By Tendai Kamhungira and Blessings Mashaya
It appears as if it does not rain but pours for President Robert Mugabe and his warring ruling Zanu PF, with disgruntled war veterans moving at the weekend to discard the embattled and increasingly frail nonagenarian as the patron of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA).
The Daily News was also told yesterday that Mugabe’s desperate bid to woo the former freedom fighters back to Zanu PF, following his stunning fallout with them mid this year, has hit the skids after the ex-combatants apparently warned that they would only work with the nonagenarian again if he jettisoned the Generation 40 (G40) group, which they accuse of destabilising the ruling party.
This comes as it has also emerged that the former freedom fighters humbled Mugabe’s high profile emissaries at the weekend by contemptuously dismissing his gifts and purchase of state-of-the-art off-road vehicles for them.
Speaking in an interview with the Daily News last night, ZNLWVA spokesperson, Douglas Mahiya, confirmed that they had decided to scrap from their constitution the position of patron which was held by Mugabe — a move that Zanu PF insiders described as yet another humiliating slap in the face for the nonagenarian by the disaffected liberation stalwarts.
However, Mahiya attempted to soften the slap-down by arguing that this move, in itself, did not imply that war veterans bore a grudge against Mugabe — adding rather incongruously that they were prepared to normalise relations with him as long as the nonagenarian dumped the G40.
“We were not expelled from Zanu PF by Mugabe, but by (Saviour) Kasukuwere and the G40. As long as those people are there, it’s no longer Zanu PF but Zanu PF G40,” the forthright Mahiya said.
The G40 is a Zanu PF faction made up of the party’s young Turks, who are rabidly opposed to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa succeeding Mugabe.
“As long as Zanu PF G40 is still in control we are not going to work with them. We cannot afford to support people who suppress the ideals of the liberation struggle. People are suffering out there because of G40.
“It is this one condition we need people to understand. If the G40 is removed and the party returns to its former position, we will work with them,” Mahiya said.
“G40 sponsored (Manicaland regional minister Mandi) Chimene and (War Vets ministry permanent secretary Walter) Tapfumaneyi, but they must know that the ZNLWVA is a registered non-governmental organisation. Why indeed are they fighting to be leaders of the war veterans association?
“They must create their own association and register it. In Masvingo, (ZNLWVA chairperson Chris) Mutsvangwa and the whole executive were given a fresh mandate to lead the war veterans and so we are still the legitimate leaders,” he added.
The Masvingo meeting took place on Saturday, where they amended their constitution to get rid of the position of patron — in a move that many Zanu PF bigwigs say sealed their acrimonious “divorce” from Mugabe.
Mugabe and his brawling ruling party have been working hard to heal the widening rift between them and the former freedom fighters, who stunningly ended their 41-year relationship with the nonagenarian after they released a damning communiqué on him and Zanu PF in July.
Since then, Mugabe and Zanu PF have been dangling gifts to the war vets, including cash, land and vehicles, in a bid to strengthen the ruling party ahead of the eagerly-anticipated 2018 polls — after initial thuggish methods failed to coerce the disgruntled ex-combatants into line.
In serving their divorce papers on Mugabe five months ago, the liberation struggle fighters also said pointedly that Mugabe’s continued stay in power was now a stumbling block to the country’s development, adding coldly that the nonagenarian would be “a hard-sell” if he contested the watershed 2018 polls.
Mugabe responded by warning the war veterans that they would be dealt with severely, including through the use of extra-judicial suppression methods that his former liberation movement incorporated during the country’s independence war — such as incarcerating dissenters in inhuman dungeons where they were forced to live like caged rats.
After this, police duly launched a savage crackdown against the war vets leadership and arrested five officials, including ZNLWVA secretary general Victor Matemadanda and Mahiya, both of whom are still appearing at the courts.
At the weekend, Mugabe’s emissaries in Mutare — war vets minister Tshinga Dube and Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi — were heckled by the furious war veterans who questioned the nonagenarian’s wisdom in buying them cars when thousands of them were dying of hunger.
Over the years, war veterans have served as Mugabe and Zanu PF’s political power dynamos, playing particularly significant roles to keep the nonagenarian on the throne in the hotly-disputed 2000 and 2008 national elections which were both marred by serious violence and the murder of hundreds of opposition supporters.
Analysts have also predicted that Mugabe will not win the 2018 polls without the support of the war veterans, while on their part the ex-combatants have vowed that they will vote for an opposition candidate if the nonagenarian stands in those elections.
Respected University of Zimbabwe politics lecturer Eldred Masunungure told the Daily News yesterday that Mugabe faced a difficult task to mend relations with the war veterans.
Human Rights lawyer Dewa Mavinga, said Mugabe was desperate to win back the war veterans because they represented an important symbol in the history of the country.
“But war veterans are unlikely to take Mugabe for his word unless he throws the G40 faction under the bus and comes out clearly in support of the war vets’ candidate to take over from Mugabe, who in this case is Mnangagwa,” Mavhinga told the Daily News.
“Over the years, Mugabe had given over the control of State security institutions to war veterans, so losing their support means that the support of the security sector for Mugabe cannot be guaranteed, hence the panic and flurry of efforts to reach out and sweet talk them back to the Zanu PF fold,” he added.
Former civic leader, McDonald Lewanika, said the war veterans had always been a critical cog to Zanu PF’s operations, on account of both symbolic and practical reasons.
“For both reasons Mugabe and Zanu PF are better off with them in their corner than having to fight against them. Losing them means a loss of monopoly to the liberation war claim.
“The unfolding dynamics do point to an advantage for Mnangagwa at the moment and as we move towards 2018 the party, with or without Mugabe at the helm, will need to consolidate and stop all the haemorrhaging taking place in the party’s support base.
“G40 seems to be losing the battle for the soul of Zanu PF and Mugabe is calculating enough to notice that the losses they cause are greater than the advantages they bring onto the table,” he said. Daily News