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Mugabe Approves Pay Hike to Zimbabwe's Civil Servants Ahead of Elections

President Robert Mugabe says he has given teachers and other government workers large pay raises before national elections on March 29. Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA that the army has its pay boosted by at least 400 percent last month.

Mr. Mugabe made his announcement the Lupane area in northwestern Zimbabwe, in what is now an opposition stronghold.

It was around Lupane, that some of the worst excesses of Mr. Mugabe's army took place in the early 1980's when thousands of opposition supporters were killed by the North Korean-trained 5th Brigade.

Mr. Mugabe, now 84-years-old, is on the campaign trail to be re-elected for a another five year term. He has ruled Zimbabwe since independence 28 years ago.

All teachers and most state medical staff are on strike throughout Zimbabwe over poor pay. The salaries of civil servants have been eaten away by more than 100,000 percent inflation.

At a rally Tuesday, Mr. Mugabe said he had signed an order for large increases for all civil servants. He did not disclose what the increases were. He criticized teachers who were on strike, saying their action was "undignified."

Teachers earn the same as the lowest paid soldiers in the Zimbabwe National Army.

When the army was given its pay raise last month, salaries for the lowest paid soldiers went from $300 million (Zimbabwe dollars) to 1.5 billion dollars. But one soldier who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that increase has already been eaten up by inflation and the depreciation of the Zimbabwe dollar.

Last week, Mr. Mugabe handed out millions of dollars worth of tractors and other agricultural equipment to rural supporters.

Many of those supporters have been given chunks of farm land that used to belong to the white commercial farming sector. Zimbabwe's economy, which depended on agricultural exports, began collapsing as white farmers were kicked off their land in a Mugabe government reform program.

Mr. Mugabe also signed a new law, which came into effect this week, that requires black Zimbabweans to own 51 percent of all foreign-owned and new companies in Zimbabwe.

This week it took at least $25 million Zimbabwe dollars to buy a U.S. dollar on the black market, which is the only place foreign currency is available. Mr. Mugabe blames inflation and the economic crisis on western countries that he says are determined to bring about regime change in the country.