In an internal memo, obtained by this website, the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) commander Lieutenant General Edzai Chimonyo said the measure had been taken “to ensure impostors abusing the uniforms will be easily identified and also ensure safety of members outside cantonment areas.”
Soldiers must leave their uniforms in their barracks, and will not be allowed to wear them during their commute to and from work, or when travelling between towns.
The directive follows a spate of crimes which human rights groups say have been committed by soldiers, including rape, murder, armed robberies, extortion and beatings following the deployment of troops in residential neighbourhoods in the wake of fuel protests on January 14.
The army denies that its members are behind the crimes, claiming instead that the perpetrators of those crimes stole the uniforms. In his memo to military commanders, Chimonyo did not mention rape and murder.
“It has been noted with concern that ZNA uniform has been abused in offences being committed such as robbery, gold panning, fraud, theft and extortion among others. Some members have also been attacked by civilians whilst in uniforms,” said Chimonyo in the memo dated February 6.
He directed that “with immediate effect no military uniform will be worn outside cantonment areas.”
“This applies to members commuting to and from places of work, intra and inter-city commuting. Take note that after working hours members are to put on civilian clothes and leave their uniforms in cantonment areas,” the memo adds.
ZimLive has seen a cache of police documents showing people in military uniforms have committed a string of crimes, particularly in Harare where soldiers remain deployed.
Just after midday on February 7, two men claiming to be police detectives walked into a hair saloon at Machipisa Shopping Centre and ordered 36-year-old Caroline Mutasa, of Glen Norah, to follow them to their vehicle, a black Toyota Wish.
Police files say nine men were in the vehicle, two of them wearing army camouflage and armed with a rifle. They threatened to “deal with her” at the KG6 military barrack but instead drove to Harare Kopje where they robbed her of US$500, $80 bond notes and her ID card.
On February 8, at around 9.30PM, six men wearing masks and all armed with AK47 rifles, stormed a shebeen in Mbare and ordered everyone to lie on the ground. After assaulting one of the patrons with a sjambok, and firing a shot into the ground, they robbed the owner of the shebeen of $2,800 and US$100.
The men jumped into their vehicles, a white Nissan MP300 with registration number AEA 4471, a white Nissan MP300 without registration plates and a Datsun Go without registration plates.
Police sources told ZimLive the two Nissan vehicles are owned by the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). A police officer based at Mbare has been arrested in connection with that robbery.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has faced growing demands to order soldiers back to the barracks, but the military says it is on the streets at the invitation of the police to maintain law and order following protests last month. Rights groups say 17 people have died in the military operations, and over 250 others injured.-Zimlive