Zimbabwe’s cash-strapped government has resorted to slaughtering elephants to feed thousands of hungry soldiers, sources told ZimOnline.
The state Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has since last week supplied elephant meat to army barracks across the country that have run out of food, our sources who are senior officers in the army, said.
Zimbabwe is battling acute food shortages after successive poor harvests since 2000 while nearly a decade of severe economic recession has left President Robert Mugabe’s administration without hard cash to import food and other basics for the army and country.
Apparently, the government sees supplying elephant meat to soldiers as killing two birds with one stone as it enables it to cull excess animals while also ensuring its army has food, according to sources.
“Soldiers started eating elephant meat last week,” said a senior officer at Cranborne barracks, a few kilometres outside Harare city centre.
The senior officer, who did not want to be named because he did not have authorisation to speak to the Press, said six elephant carcasses were last Friday delivered to the army barracks, adding that the meat delivery was a welcome relief.
Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi on Thursday declined to comment on the matter or to discuss the availability of food at army barracks in general.
Parks director-general Morris Mutsambiwa would not take questions on the matter.
Responding to questions from ZimOnline through his personal assistant, Mr Mutsambiwa said: “I cannot comment on that issue at the moment.”
The army is credited with keeping Dr Mugabe in power, always quick to use brutal tactics to keep public discontent in check.
It has done this in the face of an economic and humanitarian crisis marked by acute shortages of food and basic commodities, amid a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 1 700 people since August.
But a recession that began when the International Monetary Fund cut financial support to Harare in 1999 and which worsened following Mugabe’s controversial land reforms that destabilised the mainstay agricultural sector has gradually crippled the veteran President’s ability to keep the army well fed and happy.
For example, the army has, in addition to shortages of food, also struggled for basics such as boots and uniforms for troops while the bulk of military equipment and hardware is said to be ages old and in need of replacement.
Sources said for the better part of last year barrack canteens were serving only plain sadza (a thick porridge made of ground maize) because authorities were unable to buy more food after funds allocated to the army were quickly exhausted mainly due to Zimbabwe’s runaway inflation.
Secretary for Defence Trust Maphosa last year told the parliamentary portfolio committee on defence and home affairs that the government was fortunate that it was not being sued by soldiers for failing to provide adequate and nutritious food to the army as is required by law.
In an unprecedented show of discontent, some soldiers last year rioted in Harare, assaulting civilians, stealing cash from street currency traders and looting shops.
However, analysts rule out the possibility of a military coup against Dr Mugabe – at least for now – because all top commanders are still relatively comfortable.
But some say that worsening hunger could at some point force the underpaid ordinary soldier to either openly revolt or to simply refuse to defend the government should Zimbabweans rise up in a civil rebellion.