Harare – THE government has delayed paying its soldiers for a second successive month, sources said Monday, underlining the worsening economic crisis that has triggered recent protests.
A cabinet minister admitted that July salaries would be delayed but promised the postponement would not be as long as last month.
“Treasury is making frantic efforts with a view to improving on what happened with last month’s salaries,” labour minister Prisca Mupfumira told State media.
“As the parent ministry, we are always in touch with the civil servants’ unions and Treasury.
“We are in the final stages and dates will be availed to the workers first before they go public, but indications are that there is great improvement.
“This month, it will definitely be better than last time.”
The minister dismissed as mischievous and ‘fake’ a circular purportedly from treasury on the new pay dates which was widely shared Monday on social media.
Fake dates mischief
“There are also some mischievous people who are circulating fake dates on the social media and we urge our workers to ignore those and not to be deterred,” she said.
“Their efforts will as usual come to naught. We always respect and thank the civil servants for the dedication to duty. This month it will definitely be better than last time.”
Ten days ago, President Robert Mugabe’s government was shaken by a national strike led by civil servants frustrated over several salary delays as Zimbabwe’s treasury struggles with a severe cash shortage.
The military are normally the first priority for payment due to their role in protecting the regime of Mugabe, 92.
But they were not paid as scheduled last week, and last month’s salaries were paid about two weeks late.
“We were supposed to get our salaries last Friday but there was nothing at the bank,” a junior soldier who requested anonymity told AFP. “We do not know when we will be paid.”
Other soldiers confirmed the delay.
Mupfumira said a meeting would be held Tuesday with representatives of the civil servants to discuss the new pay arrangements.
“There will be a meeting (Tuesday) where on our part, we will engage the Apex Council team leader Mrs Cecilia Alexander to update them on the situation in the spirit of dialogue,” she said.
“Treasury is making frantic efforts with a view to improving on what happened with last month’s salaries.”
Speaking from Rwanda where he attended an African Union meeting with Mugabe, finance minister Patrick Chinamasa blamed sanctions for the salary payment problems.
“Sanctions crippled our capacity to own our international obligations (debt payment),” Chinamasa said.
“Our industry sector collapsed, the formal corporate structure collapsed and it translated itself into informal sector.
“So we have now a situation where revenue collection from the informal sector is not easy. We need to come up with new policies.”
The cash-strapped government, which spends more than 80 percent of its revenue on wages, has resorted to staggering pay dates as it scrapes the bottom of its coffers.
Protests in recent weeks over salaries, alleged police corruption and import restrictions have exposed growing public anger as the country’s economy has ground to a halt.
Mugabe has previously used his ruthless security forces to crack down on any public show of dissent.
Christian pastor Evan Mawarire, who has emerged as a leader of the protests, was last week arrested and then released after charges that he had attempted to overthrow the government were thrown out by a court.
“We have gotten to a place as Zimbabweans where… the personal struggle has become too difficult to hide,” Mawarire told South Africa’s Radio 702 on Monday.
“No matter what your religion is or background or political affiliation, we have just reached a point where we are saying… we are done with this,” said the 39-year-old, who has travelled to neighbouring South Africa.
He said he was safe following fears that he would be targeted by pro-Mugabe groups, but he gave no more details about his whereabouts or future plans.