While President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF chefs would be waxing lyrical about the liberation struggle and those who fought it during next week’s Heroes Day and Defence Forces Day holidays, inevitably gushing about their past heroics, some of those who fought the war would be listening with bitterness and a sickening feeling in their guts.
Complexities and contradictions of the former liberation movement in Zimbabwe’s post-colonial state have left erstwhile comrades living different lives: some in the laps of luxury and others wallowing in poverty.
Although there are many who feel betrayed by Zanu PF and its leaders, the story of betrayal finds its most bitter and sad expression in Mapiye Solomon Wekwete, one of the pioneers of the liberation struggle.
Government has religiously marked the Heroes and Defence Forces holidays through high-sounding speeches, parades and programmes on television and radio every August since Independence in 1980, focusing mainly on the lives of senior figures who died in the struggle while paying lip-service to surviving heroes, like Wekwete, an 80-year-old war hero who is now living in destitution ironically in the middle-class suburb of Marlborough in Harare.
“You know, I was talking to Rugare Gumbo prior to your arrival and I was saying to him ehe zvemavakungodya moga vamwe tichifa nezhara (how now you are feasting alone while the rest of us wallow in poverty). I also asked him if they only want to remember us when we are dead,” he says in a thick Karanga accent as we arrived for the interview at his house.
“They want us to go to the Heroes Acre to commemorate those who have died, but how do I get there? Do you just want me to come and say Pamberi neZanu (Long live Zanu PF) when I am suffering,” he says throwing his hands in the air in exasperation.
“This government forgets where we are coming from and how we suffered. This is all because there are so many people who were not there when we started and waged the war. I have my degree, but there are so many people in the government who do not even have qualifications,” says Wekwete, a graduate from the University of York in the United Kingdom where he majored in the social sciences.
He has no kind words for the present crop of ministers particularly Saviour Kasukuwere, the current Environment and Water minister.
“(Vice-President) Mai (Joice) Mujuru gave me a letter to seek assistance in re-establishing my service station business in line with the indigenisation policy, but Kasukuwere, who was then Indigenisation minister, simply laughed in my face, saying hatikuzive (we don’t know you).”
But this man “they do not know” appeared destined for dizzying heights back in 1977 when he was appointed the first chief of protocol for Zanu in Maputo (Mozambique).
His liberation war credentials are impeccable — with a curriculum vitae that dates back to being a founder member of the National Democratic Party (NDP) in 1960 which preceded the formations of Zapu and Zanu in 1962 and 1963 respectively through to pioneering reconaissance and infiltration of guerrilla fighters from Zambia across the crocodile-infested waters of the Zambezi River into the then Rhodesia.
There is, of course, the six years detention and all of that was spent at Harare Prison together with the likes of President Robert Mugabe, Zanu founder president Ndabaningi Sithole, Edgar Tekere, Enos Nkala and Leopold Takawira, among other Zanu luminaries of the struggle.
And at Independence, every day was a life in the sunshine for Wekwete in Zimbabwe, the sparkling jewel of Africa as the late former President of Tanzania Julius Nyerere called it then.
Wekwete served his country as a career civil servant in the ministry of finance under his wartime colleagues, Nkala and Bernard Chidzero (both deceased) before being posted to Malawi where he served as a trade officer from 1988 to 1994.
“I had an accident which claimed my wife back in 1992 when we were travelling back to Malawi from Zimbabwe and the only assistance I got was bringing the body back as far as the airport. Thereafter, the government told me I was on my own. After soldiering on for another two years, I took the voluntary retirement and opened a service station in the Snake Park area,” Wekwete says.
“But rentals became too much for me and when the economy was dollarised in 2009 after hyperinflation, all my life savings were wiped out.
“What does this government want me to do? I have no money because it was all in the banks. Was I supposed to keep it in the house instead of the banks where it should be kept?” he asks with an air of a broken man.
“Do you want me to tell the outside world that this is how I’m being treated by my own government? No — they will laugh at me. So it is better to suffer in silence. All I have left is this house.”
His house may be situated in a middle-class suburb, but the house is in a state of disrepair and badly in need of renovation. The swimming pool last had water ages ago and its walls are all cracked. Instead of the green lawn and flowers, there is a vegetable garden on the front yard of the house.
“How can I possibly survive on the paltry US$200 monthly allowance I get from government? I have been reduced to selling these vegetables so I can at least get a dollar to buy bread.
“Western countries are still taking care of their veterans from the First and Second World Wars. Why does our government not do likewise? We want the country to move forward, but we are saying take care of war veterans who fought for your liberation.”