold panning and street vending while others have turned to crimes like theft.
Chimonyo reportedly triggered murmurs of disapproval from the troops when he instructed that soldiers should desist from engaging in money-spinning activities and maintain a high degree of military professionalism.
“He was basically expressing the command element’s concerns over repeated acts of indiscipline by soldiers. Reports have been filtering in about members involved in crimes committed both within and outside the organisation. There are also cases whereby soldiers are involved in other activities in order to survive. He particularly mentioned that soldiers’ involvement in activities such as gold panning must end immediately and this did not go down well with some of the soldiers who openly expressed disapproval of that by murmuring,” a soldier who attended the meeting said.
“I am sure you have heard cases of soldiers who have been caught in violent clashes with illegal gold diggers. These have been increasing a lot and sometimes we only get to know that they are our members once they have been arrested. So this was one of the issues that was being addressed by the commander (of) ZNA. Things are not well.”
Millitary sources told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that, in hushed tones, the disgruntled soldiers grumbled that they were not being unruly but were looking for other means to survive because of low salaries and the worsening economic environment.
Chimonyo, military sources added, emphasised that misbehaviour is not tolerated in any army in the world and he would not allow it to fester on his watch.
“Practically, he read the riot act. Already, many officers have lost their jobs while some are being hauled before the courts-martial. Detention barracks are full as we speak,” an officer said.
The army’s ordnance corps has been complaining about rampant theft of various items, particularly food rations.“Imagine, recently there was a case of someone who was fired for stealing a chicken drumstick from the rations. But the theft of rations is rampant because people would be starving at home, yet one would be working around foodstuffs that his family or her family would be greatly in need of. People are just tempted to steal. So that was one of the issues addressed at the meeting,” another military source said.
The ordnance corps is a division which has an operational and a logistical role within the military. The logistical role is to provide technical support in the procurement, storage, distribution, inspection, maintenance, repair and disposal of all items of ordnance and related material.
Zimbabwe Defence Forces spokesperson Overson Mugwisi was not answering his mobile phone yesterday. He did not respond to questions sent to him via email.