By Fungi Kwaramba
The stunning fallout between war veterans and President Robert Mugabe is escalating, with many liberation struggle stalwarts doubtful about attending the official Heroes and Defence Forces celebrations in Harare tomorrow and on Tuesday respectively.
Many prominent war veterans who spoke to the Daily News on Sunday yesterday said while they would always hold the two days dearly in their hearts, they were not planning on attending this year’s official commemorations in Harare — and would rather remember their comrades who lost their lives during Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle quietly at home.
“It is no longer a day for us to celebrate because there is nothing to celebrate anymore. Hapana arikuenda kuHeroes Acre. Vachatoita vekugadzira mawar veterans acho (War veterans are not going to Heroes Acre this year),” a bitter spokesperson of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), Douglas Mahiya, said.
“Now they have their puppet organisation of war veterans led by (Manicaland Provincial minister) Mandi Chimene. It is funny that if a government disagrees with an organisation it chooses to go to the membership even if the membership prefers to make its own choices,” he added.
“These two days will always have lots of meaning for us. However, no one can pretend anymore that all is well in Zimbabwe and Zanu PF. Most comrades now understand that the party (Zanu PF) has been hijacked by people who don’t understand the meaning of sacrifice for the greater good.
“It therefore does not make sense to go there and mingle with people who are effectively doing everything in their power to rubbish the immense contribution of war veterans to Zimbabwe’s freedom and who are also destroying the legacy of the liberation struggle itself for their narrow interests,” another war veteran leader said.
The disaffected former freedom fighters also noted that thousands of ex-combatants were living in abject poverty around the country, accusing Mugabe and the Zanu PF government of “choosing to neglect these gallant men and women” and reneging on the promises that were made to war veterans during the liberation struggle.
Former Zanu PF spokesperson and now Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) elder, Rugare Gumbo — also one of only two surviving members of Zanu’s Dare ReChimurenga (war council) that directed the liberation struggle — also told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday that even though Mugabe had “hijacked” the days, he and others who participated in the independence war would still remember the days, albeit far from “his sloganeering”.
“As war veterans, as people who fought in the liberation struggle and as people who know people who died for this country, we have no alternative but to respect the two days even though they are being abused by the powers that be.
“We believe that these people did not die in vain and that is why we say ‘aluta continua’ until there is justice, freedom, peace, unity and so on. We are saddened with the way this old man (Mugabe) has behaved in the past months, particularly the decimation of war veterans and their arbitrary arrests.
“We don’t think that all this is different from what Ian Smith did. It is very sad that people who fought for this country are being humiliated day in day out. I would have loved to attend both Heroes Day and Defence Forces Day, but what is the point of me attending these shams,” Gumbo said.
Mugabe’s stunning fallout with war veterans a fortnight ago occurred despite the fact that the former freedom fighters have been 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.
Speaking in Harare late last month during his hastily-convened meeting with a section of war veterans, Mugabe said the former freedom fighters who had denounced him were no longer part of Zanu PF and would be punished severely.
The nonagenarian told the same gathering that the primitive and extra-judicial suppression methods that Zanu PF incorporated during the liberation struggle in the 1970s — such as incarcerating dissenters in inhuman underground dungeons where they were forced to live like caged rats — would be used against the vets.
This was after the war veterans’ executive issued a damning communiqué in which they served divorce papers on the Zanu PF leader whom they said was now “a hard sell” for the eagerly-anticipated 2018 national elections.
Subsequently, authorities launched a brutal crackdown against the war veterans, resulting in the arrest of a number of their leaders, in an operation that has been widely condemned by human rights and pro-democracy groups both in Zimbabwe and outside the country.
Bernard Manyadza, whose war-time nom de guerre was Parker Chipoyera, said Mugabe had “bastardised” Heroes Day.
“I respect the day so much even though the revolution was hijacked from as early as 1977 when the secretary-general was given two posts, that of secretary and that of being president.
“That is when it metamorphosed into a one-centre of power creature.
“I will remember the day at home but cannot go there (to Heroes Acre) for empty sloganeering. The event has been bastardised. I will not go there and be lied to by politicians who know nothing about the liberation struggle,” Manyadza told the Daily News On Sunday.
Chipoyera and Gumbo were among the dozens of liberation struggle stalwarts who were kept in the dirty dungeons by Mugabe for disagreeing with him allegedly when he assumed the leadership of Zanu PF in Mozambique in the late 1970s.
On his part, Zapu leader Dumiso Dabengwa, who left the deeply-divided ruling party in 2008, said 36 years after independence, it saddened him that many who lost their limbs and sacrificed so much for the country were living in squalor while a few bigwigs were enjoying the rich pickings of high office.
“The day remains significant to every one of us in the country because it is the day that brings us to remember all the comrades who passed on during the war, which includes people who were in detention,” said the man who was nicknamed the Black Russian.
“Heroes Day reminds us of those who sacrificed for the country, when we remember those unknown heroes who have not been recognised by the system.
“Some of us we will attend the commemorations in solidarity with the relatives of those who lie in our heroes’ acres and we will also be visiting those people that we remember who are worse off than us and who have not been able to make it in life,” added the revered and softly-spoken Dabengwa.
Respected Zanu PF elder and former Cabinet minister, Cephas Msipa, was among those who bemoaned the ugly factional and succession wars that are devouring Zanu PF, and the paralytic effect this has had on former freedom fighters.
“Heroes Day is special and also national. It affects me because I know the people who are buried at the various heroes’ acres in the country, including my wife who was declared a liberation heroine and some we do not know and where they are buried.
“All these people died because they wanted this country to be free. They were prepared to suffer. They wanted to be free and we are free today because of the sacrifices and suffering they went through. We should always remember this special day as it is a time to reflect on the past, the present and the future,” he said. Daily News