SECURITY ministers, state security service chiefs and war veterans held a meeting in Harare yesterday to prepare for their upcoming engagement with President Robert Mugabe on April 7, in a move clearly designed to prevent a showdown between the ex-combatants and their patron.
Mugabe had initially promised a frank, no-holds-barred discussion of contentious issues centring on the succession war in Zanu PF pitting Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa against a Generation 40 (G40) grouping of young Turks supported by his wife Grace.
However, according to a statement released yesterday, the meeting with Mugabe will focus on fairly innocuous issues of the welfare of war veterans “such as monthly pensions, school fees, medical support, funeral cover, business loans and other measures aimed at improving their livelihoods”.
Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi chaired the preparatory meeting, which was also attended by ministers Kembo Mohadi (Security), Ignatius Chombo (Home Affairs) and Tshinga Dube (War Veterans).
Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantine Chiwenga, Zimbabwe National Army commander Lieutenant-General Phillip Valerio Sibanda, Commissioner-General of Police Augustine Chihuri and Air Force of Zimbabwe commander Air Marshal Perence Shiri also attended the meeting.
The deputy director-general of the Central Intelligence Organisation, Aaron Nhepera, Deputy Commissioner-General of the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services Fadzai Mupfure and war veterans leader Christopher Mutsvangwa were among those who attended the high-level meeting.
Judging by yesterday’s gathering, the issues to deal with the Zanu PF leadership will not come up in the meeting with the president, particularly Mugabe’s succession and issues to do with factionalism that have fuelled fierce infighting and public clashes in the ruling party.
In a statement, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Welfare Services for War Veterans, War Collaborators, ex-Political Detainees and Restrictees Brigadier-General (retired) Asher Walter Tapfumaneyi said the purpose of the meeting was to discuss and give direction to preparations for Mugabe’s meeting with war veterans.
“The meeting discussed at length the criteria/eligibility for participation in the meeting with the President, the venue of the meeting, sub-categories and selection framework and expected total number of participants and content/themes of the discussion with the President,” said Tapfumaneyi.
“… All issues of concern will be discussed along the themes to be demarcated. The themes to be discussed will include, foremost, war veterans’ statutory welfare benefits such as monthly pensions, school fees, medical support, funeral cover, business loans and other measures aimed at improving their livelihoods.”
In what appears to be a divide-and-rule tactic, Tapfumaneyi revealed that Mugabe will only meet exclusively with the war veterans. He will hold “separate meetings subsequently with war collaborators and ex-detainees” at later unspecified dates.
Tapfumaneyi said yesterday’s meeting set up an Inter-Ministerial Committee of senior officials from the four ministries that were represented in the meeting and war veterans.
The committee led by Tapfumaneyi will be responsible for organising the meeting, outlining the structure, content, conduct and expected outcomes of the President’s meeting.
“In closing, the chairman (Sekeramayi) … reiterated that the purpose of all this detailed preparation was not only to bring the war veterans together for orderly and constructive engagement with their patron, but above all, to have a well-prepared, well-organised and well-run meeting which will unite the war veterans and give them appropriate political direction,” the statement said.
Commenting on the outcomes of the meeting, Mutsvangwa said he was happy that Mugabe was honouring his pledge to meet his fellow freedom fighters.
“I am particularly grateful to Minister Sekeramayi and Minister Tshinga Dube and the top brass of the defence and security establishment. They injected a business-like and professional ethos to all proceedings,” he said.
“The association is excited and is looking forward to a rewarding meeting that will renew and re-energise the revolutionary party so it continues to chart a prosperous future for Zimbabwe.
“As for Chimene, we heartily welcome her back to the fold. We will do all to embrace any positive effort they may bring for welfare members, benefit of association and strength of the revolutionary party.”
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Liberation War Collaborations Association (Ziliwaco) at a press conference yesterday bemoaned their exclusion from the meeting with Mugabe.
“There is so much in our hearts that we would want to share with the leader of our revolution. Our hearts are bleeding. Zanu PF is our party and nobody should cut this umbilical cord that has been firmly in place since the war of liberation,” Ziliwaco national organising secretary Shine Chakanyuka said.
“It is time the truth affecting the party is said openly. We will not let go our ownership of the revolution… Everything affecting the party, Zanu PF shall be discussed. Our revolution must be defended and from now on. Ziliwaco will raise its voice whenever things go wrong.”
War veterans, with the backing of the military, have been mobilising ex-combatants countrywide, including retired military personnel and those in opposition parties, to confront Mugabe over what they perceive to be an onslaught targeting the liberation struggle fighters.
The freedom fighters’ leadership, including Mutsvangwa, a vocal ally of the vice-president, have been caught up in the Zanu PF succession fight as they are perceived to be backing Mnangagwa’s presidential bid.
Mutsvangwa was fired from the War Veterans ministerial position and suspended from Zanu PF for three years for disrespecting the First Family among other charges.
Last month, hundreds of war veterans who had gathered in Harare to protest against attacks directed on them by Grace, were dispersed by police using teargas and water cannons.