Zimbabwe Hungry Soldiers
Zimbabwe soldiers tell of hunger.
Millions now need food aid. Soldiers in Zimbabwe have spoken of being sent on forced leave, as the army was unable to provide them with food. The country is already struggling to feed an estimated 3.8m starving people in the rural areas, and has to import at least 37,000 tons of maize a week.
The army denies that the forced leave was the result of food shortages. According to soldiers in Bulawayo, the food shortages began early this year which forced their superiors at times to buy maize on the black market. The soldiers told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme there were serious shortages of food in barracks. They believe that 300 soldiers have been forced to take leave in Bulawayo, and 2,000 countrywide. "Sometimes we are forced to buy our own food for lunch because of shortages," said one of the soldiers from Imbizo Barracks, 20 km from Bulawayo.
Imbizo Barracks produced some of the best infantry soldiers and fighting units of the Rhodesian army during Zimbabwe's independence war. "Some of our colleagues have been told to commute to work everyday because of food and transport problems facing the army," said another soldier from Imbizo. A large number of soldiers have also been affected at Braddy Barracks, which trained soldiers who fought for Britain in World War II. An army spokesman, Agrey Wushe, denied that the soldiers were sent on forced leave because of food shortages.
In an interview with the weekly Standard newspaper he said the soldiers were only asked to take their leave days in order to rest. "We have enough food to feed the soldiers until our next financial year. It's not true that there are shortages of food," he told the newspaper. Soldiers who spoke to the BBC dismissed the army's version. The Zimbabwe government has a regular army of 30,000, supported by 5,000 militiamen who support the governing Zanu-PF party.
Elinor Sisulu of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition described the situation in the country as "catastrophic". Mrs Sisulu told the BBC of acute shortages of fuel, a breakdown in garbage collection, and police so short of food they have taken to looting from ordinary people.
Reports from Zimbabwe also say the food shortages in prisons are getting worse, with relatives of prisoners being told to bring food in for inmates regularly. Armed prison guards are commonly seen walking with prisoners on the way to court, because of fuel shortages.
Report from BBC Focus on Africa