By Fungi Kwaramba
Disgruntled war veterans were weighing up their options last night after panicking authorities banned their planned get-together in Harare tomorrow — a move they say is meant to pressure them to ditch their withering criticism of President Robert Mugabe as Zanu PF’s ugly succession wars intensify.
This comes after police revealed yesterday that they had not cleared the crucial indaba which the vocal leadership of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) says it had called to discuss the welfare of former freedom fighters, as well as the ever-deteriorating social and political situation in the country.
At the same time, well-placed Zanu PF sources told the Daily News that panicking party bigwigs had claimed that the disaffected war veterans’ meeting had not been sanctioned because they were allegedly planning to discuss the warring ruling party’s divisive succession riddle.
But police said the planned meeting had been banned on the grounds that the war vets did not meet the full requirements of the much-criticised Public Order and Security Act (Posa), which governs the convening of public meetings.
Contacted by the Daily News, a seething ZNLWVA spokesperson, Douglas Mahiya, denied vehemently that the planned indaba was going to be a political gathering, also accusing the police of applying the law “selectively”.
“Listen, this meeting is not a political party meeting. We are looking forward to have all war veterans gathering for the purpose of reviewing the country’s political, economic and social progress since Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980
“The law is being applied selectively and we would like to ask why this is so? Our requirements are being stifled. The MDC and other parties are granted permission to have their programmes but not war veterans.
“Why is it that war veterans are being denied their rights? Where have we gone wrong? Yet we are simply talking about issues affecting people and our suffering.
“We are very worried about the position that has been taken by our party. Although we have given everything to the party, when it comes to enjoying the power that many sacrificed for, war veterans are being treated like second-class citizens,” Mahiya complained.
He emphasised that tomorrow’s planned meeting had been called to discuss and map the way forward after Mugabe and the Zanu PF government had failed to honour their pledges which they made during the two parties’ meeting in April last year.
“We pose no threat to anyone at all. We were tear-gassed and beaten last year even as the truth is that we want peace.
“We held a meeting last year and we did not discuss the issues affecting us. So, the reason we plan to meet is the same, our welfare.
“We also wanted to discuss why we are now being regarded as useless people in Zanu PF politics, yet we freed the country. Comrades should be patient, because we are going to have the meeting.
“We now feel like aliens in our own land. Even the ministry (of War Veterans) does not show that they are concerned about us,” Mahiya said, adding that it was baffling to many why the Zanu PF youth and women’s leagues were not being subjected to the same poor treatment that was being meted out to war veterans.
In February last year, war veterans were battered by heavily-armed police after they trooped into Harare for a meeting with Mugabe, who later held a televised address to the nation after the incident denying that such a meeting had been organised.
Without mincing his words, Mugabe also pointedly accused war vets chairperson and former Cabinet minister Christopher Mutsvangwa of having misled the former freedom fighters to come to the capital for the unscheduled meeting.
“For him (Mutsvangwa) to have called a meeting which we knew nothing about, in circumstances in which he had not clearly sought permission from the authorities in violation therefore of the law, and he being a minister, he cannot at the end, after the law and order officers have taken action against the meeting and the war veterans, complain that he was ill-treated.
“He must bear the responsibility,” Mugabe thundered, adding that Mutsvangwa would pay for his misdemeanours.
Police fired teargas and sprayed water on the gathered group of war veterans who had trickled into the capital to attend the planned meeting at the City Sports Centre.
The war vets later managed to secure a meeting with Mugabe, who promised them that his government would address some of their grievances, including paying school fees for their children.
The ex-combatants’ close to 42-year relationship with Mugabe ended mid last year over their worsening plight, and the country’s deepening political and economic rot.
Since that fallout, which hit media headlines after they released a damning communiqué in which they savaged the Zanu PF leader before serving him with divorce papers, the ex-combatants have not missed an opportunity to attack Mugabe.
Until that fallout, the fed-up ex-combatants had served as Mugabe and Zanu PF’s main power base, waging particularly brutal campaigns against popular opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC, especially in the bloody elections of 2000 and 2008.
But the nasty divorce had severe consequences for the leadership of the former freedom fighters as Mutsvangwa was fired from both the Cabinet and the ruling party, while many of their other leaders were banished from the imploding former liberation movement, in addition to being hauled before the courts.
In ending their relationship with Mugabe, war vets claimed that the nonagenarian’s continued stay in power was now a stumbling block to the country’s development, adding rather derisively that Zimbabwe’s long-ruling leader would be “a hard-sell” if he ever contemplated contesting next year’s presidential poll.
The disgruntled former freedom fighters have also since been ratcheting up their loud calls for Mugabe to retire immediately and pave the way for his long-time aide, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, to take over the reins at both party and government levels.
Analysts said yesterday that the refusal by the police to sanction the war veterans’ planned meeting tomorrow was consistent with claims by the opposition and pro-democracy groups that authorities applied the law selectively.
“It shows that the police are partisan and act selectively in applying the law. It also shows that for Mugabe, the succession debate remains taboo, no matter who raises it, and that includes VP Mnangagwa and the war veterans.
“It seems there will be no succession debate or identification of a successor while Mugabe is around,” political analyst Dewa Mavhinga told the Daily News. Daily News