Army, Police Fight It Out In Harare City Centre Park
Army personnel in uniform engaged in a fist-fight with policemen in uniform in Africa Unity Square in Harare today. Africa Unity Square is right in front of parliament in the capital. The fight apparently started outside CABS in First Street, where the uniformed forces were waiting for the arrival of their foreign currency salary allowances. It is still not clear at this very early stage what exactly triggered it. But you will recall that the last time the police and soldiers clashed in Harare, it was also over money and payment of salaries. I saw one policeman who was bleeding from the head as the fight ended and he was put into a police pick-up truck and driven away.
The fight ended when a huge lorry, covered with canvas at the back, arrived at the Square with military police on board. When the truck arrived, some of soldiers quickly disappeared, some going towards First Street and others, crossing the park towards Meikles Hotel.
This incident comes as some civil servants also invaded Tendai Biti's office in Harare. Biti is the MDC Secretary-General and Zimbabwe's Minister of Finance. The civil servants had gone to Agribank to withdraw their US$100 salaries using the vouchers given to them by the government. Agribank was refusing to honour these vouchers, claiming that they had not received any money from the government to disburse.
The civil servants, who included teachers, invaded Biti's office yesterday and refused to leave until the matter was resolved. Biti then went the group to Agribank on Park Street in Harare and went into a meeting with the management of the bank. The meeting was closed to the public, including the civil servants who had gone to complain.
It appears the meeting did not bear much fruit because even as of today, the civil servants are still waiting outside CABS and Agribank.
Now, sources within government, but on the ZANU PF side are saying that when Biti announced that the vouchers would be exchanged for cash at the banks (they were originally to be used only to buy goods in designated supermarkets when Gono introduced them earlier this year), the Reserve Bank warned him that there was not enough cash to meet the demand that would ensue. Mugabe himself, in his birthday interview, also said that he did not think the move was sustainable "because we don't have the money."
But you will recall that a couple of months ago, I told you about the massive looting that was being undertaken by the "caretaker cabinet" of Mugabe, which was in place awaiting the appointment of Tsvangirai as Prime Minister. They basically cleaned the government out, externalising huge sums of money as a result of a loophole the Reserve Bank worked into its last Monetary Policy Statement, basically dumping all forms of Exchange Control regulation.
Most people are not aware that the auditing of the Reserve Bank has been blocked by Mugabe and the MDC have given in, for now. But, in retaliation, Biti has since announced that all government revenue from now on will be kept at Treasury, meaning the Ministry and NOT the Reserve Bank. His revised Budget statement last week also removed every single levy and source of income for the Reserve Bank. Which means the RBZ now has no income generating opportunities at all.
Biti has told the MDC leadership that, through this strategy, he fully expects that Gono will be asking for money to run the Reserve Bank within about six month. It is at that time that the Minister of Finance intends to revive the issue of the firing of the Central Bank Governor, which has, in the meantime, been ruled out flat by Mugabe.
But it appears that the handling of this civil service salary issue is a powder keg. If Biti is not careful, he will have a true rebellion on his hands, especially with the soldiers. Previously, the armed forces ire was directed at Gono. Some of them, if you recall, went to one of the Central Bank Governor's farms and impounded a lot of chickens, saying they were hungry because the Reserve Bank was limiting cash withdrawals and they could not access their salaries. To this day, the soldiers who took all those chickens have not been apprehended, as is the fashion with Mugabe, where he habitually licences impunity.
Unless the MDC can get some form of funding from outside, I really do not expect this coalition to last till end of the year. The problem is compounded by the MDC's failure to come up with proper policies for driving the economy. At the moment, they are focusing on simply keeping Zimbabwe limping.