JUDGING by his unprecedented attacks on war veterans in Harare yesterday, President Robert Mugabe — wobblingly on his 92-year-old legs — is clearly heading towards a nasty clash with the ex-combatants as he faces an endgame of tragic dimensions.
Editor’s Memo Dumisani Muleya
Mugabe declared war on the ex-combatants, some of whom directly helped him to gain control of Zanu PF through the Mgagao Declaration during the liberation struggle amid deadly internal power struggles, as he threatened to crush them for interfering in his raging succession battle.
Like the late retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru who helped Mugabe to seize control of the Zanu PF leadership from founding leader Ndabaningi Sithole in Mozambique at the height of internal party strife in the 1970s, war veterans now find themselves at war with their patron.
Mujuru died in a mysterious fire at his farmhouse in 2011 after clashes with Mugabe as he plotted to oust him from power. Mugabe continues to denounce him after his death.
Now the gloves are off against war veterans.
Addressing the Zanu PF central committee in Harare yesterday, Mugabe warned that “politics should always lead the gun and never the gun leading politics.”
Alluding to the 1980s Gukurahundi conflict and the resultant massacres of innocent civilians following political clashes between Zanu and Zapu, as well as his fight against Joshua Nkomo under the pretext of combating dissidents — former Zipra army deserters — Mugabe evoked memories of the grisly atrocities which showed his dark side early after independence.
“The dissidents tried it, they were war veterans and you know what happened. Lots of trouble, lots of fighting, lots of suffering of course to our people and these dissident activities cannot be allowed,” he said. “Is it the case that we are seeing another rise of our dissident activities. War veterans must know that it is the politics that leads the gun, not vice versa as war veterans are not the bosses of the party.”
He went further: “It’s not your business to choose who should succeed the president and who should not, worse doing so under the pretext that there would be bloodshed if your preferred person doesn’t succeed.”
Mugabe warned there would be serious consequences.
While Mugabe claimed to be fighting dissidents in the 1980s, his real agenda was to establish a one-party state and become president for life by crushing his rival Nkomo and Zapu. Nkomo survived an assassination attempt.
Human rights groups say at least 20 000 civilians in the Midlands and south-western regions were massacred.
However, in the process Mugabe found himself during the Cold War-era conflict awkwardly collaborating by design and default with apartheid South Africa to fight war-time comrades in Zapu and the ANC. Declassified records show this.
War veteran leaders, especially Chris Mutsvangwa, Victor Matematanda and Douglas Mahiya, have been breathing fire, shelling the Zanu PF faction led by Mugabe’s wife Grace, G40, left, right and centre in the ongoing war of attrition over succession.
Indirectly, they have been criticising Mugabe for his alliance with G40 and cracking down on them as shown by the police quelling their anti-Grace protests in March before a fire-fighting meeting in Harare on April 7.
While it appeared on the surface, the meeting had hammered out a truce between Mugabe and the war veterans, backed by the military, tensions remained bubbling under the surface.
In reality, war veterans are now fighting Mugabe over succession. Actually, it’s a fight between Mugabe and top army commanders by proxy — a hostile contest for the control of Zanu PF and who takes over from Mugabe. We now have brinkmanship between Mugabe and the army. The end is unpredictable.
The war veterans want to stampede Mugabe into stepping down, clearing the way for their unofficial patron, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa who leads a rival Zanu PF faction.
With Mutsvangwa in reaction dismissing Mugabe as acting on “falsehoods” and the veteran leader’s record of fierce reprisals and brutality, the stage is set for a dramatic finale.