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Zimbabwe reforms bite government where it hurts

About the authors
The Zimbabwean is a weekly newspaper, founded in 2004, publishing news from Zimbabwe as well as portraits of life in exile. It is available online here.
Wilf Mbanga lives in Britain in self-imposed exile having been declared an enemy of the people of Zimbabwe. He is the founder, editor and publisher of The Zimbabwean.
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Wilf Mbanga: The next target of economic "reform"

The government has turned its attention to the production of fertilizer. Goodbye to fertilizer. It will now join the long list of products procured or produced by the government that are unobtainable on the open market.

First it was fuel. The government took over the procurement of fuel from oil companies years ago, simply because it was an easy way to bolster the (Swiss) bank accounts of Zanu (PF) heavies.

No sooner had they done so than the country was hit by a major shortage – a situation that has never been successfully resolved.

Then they turned their attention to land – and we know the result of that. Recently the government announced plans to force commercial banks to lend money to newly-resettled farmers, despite the fact that its own land bank nearly collapsed when politicians interfered with its lending policies.

Now, it is the turn of fertilizer, one of the beleaguered agricultural industry's most vital inputs.

This hare-brained scheme to mug the shareholders of the fertilizer industry is just another step in the Mugabe regime's doomed ideological economic "reform" that can only lead the country into further chaos and misery.

If the fertilizer companies have virtually collapsed because they are unable to obtain foreign currency to continue operating, how will a change in ownership alter this? – given that there is no hard currency available in the country.

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Wilf Mbanga: The army and the police – our only hope

In this week’s issue of The Zimbabwean we carry a story about thousands of disgruntled policemen and soldiers trying to leave the armed forces. In the past the government has looked after the interests of the army and the police, who in turn viciously suppressed any dissent on the part of the long-suffering masses.

The forces were both active and diligent in carrying out the diabolical Operation Murambatsvina, which wrought havoc among urban populations throughout the country. Members of all ranks have allowed themselves to be used as willing tools of oppression – thrashing suspected opposition members and civil society demonstrators, implementing the law in an unashamedly partisan manner, and soliciting and accepting bribes at every opportunity.

As the ruling party's disastrous economic policies bear their inevitable fruit of rampant inflation and desperate shortages of all basic commodities, members of the armed services, particularly those in the middle and junior ranks, have found themselves battling to survive – like most of the population. Even taking bribes to augment their meagre salaries no longer bridges their budget deficits. And so they are resigning.

But their options are limited. Unemployment is running at 80% and above. South Africa is deporting thousands of Zimbabweans every week. What will it take for them to realize that their best bet would be to do whatever they can to contribute to the removal of the current failed, oppressive dictatorship? Therein lies their, and our, only hope.

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ZimOnline: Exodus from security forces may undermine president

Over 3,000 disgruntled junior-ranking soldiers and police officers have applied for discharge from service, as discontent over poor salaries and working conditions mounts in the security forces. Zimbabwe's army is estimated at around 40,000 soldiers, while the police force employs about 25,000 men and women. Together the forces form the bedrock of President Robert Mugabe's rule.

Authoritative sources say most of those wishing to quit submitted their resignation letters between October and November last year, indicating that they want to leave government service between this month and next month. The great majority have served for five years or less.

Although few of them have explicitly cited poor pay or working conditions in their letters, senior commanders confirm that these are the main reasons young officers want to leave, warning that many more are expected to apply for discharge during the year as economic hardships worsen.

"The boys are tired of living from hand to mouth and many of them say they feel it is better to go into informal trading than continue to be overworked for peanuts," said a senior officer in the discharges section at national police headquarters in Harare, who asked not to be named. "These guys cannot supplement their incomes while still serving because that will land them in trouble with their commanders, who do not approve of serving police officers or soldiers engaging in informal trading."

Defence Minister Sydney Sekeremayi could not be reached for comment, but Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi confirmed officers were pressing to leave the police force.

Mohadi said police authorities would not stand in the way of those who wanted to leave, adding that the exodus of security staff was not unusual given the massive brain drain across the entire economy, as Zimbabweans seek better employment opportunities elsewhere. "Everybody that feels they can be paid better than where they are employed are free to move to greener pastures. That is not unusual. We have nurses and other skilled personnel (besides police and soldiers) going into the diaspora. We do not like it but there is not much we can do about that."

However, our sources say that, to date, the police and army authorities have not allowed any of those wishing to leave the security forces to do so. Instead, the government is hoping that a pay rise of over 200% awarded to all state workers might help dissuade junior officers from quitting.

Junior police officers and soldiers, most of whom are married and have dependents, earn on average between two and three million Zimbabwean dollars as take home pay. A 200% salary hike would still leave them far below the $17,263,900 that the government’s Central Statistical Office says a family of five people requires per month for basic goods and services.

Some police officers who have applied for discharge insist they will still leave even if their salaries are increased by 200%. "Two hundred percent of nothing remains nothing. We have families, relatives to feed in this land of hunger and we need to act now," said one constable.

Meanwhile, the government is said to have stepped up recruitment to replace departing officers. According to our sources, this year the police will recruit 6,000 new officers compared to the 2,000 normally recruited yearly.

Political analysts say Mugabe has remained in power chiefly because he has been able to retain the loyalty of the army and police, who have been used on countless occasions to suppress public protests against the government. They indicate that discontent in the security forces, if unchecked, could seriously undermine the veteran president and his government.

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