Mugabe, war vets rift widens

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War veterans spokesperson Douglas Mahiya (in handcuffs) is led into a prison truck during his court appearance recently.

… former fighters snub Heroes Day commemorations

THIS year’s Heroes Day commemorations held on Monday were an event like no other as they were held against the background of a rupture to what had up until then appeared to be an unbreakable relationship between President Robert Mugabe and veterans of the 1970s war of liberation that brought Independence to the country.

By Herbert Moyo

The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association (ZNLWVA) leadership and hordes of their members, made good their threat to boycott the commemorations which were officiated by Mugabe, whom they now incredibly consider as one and the same character with Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith.

“I do not like it because the instruments that were used by the enemy are the same today,” ZNLWVA spokesperson Douglas Mahiya said on Sunday.

“The character that was displayed by the regime that I fought, its cruelty and brutality, was the same thing presented to me by my own government as an experience,” Mahiya added, while reflecting on his arrest two weeks ago.

He was arrested as part of a state-sponsored crackdown on the war veterans’ leadership after the ex-freedom fighters released a communique describing Mugabe as a “manipulative”, “self-centred” and failed “dictator” who had betrayed the ideals of the liberation struggle while destroying the economy.

Although Mugabe has had several run-ins with war veterans before, including in 1997 when they booed and heckled him during the Heroes’ Day commemorations — the latest conflict is particularly symbolic as it comes at a time Mugabe is facing growing criticism in and outside Zanu PF because of his failed leadership. It was also significant that the people who were on the frontline in the war of liberation, chose not to attend the commemorations in protest against Mugabe.

The no-show by the war veterans’ leadership is an indication that Mugabe is increasingly getting isolated as opposition to his rule grows due to the ever-deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the country.

While in 1997, the war veterans presented purely sectarian demands as they were fighting for their welfare, this time around their message resonates well with a wide section of Zimbabweans, as it touches on human rights, rule of law, the need to fight corruption and address the economic challenges, among other things.

“It was almost a political coup,” political scientist Ibbo Mandaza said of the 1997 fallout.

Mandaza, however, agreed the 1997 events pale in comparison to the current fallout, which culminated in war veterans joining ordinary Zimbabweans in calling for Mugabe to step down.

“While 1997 was a serious affair, the war veterans were certainly not as explicit as they have been this time around in expressing their loss of confidence in Mugabe’s leadership, although the implications of their conduct then was also very serious,” Mandaza said.

According to University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure, “this fallout is unprecedented and if not handled properly, it will ultimately lead to irretrievable breakdown of relations”.

The war veterans’ stinging communique could have passed for a statement written by the opposition or disgruntled Zimbabweans who are not enjoying the fruits of the sacrifice by the country’s heroes. The communique highlighted issues which are at the heart of many ordinary Zimbabweans.

“We make this statement to spell out our disappointment and those of the broad masses and working people of Zimbabwe, at … the (Zanu PF) party leadership (which) has dismally failed to use the resounding mandate given to it in the 2013 general elections to address the economic problems that have beset our great nation,” the communique read. “We note, with concern, shock and dismay, the systematic entrenchment of dictatorial tendencies, personified by the President and his cohorts which have slowly devoured the values of the liberation struggle in utter disregard of the constitution … and therefore that he should step down.”

Although the communique was hard-hitting, it was actually watered down compared to what the veterans said in their meeting.

The war veterans questioned why Zanu PF should not openly debate Mugabe’s succession given that the president is 92. They also said Mugabe was fueling corruption due to his failure to take action against corrupt officials.
They regretted the expulsion of their former leader Jabulani Sibanda for complaining about Mugabe and his wife Grace’s “bedroom coup” in Zanu PF.

As highlighted by the war veterans’ political commissar, Francis Nhando, an economic turnaround can only happen in Mugabe’s absence, suggesting he has become the number one stumbling block to recovery.

“If he (Mugabe) announces his retirement date now, the economy will improve because there is nobody who will invest his money where the future is uncertain,” Nhando said. “Nobody will lend money to a 92-year-old and if he does not step aside, 2018 will be the most difficult year to campaign for us as war veterans. How do you campaign for someone you do not like and who does not like you either?”

The communique came at a time Mugabe is facing growing protests from ordinary Zimbabweans because of the ruling party’s economic mismanagement which has resulted in a debilitating liquidity crunch, cash shortages, company closures and job losses which have spawned widespread poverty.

The ZNLWVA stance was acknowledged by ordinary Zimbabweans who turned up in large numbers in solidarity with Mahiya when he appeared at the Harare Magistrates Court last week.

By losing the support of war veterans, Mugabe has lost a critical tool which has propped up his regime time and again, especially after the emergence of a strong opposition — the then united MDC in 1999.

The war veterans played a critical role in the 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2008 elections where they mobilised for Zanu PF through a combination of outright violence and intimidation, especially in rural areas and farming communities.

They also played an important role to prop him up in 2007 after a faction led by General Solomon Mujuru stopped him from extending his rule without going for polls in 2006. The faction was also campaigning for leadership renewal, but was stopped in its tracks at the party’s extra-ordinary congress in 2007 which was preceded by the million-man march to show support to Mugabe thereby endorsing him as the party’s candidate in the 2008 harmonised elections. The architect of the march was Sibanda.

But it now appears as though the rubicon has been crossed and in all likelihood, things will never be the same again between Mugabe and the war veterans.

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