PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe yesterday threatened to heavily descend on war veterans’ leaders who are deeply involved in Zanu PF’s explosive succession battles, as he did in the 1980s when he crushed the former Zipra army deserters whom he described as “dissidents”.
Also describing undisciplined war veterans as “dissidents”, Mugabe sternly warned the former freedom fighters not to interfere in Zanu PF succession politics or risk fierce reprisals.
The war veterans, who have the support of the army, have openly supported Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s presidential bid. The Mnangagwa faction has been engaged in a war of attrition with the Generation 40 (G40) faction, which is fronted by First Lady Grace Mugabe.
Addressing the Zanu PF central committee, the party’s highest decision-making body in-between congresses, Mugabe said “politics should always lead the gun and never the gun leading politics”.
Mugabe said: “Dissident activities cannot be allowed. It ended in December 1987 when Comrade Joshua Nkomo and I put our hands together and our hearts together to say never again shall we allow this to happen.
“The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) was formed to cater for the welfare of the war veterans and not to champion political change, not to be the boss of the party and never to be to be the bully of the party, nor the entity to make the choices on who should be and who should not lead; never ever.
“We the experienced leaders say no to war veterans doing this, it’s not your function, it’s not your business to talk a lot on who shall succeed the president. 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.
“… 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.
“You want to shed blood? That is dissident behaviour and we will not allow it. It is not your business to talk of who should succeed the president and worse still I am stunned you threatened that unless your wish is fulfilled, there shall be bloodshed. That cannot be allowed and steps have to be taken,” he said.
Mugabe also said the ZNLWVA cannot be used as a platform to direct party activities. He equated those who were doing so to dissidents.
Mugabe’s fury was triggered by the ZNLWVA chairperson Christopher Mutsvangwa who was last week quoted as saying there would be bloodshed if Mnangagwa is not allowed to succeed the veteran leader.
Mutsvangwa yesterday denied uttering the statements.
“I am not sure where that came from because we have audio recordings of all our meetings and nowhere did we say there will be bloodshed. What the president said regarding the war veterans meeting is based on falsehoods,” he said.
Mugabe’s government deployed North Korean-trained 5th Brigade soldiers in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions in the early 1980s ostensibly to quell a rebellion by some former Zipra cadres, but the operation resulted in the massacre of thousands of innocent civilians.
The operation, known as Gukurahundi, resulted in more than 20 000 civilians being killed, according to human rights groups. The killings ended when Zapu and Zanu PF signed a Unity Accord on December 22 1987.
In 1983, Mugabe, who denied the 5th Brigade was committing atrocities, appointed a commission of inquiry headed by Justice Simplicius Chihambakwe. The commission’s findings were never made public.
Mugabe has steadfastly resisted calls to apologise for the massacres, choosing instead to describe the period as a “moment of madness”.
The president and the war veterans have been on a collision course since the Zanu PF conference in Victoria Falls last December. At the conference, Mugabe attacked service chiefs warning that they should not dabble in political affairs.
He blasted security service chiefs for interfering in his party’s internal affairs and succession, saying: “The military, police and the intelligence are now involved and split as well. Let’s stop this. We do not want factions. Nobody has people. We are all Zanu PF”.
Tensions between the First Family and war veterans escalated further after Grace held a rally in Chiweshe in February where she accused military bosses of plotting to bomb her dairy in Mazowe. She said the army was plotting to kill her son Bellarmine to aid Mnangagwa’s bid. Grace also lashed out at the war veterans leadership for meddling in Zanu PF’s internal affairs.
The ex-combatants, however, refused to be cowed and publicly attacked Grace and by extension Mugabe.
The war veterans organised a protest march against Grace, but were attacked by riot police using teargas and water cannons.
To douse tensions, Mugabe agreed to meet the former liberation fighters in Harare on April 7. The war veterans raised serious internal political issues afflicting Zanu PF, among them the illegal suspensions and expulsions of party members, lack of ideological clarity in the party’s commissariat department, proliferation of slogans and derogatory songs to denigrate party members as well as the need to revamp the national disciplinary committee, which they said was partisan.
The meeting came after a number of party officials, including Mutsvangwa, who had been vocal in the fight against Grace and the G40 faction, had been suspended from the party.