By Njabulo Ncube and Andrew Kunambura | Financial Gazette |
The weather was unpredictable on Monday, cloudy and chilly in the morning, sunny and hot later in the afternoon; and so were the proceedings inside the National Heroes Acre, the national shrine where scores of Zimbabwe’s heroes and heroines of the country’s war of liberation are interred.
An air of uncertainty hung in the air as the ZANU-PF faithful and other citizens trudged or drove into the national monument to mark this year’s celebrations, braving the dust and the seemingly unpredictable weather conditions on the day.
The crowd appeared subdued and less enthusiastic compared to the previous years when thousands trooped to the venue to pay tribute to the country’s fallen heroes and heroines.
Even the numbers were lower, compared to the same period last year.
It was clear to all who cared to see and listen that this year’s event was a remembrance with a difference. The entire leadership of the former freedom fighters and a large band of their followers boycotted the national event at the Heroes Acre where President Robert Mugabe delivered his speech in memory of what he said were gallant sons and daughters of the nation that sacrificed their lives for the liberation of the country.
Conspicuous by their absence were the national executive members of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), among them chairperson Christopher Mutsvangwa, spokesperson Douglas Mahiya, secretary-general Victor Matemadanda and others who were recently fired from ZANU-PF.
They refused to come and hear President Mugabe talk, in a clear sign that all love had been lost between the war veterans and their patron.
On the eve of Heroes Day, the disgruntled war veterans had set the tone by declaring that there was no need to attend the celebrations at the national or provincial shrines countrywide, arguing that there was nothing to celebrate, citing the jailing and subsequent dismissal of their leaders from President Mugabe’s party.
President Mugabe and his party accuse the Mutsvangwa-led executive members of treason following the release of a damning communiqué, which cast aspersions about President Mugabe’s leadership. The rumpus also comes at a time when ZANU-PF is torn between two distinct factions trending under monikers Generation 40 or G40 and Team Lacoste.
Team Lacoste is rallying behind Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa while G40 wants to torpedo his presidential ambitions. ZNLWVA has openly declared its frustrations with the ZANU-PF leadership, and thrown its full weight behind Mnangagwa, a development which greatly infuriated President Mugabe.
At the national shrine on Monday, the factionalism rattling the ruling party was on public display, right from where the senior party officials were seated in the cool VIP tents, down to the chanters, who were enduring the scorching heat of the sun.
The sitting locations of some ministers, for example Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri and Saviour Kasukuwere — themselves big names in ZANU-PF — provided any keen observer with a perfect glimpse of the unsettled scores which lie buried in their hearts.
There was no hiding of emotions in this public display of grudges, which could have left the many heroes buried at the national shrine turning in their graves. Kasukuwere arrived moments after Muchinguri-Kashiri had taken her seat on the front row, flanked to her left hand side by Home Affairs Minister, Ignatius Chombo’s wife.
The national political commissar was accompanied by Kudzai Chipanga, who is now the de facto ZANU-PF Youth League boss, having elbowed out Mnangagwa’s ally, Pupurai Togarepi. Walking a few steps ahead, Chipanga appeared not to notice Muchinguri-Kashiri’s presence and proceeded straight to shake hands with Youth Minister, Patrick Zhuwao who sat just behind Muchinguri.
A staunch Mnangagwa ally, Muchinguri-Kashiri looked unbothered.
Muchinguri-Kashiri and Kasukuwere exchanged a quick, silent handshake, which hardly lasted a second and had his wife sit between him and the Environment, Water and Climate Minister, who then put on a stone face thereafter throughout the day.
Kasukuwere pretended not to notice and kept a seemingly captivated gaze at the audience in the stands overlooking the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He was particularly impressed by a pocket of boisterous ZANU-PF supporters who were singing songs consistent with his commissariat work in the party. He clapped hands, sang along and shot photographs using his mobile smart phone.
The different reception given to President Mugabe’s co-vice presidents, Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko by the audience on arrival, also spoke volumes about the deep-rooted factional fights going on in the party.
