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  • Mugabe power under threat as troops riot over pay
    Chris Mcgreal, Mail & Guardian (SA)
    December 02, 2008

    Dozens of Zimbabwean soldiers rioted in Harare on Monday, attacking banks after they were unable to withdraw their near worthless pay, in a further sign that Robert Mugabe may be losing control over the forces that have kept him in power.

    The unarmed soldiers also looted shops and were backed by some civilians as they clashed with riot police who fired tear gas to break up the protest. The drastic cash shortages are caused by the country's 231-million percent inflation rate.

    The Associated Press reported that gunfire had broken out in the city centre, but it was not clear who fired.

    Though not large, Monday's was the second such protest in a week and reflects a desperation within the military that will be of concern to Mugabe and his allies, who have relied on the army to suppress political opposition.

    Ordinary soldiers, often hungry and unable to feed their families, have grown disillusioned. If significant numbers were to turn against Mugabe, it could swiftly bring an end to his rule. The president's grip is in any case greatly weakened as Zimbabwe's collapse continues without respite.

    The authorities in Harare on Monday cut off water supplies to the city because there are not enough chemicals to treat the water in the midst of a cholera outbreak.

    The Health Ministry on Monday said cholera has now spread to all but one of Zimbabwe's 10 provinces, as sanitation systems break down across the country. The World Health Organisation says about 425 people have died, but medical charities say the real figure is at least double that among the 11 000 reported cases.

    The United Nations estimates that five million people, about half Zimbabwe's population, will need food aid in the coming weeks.

    Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Monday urged foreign governments to end the "man-made" humanitarian crisis, "as it has reached catastrophic levels".

    But there is unlikely to be any significant foreign aid until Mugabe agrees to implement the political deal reached in mid-September that required him to give up many of his powers to Tsvangirai, who was to be appointed prime minister.

    Mugabe has so far blocked its implementation by insisting that his Zanu-PF party should control all the key ministries, particularly those responsible for the security forces and finance.

    The most senior UN official in the country has warned that Zimbabwe could become a failed state similar to Somalia if the power-sharing deal fails.

    Agostinho Zacarias told a delegation led by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan that Mugabe was more interested in protecting his power and legacy than rescuing Zimbabwe from disaster.

    "When asked by Mr Annan what would be the future of Zimbabwe were no political agreement reached, Mr Zacarias replied that it would become a 'Somalia', a failed state," said a report by Annan's delegation. "When asked what President Mugabe wants, Mr Zacarias explained that his interest is that of protecting his legacy and that of his political party."

    Mugabe's regime remains defiant. On Monday it said it would not abide by a Southern African Development Community ruling that the seizure of white-owned farms were illegal under international law.

    "They are daydreaming because we are not going to reverse the land reform exercise," Didymus Mutasa, the Security Minister, told the Herald newspaper.

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