By Fungi Kwaramba
War veterans have thrown down the gauntlet at President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF, scoffing at the government’s savage crackdown on their leadership which they say is akin to what the late Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith and his minority government did to blacks before Zimbabwe’s independence.
The restless freedom fighters’ defiance comes as their secretary-general, Victor Matemadanda, as well as three other officials, were given bail yesterday after being charged on Monday with undermining and insulting Mugabe.
To date, police have all in all arrested five senior war veterans, including the spokesperson of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), Douglas Mahiya, in a crackdown which came in the aftermath of the freedom fighters serving divorce papers on Mugabe in a stunning development two weeks ago.
“It is sad that these fighters, the best that Africa has ever produced in modern times, four decades down the line they are being persecuted by those who were war deserters, war cowards,” ZNLWVA chairperson Christopher Mutsvangwa told an online television channel this week.
“It is an attempt at intimidating us but if Smith couldn’t intimidate us then no one will intimidate us. It is very sad that these people abuse the most powerful office in the land … a whole rally of pseudo war veterans is called up to be addressed,” Mutsvangwa added, also criticising last week’s gathering in Harare of Zanu PF supporters to ostensibly show solidarity with Mugabe.
Characteristically shooting from the hip, Mutsvangwa said there was an attempt by those in power to “politicise the criminal laws of this country” in a desperate endeavour to silence war veterans.
“Arrests and any other attempts to derail us is a useless thing. We want the nation to know that we are behind the leadership of Mutsvangwa. Any other moves are just as good as what Smith did when we were in the struggle,” Mahiya told the Daily News yesterday.
“Smith wanted to rope in Africans and set up a puppet government which was led by Muzorewa. In this case, there is going to be a puppet war veterans leadership that is not a true representative of the people because it is not elected by the people under the constitution of the war veterans. So, their operations are illegal,” he added.
Analysts also said yesterday that the war veterans had at last found their voices despite the crackdown, and this was indicative of their resolve to take on Mugabe and the rest of the Zanu PF leadership despite the government’s vicious response to their communiqué last week.
Speaking in Harare during his hastily-convened meeting with Zanu PF supporters last week, Mugabe said the former freedom fighters who had denounced him would be punished severely, in similar fashion to the punishment that was meted out to delinquent war veterans who were thrown into dungeons during the country’s liberation struggle.
Political analysts also said the government had miscalculated the mood among both the war veterans and the general populace when it decided to descend heavily on the ex-combatants.
“The statement by the war veterans’ chairperson Mutsvangwa puts down the gauntlet and it will be interesting to see how the regime responds to that.
“Clearly, where they expected the war veterans to scurry and cower, they have not. However, it is unlikely that the establishment will take this lying down. So, an escalation of sorts is likely and the war veterans and the country need to brace for that,” said civic leader and political analyst McDonald Lewanika.
Another analyst Maxwell Saungweme said the war veterans were clearly fed up with Mugabe and his government.
“Those handing over themselves to authorities are just telling the regime that we have had enough. Indeed, they cannot arrest all of us. We have to defy this regime that is leaving the affairs of the country on auto pilot,” he said.
War veterans have been one of Mugabe and Zanu PF’s strongest pillars of support over the past five decades, playing particularly significant roles to keep the nonagenarian in power in the hotly-disputed 2000 and 2008 elections which were both marred by serious violence and the murder of hundreds of opposition supporters.
The fall-out between Mugabe and the war veterans also comes as the 92-year-old is battling swelling public anger against him and Zanu PF, which has seen strikes and riots hurting the already dying economy further.
Yesterday, unemployed college and university graduates and pro-democracy groups held successful demonstrations against Zimbabwe’s untenably high unemployment and the government’s plans to introduce bond notes.
In the meantime, Mahiya also said yesterday that he was unfazed by the crackdown on war veterans as the meeting that produced the communiqué that authorities took exception to was attended by provincial and district leaders of ex-combatants who wanted to discuss problems besetting the country.
“We were arrested because of the meeting that we had at Raylton Sports Club where we met with district and provincial officials. It was a follow-up to the meeting we had with the president where we gave him our grievances and the problems that people are faced with.
“We thought that they could respond to that but they did not, and so we called the leadership to map a way forward and that is what we were discussing at the meeting,” Mahiya said.
Elaborating on his arrest, Mahiya — who was held at the infamous Matapi cells in the Harare high density suburb of Mbare which have been condemned by the country’s courts — said the place is “a hellhole that is unsuitable for human beings”.
“That place is so bad so much that you cannot put an animal there. There is complete darkness and the blankets are lice-infested. The blankets are those that are used to cover the dead. The toilets are so bad,” he said. Daily News