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

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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

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