ZIMBABWE Defence Forces commander General Constantine Chiwenga’s spirited efforts to enlist war veterans to campaign for Zanu PF ahead of crucial elections expected next year is facing insurmountable resistance from former Zipra commanders whose contribution has been identified as crucial if Zanu PF is to do well in Matabeleland.
Report by Herbert Moyo
Zipra was the armed wing of PF Zapu which, together with Zanu PF’s Zanla, waged a protracted guerrilla war against the country’s colonial rulers.
As in 2008 when it embarked on a brutal campaign to rescue President Robert Mugabe in the presidential election run-off after losing the initial poll, the military has again taken an active interest in next year’s crucial elections and is already on the ground campaigning for Mugabe and Zanu PF.
During the 2008 elections, Zanu PF failed to garner a single seat in Bulawayo, making it the only province where it was whitewashed.
Chiwenga has taken it upon himself to mobilise war veterans to assist Zanu PF in exchange for lump sums of money, among other benefits.
Top commanders of the defence forces have been campaigning for Zanu PF in Manicaland and Masvingo in a move widely seen as a desperate attempt to protect the vast wealth they have accumulated under Mugabe’s rule.
Highly placed sources revealed that Chiwenga recently engaged members of the Zipra command at One Brigade Headquarters in Bulawayo — his second such meeting this year — to drum up their support for Mugabe and Zanu PF.
However, most former Zipra commanders snubbed him, believing he only wanted to use their influence to galvanise other ex-Zipra cadres to campaign for Zanu PF for elections despite the fact that they have been sidelined since Independence in 1980.
Sources said Chiwenga’s tactic was to begin the meeting by attempting to pacify the ex-Zipra combatants by acknowledging they had played a pivotal role in the liberation struggle just like their Zanla counterparts. He said the country’s history books must be re-written to accurately reflect and recognise Zipra’s role.
Most Zipra cadres are bitter that the role they played in the bitter war waged to liberate Zimbabwe has been downplayed while that of Zanla has been exaggerated.
Chiwenga emphasised the supremacy of the War Veterans Act as opposed to the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWA) which is a voluntary organisation formed in 1990 to cater for the welfare of ex-combatants, and has always been led by lower level former guerrillas.
“In urging us to campaign for a Zanu PF victory, he told us that in terms of the (War Veterans) Act, ex-combatants are a reserve army which can be called upon at any time to perform duty,” said a source who attended the meeting. “To our understanding, that means having us endorse Mugabe’s candidature as he is our commander-in-chief and also campaigning for him.”
Only three former commanders of the Zipra command, two of them being Jack Mpofu and another identified only as Sigoke or Mlotshwa, bothered to attend.
Those who boycotted were reportedly angered by Chiwenga’s failure to address crucial issues of their welfare and compensation for properties confiscated in 1982 after the alleged discovery of arms caches at Zapu farms.
Chiwenga first met former Zipra cadres at Imbizo barracks, just outside Bulawayo two months ago, but failed to address these issues.
The former fighters were also peeved by apparent attempts to divide them for maintaining loyalty to their former commanders, especially Dumiso Dabengwa, and refusing to obey Zanu PF leaders.
Those that boycotted the meeting also charged that Chiwenga was trying to sow discord within their ranks after some of them attended the meeting.
“The two who attended are selling out to Chiwenga,” said one source. “In fact, Mlotshwa is related to Vice-President John Nkomo and is one of the ex-Zipra leaders Chiwenga is luring into his corner.”
Contacted for comment, former Zipra supremo Dabengwa was evasive, referring all questions to “Richard Dube, one of the Zipra commanders who attended the meeting”.
“I believe they (those who attended the meeting) also discussed the revival of the War Veterans Board, but l don’t want to jeopardise that by commenting,” Dabengwa said.
Sources further claimed Chiwenga has more Matabeleland visits planned as Zanu PF’s election campaign gathers momentum.
“We issued a press statement a few weeks ago as part of our attempts to say ‘hands off our members’ and (to) stop him (Chiwenga) from proceeding to Gwanda where he wants to go and meet with our cadres,” said one former Zipra commander on Tuesday. “He has planned these whirlwind tours across the length and breadth of Matabeleland and in fact, he will be heading to Lupane under the guise of opening a mine when in reality he wants to meet with our members.”
Companies linked to the military are involved in various lucrative but shady mining ventures, including diamond mining, with the most recent venture being the US$2 billion coal and methane gas project between Oldstone Investment and Shan Don Sunlight Energy of China in Gwayi, Matabeleland North.
Chiwenga attended the commissioning of the Gwayi project in Lupane on Wednesday, alongside Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Bulawayo has over the years been the epicentre of discontent against Zanu PF rule with its populace complaining about marginalisation.
This has been exacerbated by the perennial water problems, the Gukurahundi massacres in which about 20 000 people were killed in Matabeleland and Midlands, and de-industrialisation, among others.