Accessibility links

Breaking News

Zimbabwe Soldiers and Police say Inclusive Government Easing Tension

Lower-ranking police officers and army troops in Zimbabwe say they are better off under the country's new inclusive government. But they quietly say they fear there is too much political involvement in the security services.

Zimbabwe's army has about 30,000 soldiers who earn $100 a month. It was reported that lower ranking soldiers carried out most of the beatings of Movement for Democratic Change supporters during last year's elections.

A private with four years service told VOA he beat MDC supporters because senior officers loyal to President Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF, forced him to. The soldier, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, said he is relieved an inclusive government is now in place, because those pressures are now gone.

He is critical of top officers in the Zimbabwe National Army, who he says are unprofessional because they openly support Zanu PF, the former ruling party.

Zimbabwe's top generals have refused to salute Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who won more votes in the March 2008 election than President Robert Mugabe.

"As a soldier, I am not happy with the attitude of our bosses [with] Morgan Tsvangirai and the inclusive government, because when they say they will not support anyone who is not Zanu PF, then it means the army is any extension of the party," he said.

An off-duty policeman, who also asked not to be named, said a senior group in the Zimbabwe Republic Police loyal to Mr. Mugabe does not recognize Mr. Tsvangirai. He said top policemen had made what he described as "enormous fortunes" during the past few years of Zanu PF rule.

He also said the force of about 20,000 is no longer professional. He said many untrained Zanu PF youth militia were recruited into the force since last year's elections, lowering the standards in the Zimbabwe Republic Police.

He said many police spend days harassing motorists at road blocks to extract bribes to boost their salaries instead of enforcing law and order.

"As for me, I am not actually happy that $100 dollars is very little for me to survive for a month long . You need about $500 to survive for a month in Zimbabwe. In police we are no longer policing. The manner in which police must police, this is creating more and more corruption. We are no longer working as police officers on duty," he said.

Despite this, and a core of senior officers in the army and police fanatically loyal to Mr. Mugabe, many people in Harare's western townships who were hounded by the security forces last year, say they are better behaved since the inclusive government was sworn in in February.

A former member of the army, now a businessman said people are no longer scared of the security forces, even though he did not want his name mentioned.

"Considering how they were behaving before the inclusive government and how they are behaving now there is a major difference. They are no longer harassing people in bars," he said. "They are no longer traumatizing people like they used to do. They used to be bullying people whenever they see people gathering, even at shops. They used to harass people, but right now their behavior has changed, really."

VOA was unable to get comment from the Zimbabwe government. Defense minister Emmerson Mnangagwe mobile phone was not on, and George Charamba, spokesman for President Robert Mugabe ZANU-PF in government, declined to comment.

Meanwhile, word is spreading in the security forces that coinciding with Mr. Tsvangirai's visit last week to Washington, the Senate said the United States may assist with salaries for Zimbabwe's teachers and health workers, but not members of the security forces.

Lower-ranking officers in the police and army said the United States was making a mistake.

"As a policeman and a civil servant we should be treated equally. We are all coming from the government and we are suffering the same things that affect teachers, those are the same things that affect us also," he said.

A soldier in central Harare, who did not want to be identified, says if any difference in salaries is made between the security forces and other civil servants there could be consequences.

"It may destabilize the country, because we may be viewed as people belonging to the party instead of being viewed as professional," the soldier said.

Political commentators also agree the security forces, by and large, are behaving better than they were before the inclusive government.

An exception is police working in districts of Zimbabwe where white farmers are being harassed by Zanu-PF loyalists trying to take over their farms. The Commercial Farmers' Union says the police usually fail to respond to farmers calls for help.