A NEW headache afflicts President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s financially broke government as 16 000-plus ex-Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (Zipra) fighters pressure government for compensation for their role in the war of liberation.
By Nkululeko Sibanda
Information at hand shows there had been repeated engagements with government between the leadership of the former Zipra fighters and state officials. However, a breakthrough has been elusive.
Sources told the Zimbabwe Independent this week the Zipra cadres — who also want Zapu properties seized by government back — felt it was time authorities acted on their demands.
In 1997, government paid thousands of ex-combatants Z$50 000 each — a move many say contributed to the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy.
Statistics at hand suggest that 16 000 combatants from the Zimbabwe African National liberation Army (Zanla) were compensated by government, while only 4 000 ex-Zipra combatants were paid then.
“Our Zipra colleagues have been living in abject poverty since independence in 1980, but our counterparts in Zanla were awarded hefty packages and most of them are in a better situation than us. We feel it is high time that government does something for us as well,” said a former Zipra fighter.
Another source added hundreds of ex-Zipra combatants had died while a leading pauper’s life.
“Some of our comrades died as a result of war-induced illnesses and injuries. Most of us are still suffering from ailments suffered during the war. What is our crime that makes our government, one that we fought for, refuse to compensate us while our fellow freedom fighters got what they deserved?” asked another Zipra ex-combatant.
Zanu PF legislator for Pumula, Godfrey Malaba, who once led a demonstration by the Zipra ex-combatants during former president Robert Mugabe’s era, told the Independent government had failed to address the former freedom fighters’ concerns. “We have been taken from pillar to post by government officials since 1998. We started our bid for compensation during Mugabe’s era,” Malaba said.
“At some point, we engaged the late former vice-presidents, Joshua Nkomo and Joseph Msika, to whom we handed over petitions that had our grievances. When we did that, our party (Zanu PF) dissuaded us from continuing with the protests because they were said to be casting the party in negative light. We were promised government would look at our issue, but nothing came through.”
The matter, Malaba said, was also discussed during several Zanu PF conferences where decisions to compensate the former Zipra cadres were made. However, no movement was realised on the matter.
“There was a time when we felt that government officials were deliberately refusing to come true on the pledges the government had made to pay these comrades. Upon realising that, we decided to approach the courts, the High Court specifically, to seek an order compelling government to pay the former freedom fighters,” Malaba said.
“Again, the Zanu PF party’s leadership came back and persuaded us to withdraw the case from the courts on the pretext the issue would be looked at. Again, nothing happened.”
The Zanu PF lawmaker added Mnangagwa’s government officials have not been helpful either.
“When (Chris) Mutsvangwa was appointed war veterans minister, he promised there was a programme that would ensure that the non-vetted comrades (Zipra war veterans) would be catered for. He was subsequently removed without movement,” Malaba said.
“Retired Colonel Tshinga Dube was appointed to the same ministry and initiated his own programme which took the matter to the cabinet committee and was awaiting a decision before he was removed again. The ministry now falls under Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga and we have not heard much on what he plans to do with the issue he inherited from former ministers,” Malaba added.
He said government should not be seen discriminating former liberation war fighters on issues of compensation as they all fought together to free the country.
“All we are saying is that given that Zanla cadres were compensated, it is high time that the Zipra fighters are also compensated,” Malaba said.
He added: “We fought the same war of liberation for the same people and same country. There is no reason why a bigger chunk of 16 000 ex-combatants should be punished by not being compensated just like their fellow Zanla comrades.”