It’s too risky for govt to let soldiers go hungry

Oppah Muchinguri

REPORTS that morale has hit rock bottom in the army make for sad and terrifying reading.

NewsDay Comment

Zimbabwe’s worsening economic situation, coupled with a severe food crisis, hyperinflation and cash shortages paint the correct picture and the state of affairs in the barracks which Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri laid out in Parliament, is a microcosm of the larger situation in the country.

Zimbabweans are a demoralised people. Soldiers do not live in a vacuum and their scrounging for food, cash, transport and other basic essentials is a sign of an insecure nation.

However, if hunger is now leading to corruption within the armed forces, just like what Muchinguri revealed on Tuesday, it then ceases to be a simple matter.

The soldiers are now aiding and abetting criminals along the borders, we were told, just so they can get food. That is just scary. What else are they doing in this moment of desperation to feed their families?

Like anyone else, a hungry soldier is an angry soldier inasmuch as a hungry nurse, teacher or driver, is an angry person.

Given the situation on the ground, morale is very low in the barracks as much as it is low in hospitals, schools and all over and we can never be safe as a nation if the men and women in uniform charged with keeping us secure are hungry.

Put simply, we are a hungry nation and given an option, the men and women in uniform would do what the nurses are doing now: down tools to register their displeasure, but they cannot. So, they bottle up their anger and we can only hope it doesn’t explode. Even the garrison shops promised by Finance minister Mthuli Ncube in February are yet to see the light of day.

In her own words, Muchinguri said: “To all intents and purposes, they do not go on strike when others go on strike. They are the ones brought in to bridge that gap. This is always the case, especially with the Ministry of Health and Child Care medical personnel, who are almost always on strike.”

Muchinguri correctly represented her constituency and in doing so, confirmed that no one was taking care of the important men and women at the centre of protecting our territorial integrity, risking their lives in doing that.

She said they were hungry, they didn’t have proper accommodation, they didn’t have transport and this speaks of a sad state of affairs in the barracks. It’s alarming that the government has allowed the situation in the barracks and indeed the country to deteriorate to such levels.

In the wake of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, the military personnel are fully exposed to the pandemic, but by government’s own admission, they do not have adequate personal protective equipment. That is an oddity given that, along with the police, they have been at the centre of ensuring people adhere to lockdown regulations.

Another shocking confession is that the soldiers do not have a dedicated military hospital like in other countries.

This leaves them having the burden of relying on public hospitals which nurses have deserted, where demoralised doctors are holding fort. If the soldiers are hungry and in a state of poverty, who then will defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and national interests of the country?