Mphoko’s arrival, minutes ahead of Mnangagwa, almost went unnoticed. This was in sharp contrast to Mnangagwa’s arrival which was met with wild cheers from the same pocket which Kasukuwere was admiring moments earlier.
The crowd chanted: “Ngwena, ngwena, ngwena,” in reference to Mnangagwa’s nickname which means the crocodile. And true to that nickname, he did not make any gesture, but proceeded quietly to the top table, his wife, Auxilia, walking exuberantly by his side.
The shouts by the crowd must have surely offended Kasukuwere, who, from that moment on, permanently shifted his focus to his smart phone. The smile on his face instantly faded as he, most likely, deleted all the photos he had taken of the crowd.
In the tent, Mnangagwa was greeted by a jovial Harare Metropolitan Provincial Affairs Minister, Miriam Chikukwa, who after greeting the troubled Vice President, was seen pointing at the crowds while whispering something in his ear.
In his keynote address, President Mugabe — whose coveted throne is the subject of the current jockeying — proficiently avoided discussing the factional issues at length and instead concentrated on heaping praises on service chiefs, whose top man, Defence Forces Commander, General Constantino Guveya Chiwenga, had a day before launched a thinly veiled attack on G40.
Away from the silent gestures that spoke volumes about this unusual Heroes Day commemoration, political analysts canvassed by the Financial Gazette said it was the first time since independence in 1980 that ZANU-PF has celebrated heroes and armed forces day holidays so sharply divided, noting that even when they were pushing for financial compensation in 1997 for the role they played in liberating the country, war vets never contemplated boycotting President Mugabe.
Ricky Mukonza, a political commentator, who teaches public management at South Africa’s Venda University of Science and Technology, said those who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of Zimbabwe have every reason to be angry with the current ZANU-PF leadership.
“Those who sacrificed their lives are turning in their graves because the objectives of the liberation struggle have been replaced by selfish desires of those who are leading the country today,” said Mukonza.
“In the main, these heroes sacrificed so that the material conditions of the majority of Zimbabweans could be improved, but if one looks at the state of affairs today the people of Zimbabwe are materially worse off than they were before independence. Although there was land reform, the manner in which it was done did not help the ordinary people that much.
“The economy is in dire straits and a significant number of Zimbabweans have left the country in search for better life elsewhere. Heroes fought for the people to enjoy freedom from oppression, but the black government has maintained oppressive laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Public Order and Security Act.
“Added to that, unarmed and peaceful demonstrators are dealt with in a violent manner,” said Mukonza, further noting that the disappearance of political activists who oppose government is now commonplace.
“Thirty-six years after independence, the country has not successfully developed into a nation-state with a common national vision, and this is a reflection of poor leadership at that level. Juxtapose all this with corruption that is often associated with top government leaders, misplaced priorities of government and all other signs of bad governance that are evident in Zimbabwe, all this gives one reasonable ground to argue that the heroes and heroines of the liberation struggle are turning in their graves. In fact, they may be asking themselves the question: Is this what we fought for?”
Former vice president Joice Mujuru, who was fired from government and ZANU-PF with the complicity of the same war veterans in December 2014, has come up in full support of her former tormentors in a clear sign that her former enemies are now her friends as they fight a common enemy.
At a rally on Saturday in Chinhoyi two days before Heroes Day, Mujuru warned President Mugabe against causing the arbitrary arrest, detention and harassment of war veterans.
On the same day, as if taking a cue from Mujuru, MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai addressed thousands of his supporters in Masvingo, after the party’s fourth demonstration, saying this year’s Heroes Day was being celebrated at a time President Mugabe had fallen out with former freedom fighters.
“We are supposed to be celebrating the work of the heroes who freed this country from colonial bondage.
“We are also supposed to be celebrating the heroes who sacrificed for the democratic struggle of Zimbabwe after the war of independence. But (President) Mugabe is abusing war veterans, yet it is their holiday,” said Tsvangirai.