Zimbabwean army starts recruitment drive among rural youths after one-third of soldiers deserted

Inthenews.co.uk reported on 24 February that Zimbabwe has embarked on a mass recruitment exercise of rural youths to be trained as soldiers against the backdrop of massive desertions of exasperated junior and middle ranking officers over low pay.

Soldiers in the country have been forced to turn to crime, looting shops and supermarkets and confiscating money and food from civilians; sparking fears of full-blown mutiny.

Runaway inflation estimated at sextillion per cent meant that the buying power of soldiers who were being paid in local currency until this month had been eroded, forcing many to desert the armed forces.
The army employs about 30,000 soldiers but inthenews.co.uk was told that only about 20,000 soldiers or less are left in Zimbabwe as a result of the desertions.

"The last two months witnessed a high number of desertions without any official notice," a senior army officer said.

Another army officer added: "Most of the junior soldiers deserted jobs after having received no response from the authorities about their submitted letters of resignation."

The army's top brass, who have strong links with president Robert Mugabe, bar junior and middle level soldiers from quitting on suspicions that they are leaving national service to work with enemies of Zimbabwe to push for regime change.

Most of the senior military leaders participated in Zimbabwe's 1970s war of independence and have vowed unwavering loyalty to Mugabe, who at 85 years is one of Africa's oldest leaders.

In a bid to protect against the massive resignations, army officials said they will up to the end of March embark on a mass recruitment exercise of youths in rural areas for training as soldiers.

Strict requirements, like a basic educational qualification, that have been synonymous with past recruitment exercises have been waived to woo jobless rural youths to the army, inthenews.co.uk was told.

Zimbabwe army Spokesperson Major Alphios Makotore said: "The mass recruitment started this week and will run through to the end of March.

"There are no specific or strict requirements. What is only needed is that the youths should be fit and weighing about 50 to 60kgs and with a height of between 1.68m and 1.7m. Holders of the national youth certificate have an advantage."

President Mugabe introduced national youth service in 2000, saying the programme is aimed at instilling patriotism, discipline and appreciation of Zimbabwean culture.

Entrepreneurial skills were supposed to be part of the national service scheme.

However, military training, denouncement of the opposition and ruling party slogan chanting took up most of the training time. The graduates were nicknamed the Green Bombers because of their green military type attire.

According to army sources, sparking massive resignations of junior soldiers is the huge salary gap between them and the top brass that Mugabe relies on to maintain grip on power.

Senior members of the army earn about $2,000, are well looked after and regularly diverted scarce army resources for private use on huge tracts of land they had been allocated.

Junior soldiers were being paid in the hyper-inflated local currency until this month when prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai paid them $100 vouchers.

Source: Inthenews.co.uk: Zimbabwe turns to teenagers to combat mutiny, 24 February 2009