Robert Mugabe owes his position and his life to his armed forces, which have not only kept the Zimbabwean dictator safe from overthrow but also suppressed his opposition.  They’ve remained loyal so far, but that may soon change.  The rank and file now find life just as hard as the rest of their countrymen:

Restrictions on the amount of cash that can be withdrawn from the country’s banks amid an economic crisis and hyperinflation mean that soldiers, like the rest of the population, can only take out the equivalent of 50 pence a day – enough to buy a single banana.

Fourteen soldiers were arrested this week after scores went on the rampage in the capital Harare and the middle class suburb of Braeside, attacking foreign currency dealers with batons.

The soldiers had earlier swarmed into a city centre bank demanding more than the allocated maximum withdrawal but neither it nor any commercial banks, including Britain’s Standard Chartered and Barclays, have enough cash to placate the daily queues outside.

The soldiers had been expecting to pick up an ex gratia payment of Z$10 million (£4) from the department of defence, but the central bank could only pay half that sum, and only to soldiers from one barracks – the King George VI. The mood soon turned ugly.

It’s only going to get uglier.  Mugabe had the foresight to ensure payment to his officer corps, at least in the more senior positions, but the enlisted men and junior officers make up the bulk of the force.  If they can’t get paid enough, especially in the rapidly-declining Zimbabwean currency, they’re not just going to stop oppressing the opposition — they’re going to start joining them.

Mugabe has refused to share command over the nation’s security forces with the MDC and Morgan Tsvangirai, for good reason.  Once he loses control over them, Mugabe is finished.  If the senior leadership loses control over the army, the MDC won’t be able to stop the carnage, even if Mugabe allows them to share power.  It will mean a civil war, and Mugabe and his goons will be the first against the wall — and Mugabe knows it.

The Mugabe regime is rapidly approaching its end game.  The question will be whether Mugabe concedes and runs before it all collapses entirely, or whether he will get swept up in the whirlwind.