Whither war veterans?
By Benjamin Semwayo
While Zimbabwe’s war veterans are at crossroads confusion reigns supreme in their camp as the leadership gives mixed messages about what they stand for and which trajectory they have adopted.
Christopher Mutsvangwa, who until recently was on a warpath and breathing fire against the establishment of a Gushungo dynasty has uncharacteristically mellowed and begun to sing Mugabe’s raises, placing himself on a collision course with comrades who are adamant that they will not countenance a Mugabe monarchy.
Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) Secretary General Victor Matemadanda and Douglas Mahiya, the association’s spokesperson, among other war veterans’ leaders, have vowed to block the creation of a Mugabe dynasty.
The majority of the war veterans favour this position but a smaller section, responding to the carrot dangled in front of them by Mugabe, vacillate between aversion and support for him.
Since independence the war veterans have been used by Mugabe and his ZanuPF to cling to power against the wishes of the nation in the hope that they would be rewarded with their fair share of the milk and honey that the top leadership of ZanuPF is wallowing in, but once each election had been successfully stolen and bagged the former fighters were conveniently forgotten, packed and stored in the cupboard in the manner that we store equipment after use, only to be remembered and brought out at the next election, where, after a little dusting, they were deployed to steal another election.
It is difficult to see how the war vets could be duped for so long without seeing that they are being taken for a ride. What is more worrying is that when you think that they have finally cracked the code half of them still think that ZanuPF still has something amazing to offer.
The war vets are led by very intelligent leaders who are fully capable of analysing their situation and seeing through Mugabe’s subterfuge. Take Christopher Mutsvangwa himself for example: he is one of the finest minds the country has produced, many times better than Mugabe even in his heyday, and every inch presidential material in his own right. He is fully capable of reasoning that a technocrat-led government is more likely to be more productive than one led by incumbents waving the war record card, as Mugabe and his government ministers are keen to do at every opportunity that presents itself.
There is no doubt that the opposition in Zimbabwe holds the key to economic prosperity, whose spin-offs will anthropomorphize and animate activity in every aspect and realm of life for everyone in Zimbabwe, including spending on meaningful allowances and benefits for war veterans, which they are prepared to kill for, the same war veterans who are intensely opposed to the leadership of people with no war credentials.
The trouble with Mutsvangwa is that he has multiple allegiances and consequently the decisions he makes are influenced by the personal gains that accrue to him from the various power centres he is subject to. He has held a wild array of prominent offices, including being MP, Ambassador, Director General of ZBC, Chairman of the Mineral Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe, Cabinet Minister, Politburo member as well as the president of the War Veterans Association. Naturally he sometimes faced situations in which he had to please one of his many masters.
In such situations a person’s default response is to consider which side of their bread is buttered, so to speak, and please the master who is the source of the greatest material gains, for to act otherwise would be to dry up the benefits coming from that source.
That is exactly what happened when Mutsvangwa decided to protest against the establishment of the Gushungo dynasty. His world came crushing down on him as his main streams of income were severed and he was left licking his wounds, without his hefty ministerial salary and the obscene perks that came with it. That explains why he has begun singing Mugabe’s praises. He is obviously hoping that Mugabe will reinstate him, which he will do if he grovels enough and grasses the most vocal war vets.
For their part, the war vets have given the masses a raw deal over the years. They have denigrated the ‘povo’ (people who did not fight in the war of liberation) and have claimed the fruits independence of for themselves to the exclusion of the ‘povo’. They have grabbed farms, firms, mines and funds for starting new companies, but everything they lay their hands to simply crumbled because of financial indiscipline, causing untold suffering for everyone in the process.
Just like Mugabe, Mnangagwa and all the rest of them, war vets have an insatiable appetite for self-enrichment and, left to their own devices, would commandeer every scrap into their own pockets. No matter what you do for them they will never be satisfied because they see the dizzying amounts spent by their senior comrades including Mugabe, Mnangagwa, Chiwengwa, Chihuri, Chombo and Obert Mpofu. These were their companions in the trenches but they are enjoying disproportionate advantages over their peers. Some, such as Kasukuvere and Chinotimba did not even fight in the war but thrive on bootlicking Mugabe.
Do not get me wrong. The former fighters should be rewarded for their efforts by all means, and opposition leaders, including Tsvangirai, have asserted that they would reward them generously. But the rewards must be within reason and based on fair usage, not what we are seeing where the top officials dip their hands into all coffers and reward themselves what they like.
You see an individual building himself a house the size of a hospital, and proceeding to build two others even bigger than the first when the country has one of the highest mortality rates in the country. Obert Mpofu goes a step further, acquiring virtually the whole of Bulawayo and Victoria Falls. When these government officials get a cold or a headache they hop on a plane to be treated in Malaysia, Singapore or China because their looting has caused the collapse of the health delivery system of the whole country.
Not only have the war vets spent large amounts of money and resources, they have also kept Mugabe’s government in power for nearly four decades. Now the faction opposed to the creation of a Mugabe dynasty is making overtures to the general public to make an alliance with it to ensure the mooted Gushungo dynasty does not see the light of day.
What must be acknowledged as a positive development is the fact that members of this faction have partially opened their eyes and have seen that part problem lies with Mugabe. What they need to do is to fully open their eyes and see that the root problem lies with the entire ZanuPF party, including Mnangagwa, who was an integral part of the system that brought Zimbabwe where it is today. There is no way the party can reverse the retrogression it has caused because it simply does not know how to do it.
An alliance between the war vets and the ‘povo’ would be formidable and very effective in stopping Mugabe’s evil plans in their tracks, but after years of being maligned, the public distrusts the war vets and is unlikely to be upbeat about anything involving war vets. The war vets will have to re-package themselves and work hard at creating a new identity for themselves, but needless to say, new identities are not created overnight: they take ages of painstaking work to achieve.