War Veterans in Zimbabwe have always played an important role in shaping the politics of this country.
War Veterans are those men and women who sacrificed their education and life to go and fight as either Zanla or Zipra combatants during the war of liberation in the 1970s.
Most of these cadres dropped out of school at secondary level to cross into either Mozambique or Zambia to be trained as freedom fighters and were eventually deployed back into the country to battle the Smith regime. As such most people respect these gallant men and women. However, there is now a tendency for them to abuse that respect that they should always be the voice of reason, that is, whatever they say goes, it should be taken as gospel truth.
If we assume that those who left secondary school education to cross into the neighbouring countries were at least 15 years old by 1978, it means these war veterans are at least 52 years old today. If someone very young crossed into the Mozambique to be trained as a fighter and they were considered to be too young, they would not be trained as fighters.
Hence sometimes we get some people who have questionable ages claiming to be war veterans. Since most of these cadres left school at a very young age, they had not gone far with their education.
However, some continued to further their education after Independence and some earned degrees right up to PhD level. But quite a number did not manage to do so and most of these were eventually demobilised from the Zimbabwe National Army.
We therefore have a combination of war veterans, sharp ones, and some not sharp. However, when they stand up to contribute to issues of national debate, sometimes the least educated ones speak the loudest, sometimes bringing a lot of disrepute to the others. And it is always the same guys who want to say something without consulting the rest.
In countries like the US for example, the law gives preference to veterans of the war in recruitment for employment, be they from Vietnam or whatever war they fought in. Our own war veterans are supposed to enjoy certain benefits for life, like life pensions, school fees for their children etc.
All this is in appreciation of the role they played during the liberation struggle. They cannot however be always the voices of reason. Their views cannot always be the correct ones, we allow for divergence of views and no one should demand his/her view to be regarded as superior simply because they are war veterans.
At the other end we also have children who were born after Independence and these young men and women are now in their 30s. There has been a tendency among the older generation to say they know it all because they are older. While our African culture teaches us to respect the elders, we cannot always assume that they know everything and are wiser.
Even with the chiefs who have ruled our societies, they make decisions based on consensus from their advisers. There were makurukota aMambo in the Shona culture who would contribute their views when an issue would have been brought before the chief’s dare. This was a realisation that good ideas can come from a wide range of people — young and old. After considering all their views, the chief would then make a final ruling.
Recently we witnessed a 35-year-old Mmusi Maimane being elected as leader of the Democratic Alliance in South Africa and listening to him being interviewed after he won the elections, he speaks a lot of sense. The point is the younger generation can have very brilliant ideas and should never be shut out of politics on the basis that they are still too young. Besides, every political party needs some regeneration, the old madhara and war veterans are getting old — they need to be replaced.
Unfortunately there has been a tendency by the older generation, especially in the ruling party Zanu PF, to block the youths from entering politics. Quite often there have been requirements that one should have been in party structures for at least 15 years at provincial level to be considered for election as an MP. One wonders whether we should continue to appoint MPs on the basis of how many years they have been in politics rather than what they can deliver.
Some have been MPs for over three terms now (15 years), but they have not brought any meaningful change to their constituencies. Maybe we should consider imposing 10-year limits to them, just like we did with the presidency. If one cannot implement his/her ideas within 10 years, then maybe they are not worthy MPs.
President Robert Mugabe has also often complained about the quality of MPs elected. He has previously said after elections, he asks all the MPs to submit their CVs and he has had to throw away 90% of them as they are not minister material. Sometimes he has had to go back to those thrown away CVs to look for some with some resemblance of worth credentials to fill up the cabinet posts.
This is because we are not being fair to most capable people and tend to shut them out. There are lots of men and women with high qualifications and experience, but the majority of them are discouraged from taking part in politics by those already in the game. Most of these intelligent people have opted to go out of the country to work as expatriates. No wonder sometimes we seem to fail to get the right people to appoint to demanding positions for example, Finance minister.
While we respect our war veterans and elderly politicians, it is time we change our way of doing business in politics. Let us scrutinise and elect MPs on the basis of what they are capable of doing, rather than how many years they have been in political circles. Let us also learn to respect the will of the people in constituencies where primary elections have been held. It’s also time war veterans learn to respect the rest of the population and not always behave as if they own Zimbabwe.
Henry Mafirakureva, Harare.