Many Zimbabweans, particularly in rural and farming communities, bear body scars as their most vivid memories of encounters with veterans of the country’s 1970s war of liberation.
This band of what was once regarded as the country’s heroes have turned villain in most Zimbabweans’ eyes.
But one group of ex-combatants is trying to change this perception.
Irked by the negative reputation war veterans have earned over the years, Ray Ncube, a retired army colonel, has joined with fellow ex-combatants from the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (Zipra) to make peace their main priority.
The group, which was Zapu’s armed wing during the war against colonialism, has embarked on a peace building campaign aimed at rebuilding war veterans’ battered image. Zapu and President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu were the two parties that led the fight against colonialism.
Ncube chairs the Zipra war veterans trust headquartered in Bulawayo, but with members countrywide.
Ncube spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent this week about his group’s initiative, which he said was anchored on national healing. This was after realising that the true values of the liberation struggle had been sacrificed for personal and political gain by “selfish” politicians, some of them ex-combatants.
Instead of rehabilitating former combatants, politicians are taking advantage of ex-fighters’ poverty to use them as cannon fodder in violent political and self-enriching projects such as farm invasions.
Ncube said Zipra’s community-based initiatives were inspired by the feeling that some of their war colleagues were being used by self-serving politicians who thrived on violence to gain power and control.
“There is a disturbing phenomenon where ex-combatants are involved in political violence. We feel that ex-combatants are becoming victims of abuse during the process of elections or any national events,” said Ncube on Wednesday.
“In 2008 there were elections which were bloody and most of the people who committed the violence were ex-combatants. That is not good. That was not a civilised way of doing elections,” he said. “People know who to vote for and they should have been allowed to exercise their right to vote for a person of their choice, or even to be voted for,” he said.
The Zipra Trust was formed in 2008 to cater for the welfare and dignity of Zipra war veterans.
Ncube said his group had been with grassroots communities and traditional leaders in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces to discuss “where the war veterans had gone wrong”, as a first step towards restoring ex-combatants’ dignity.
He said communities discussed ways of solving disputes that arose from political violence and how victims and perpetrators could achieve reconciliation at these meetings.
Some of the areas where these meetings have taken place are Bulawayo, Gwanda, Gweru, Beitbridge, Manama, Bulilima and Mangwe.
The group, Ncube said, planned to roll out the programme countrywide to counter the influence of rogue war veterans who turned communities into fear zones during election periods.
The group says it is not linked to the revival of Zapu, which elected former Home Affairs minister Dumiso Dabengwa at a congress last month.
“Zipra Trust is a national organisation,” Ncube said. “We have representatives in all provinces of the country. We refuse to be viewed as a tribal group. Recently we held a workshop with representatives from all the provinces and the idea was to come up with ideas on how to introduce transformational measures that will move communities all over Zimbabwe from a culture of fear to a culture of peace and transparency.”
Ncube also dissociated Zipra from the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), a militant group of war veterans still loyal to President Robert Mugabe.
Now led by Jabulani Sibanda, ZNLWVA members have been at the forefront of violent election campaigns and farm invasions since it turned into a de-facto Zanu PF militia in 2000 under the leadership of the late Chenjerai Hunzvi.
“Zipra Trust is not an appendage of any political party. While it is an inescapable reality that Zipra was the military outfit of Zapu, the mandate of the Trust to date is to take care of the welfare of the people who sacrificed their lives to bring Independence to the country,” asserted Ncube.
“We are just Zipra former fighters who are not connected to Zapu. All we want is to establish peace and tranquility and also to look after the welfare of war veterans,” he said.
Ncube said national healing was the best route to stability, but criticised the way a specially appointed government organ was handling the process.
“The current national healing process is being touted in the media with nothing specifically being done on the ground.
“There is need to walk on the ground, talk to the people and making them meet with those whom they think perpetrated the violence,” Ncube said. “This is an issue that should be discussed openly. Moreover, methods should vary from community to community because the violence starts in the community. You can not prescribe the same treatment for different communities because the circumstances and magnitude can be different,” he said.