“WE are surviving on chicken feet and zvikanganwa hama (gizzards), the situation is really bad,” a Zimbabwean diplomat said in an interview at the weekend as he outlined the increasingly dire situation at the country’s foreign missions.
Frustration is said to be high in the service and morale rock bottom.
President Robert Mugabe has spent millions travelling the globe so far this year, even as the government admits it is struggling for money as tax revenues have been hit by the 80%-plus unemployment rate and the closure of hundreds of companies.
But while Mugabe is spared the pain of the cash-squeeze, which critics blame on his inept management of the economy, staff at the country’s foreign missions have been condemned to penury.
Struggling to survive
Many say they are struggling to survive, having gone for 14 months without pay.
“We have had families separated, wives/husbands and children are in Zimbabwe because we cannot afford the fees abroad,” said the diplomat who declined to be named for fear of victimisation.
“I personally have been limping along because of the little which is coming from rentals of my small house in Harare.
“But you can imagine the problems as the tenant is also failing to pay on time because of the harsh economic environment back home.”
Worst affected are diplomats posted to missions in the more expensive Western countries.
“My brother, we are sinking in debt; those serving in some European and North American countries are wallowing in debt (credit cards) which are not being serviced, debt collectors are after them,” said our source.
NewZimbabwe.com checked with other embassies where officials were prepared to talk on condition they were not named and the tales of woe appeared to be as global as the country’s diplomatic footprint.
In some cases, heads of missions have been forced to use personal funds to pay their own rentals as well as help struggling members of staff with “parents’ funerals, medical expenses, school fees”.
NewZimbabwe.com was told that, in one case the wife of an ambassador was forced to give cookery classes in order to raise money for their own domestic expenses.
“I hear one mission’s electricity is now cut,” one official said.
Efforts to contact foreign affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi were unsuccessful as he is attending the Sadc summit with Mugabe in Botswana. Foreign affairs secretary Joey Bimha was also not available.
However, in March this year, Bimha conceded that the situation was bad.
He told legislators that government owed foreign embassy staff $6.6 million in salary arrears up to December 2014, $3.6 million arrears for operational expenses, and $376,900 in school fees refunds for children of staff at the 46 diplomatic missions and consulates.
But staff at the missions blamed Bimha and top officials at head office in Harare for the crisis.
Said one of the envoys we spoke to: “It is our understanding that Treasury regularly releases money for diplomats’ salaries.
“But because these salaries are remitted through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Secretary for that Ministry Bimha and the Director of Finance Ms Mudambo take upon themselves to divert that money to cover running expenses at Head Office and at missions, including the payment of rentals and other utilities.”
He added: “Our appeals for payment seem to have fallen on deaf ears as its quite apparent that no one cares for us anymore.
“The ministry has the audacity to buy new cars for the Secretary and Minister every year while we wallow in poverty in these foreign lands.
In June this year, Finance ministry secretary Willard Manungo said government was concerned about the welfare of staff at the country’s embassies adding their salaries who now be processed back home in Harare through the Salary Services Bureau (SSB).