Heroes’ spouses wallow in poverty

WHILE President-elect Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party elite cruise in Mercedes-Benz limousines and top-of-the-range SUVs, and reside in multi-million-dollar mansions and drink expensive whiskies, families of liberation war heroes are languishing in extreme poverty as they have to make-do with a paltry US$100 monthly Widows’ Pension Fund.

Brian Chitemba

Some families of fallen liberation war commanders, who were declared national heroes, have nothing to show for the sacrifice of their loved ones in fighting the white supremacist rule of Ian Smith’s Rhodesia.

Mugabe is proud to be associated with the liberation struggle which he uses to cling to power.

At his star rally in Bulawayo last month, Mugabe spent 30 minutes greeting widows of fallen heroes as he attempted to reconnect with the legacy of the struggle.

But as Zimbabwe commemorates Heroes’ Day on Sunday and Defence Forces Day on Monday, the plight of national heroes’ widows is heart-rending as the majority of them are surviving on crumbs while Mugabe and his cronies live in luxury.

Instead, the widows have every reason to be bitter given that government is paying them a mere US$100 monthly pension.

According to Gift Masuku, widow of the late Zipra commander Lieutenant-General Lookout Masuku, life is not a bed of roses for most surviving spouses of fallen heroes.

While Masuku played a pivotal role in the liberation struggle, his family is living in abject poverty.

Masuku’s role is equivalent to that played by his Zanla counterpart, the retired late General Solomon Mujuru. In 1982, Masuku was appointed deputy commander of the Zimbabwe National Army to Mujuru.

Gift told the Zimbabwe Independent she has struggled over the years to make ends meet and now ekes out a living by using her sewing skills. She also runs a flea market stall at the Unity Village in Bulawayo.

“We are facing serious hardships,” said Gift. “The money we are getting under the Widows’ Pension Fund is peanuts. It doesn’t match the immense contributions by our husbands who risked their lives at the war front. We cannot afford to pay electricity and water bills, let alone put a decent meal on the table. We hustle, but we are living in poverty,” she said.

Gift, whose two children Thokozile (35) and Zakheleni (32) live abroad, hopes the new government will prioritise the plight of liberation war heroes’ families.

Masuku must be turning in his grave as some of his surviving war colleagues enjoy the fruits of his blood while families of fallen heroes wallow in penury.

Masuku died in April 1986 at Parirenyatwa Hospital where he had been taken from detention at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. He was arrested in 1982 together with Zipra commander Dumiso Dabengwa on allegations of plotting to overthrow Mugabe’s government.

The court found Masuku innocent, but he remained incarcerated until his death.