The day war vets were on the receiving end
IT must have been a huge shock of their lives for the war veterans of the 1970s liberation war to see the police descending on them in a manner they probably never imagined before.
First, they had scheduled their meeting for the ZANU-PF national headquarters, but probably for the first time in history found the place they had called home since its establishment cordoned off by heavily armed riot police details who told them in no uncertain terms that they were not welcome.
Defiantly, they retreated to the City Sports Centre, a private venue not very far away from the party headquarters where, on arrival, they were told the place was not available; it had been booked for other purposes.
They had had enough of it and they started attempting to force their way through.
During any other epoch of Zimbabwean history, which is not this fragile one, war veterans would easily have had their way.
But on this occasion, it was the police who had their way.
Blessed with tools of “minimum force,” as national police spokeswoman, Charity Charamba, is fond of saying, police swooped; wielding the baton onto the frail bodies of the ageing ex-combatants whose legs could not carry them as fast as they did during their youthful days when they outmanoeuvred the better armed Ian Smith’s Rhodesian army, forging a deadly guerrilla warfare for which the colonial force did not have an answer.
But on Thursday last week, it was the war veterans that did not have an answer to “minimum force”.
To complement the baton, police threw teargas which choked the freedom fighters off the property.
They retreated, regrouping at the open space overlooked by the imposing Rainbow Towers Hotel – Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko’s home for the last 14 months.
There, they spent hours swearing at everyone in the top stratums of power, except President Robert Mugabe (pictured), their patron.
The police officers, clearly leaving nothing to chance, paid the war vets yet another visit and, now having secured the backup of the dreaded water canisters, stationed themselves at positions that completely surrounded the open space.
There was a standstill.
The ex-combatants were, at first, unperturbed as they broke into occasional song and dance: singing their old war songs and stirring the revolutionary spirit among themselves.
At the same time, their leadership was frantically trying to secure the required police clearance.
They failed, and then turned to the courts; again, they failed.
At about two o’clock in the afternoon, the police decided enough was enough. The water canisters drove in, spraying their contents on the ex-freedom fighters who couldn’t dare stand the heat.
They fled in all directions and dispersed, but only to regroup later at the provincial Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) offices in Harare’s Central Business District, swearing never to disperse unless their leader, Christopher Mutsvangwa came to address them.
That afternoon, Mutsvangwa called for a press conference which he addressed flanked by Tshinga Dube, who deputises him as Minister for Welfare of War Veterans and the War Collaborators entertaining the press with his rich diction for close to an hour.
Yet, in the process, he earned himself a serious reprimand from President Mugabe who, in his state of the nation address last Friday, had no kind words for the embattled minister.
At the press conference, Mutsvangwa had suggested that President Mugabe’s powers were being usurped by Higher and Tertiary Education Minister Jonathan Moyo, who was allegedly working in cahoots with Manicaland Minister of State for Provincial Affairs, Mandi Chimene, to undermine the legacy of the liberation struggle.
The whole drama is being read in view of the factionalism that is eating into the revolutionary party like a ravaging cancer.
Moyo and Chimene are said to be belonging to one faction called Generation 40 (G40) while Mutsvangwa allegedly belongs to a rival camp called Team Lacoste.
At stake is President Mugabe’s throne, which the two camps appear determined to grab when he eventually leaves office.
President Mugabe, in his frank address, admonished both camps, telling them to “shut up!”
The President also apologised to the war veterans for the treatment they got from the police, blaming it on poor communication on the part of Mutsvangwa.
The fighters joyfully accepted the apology, concluded their meeting and dispersed to their respective places.
Events leading to the running battles of seven days ago are that Chimene, also as read in the context of the factional fights, had convened a number of the former freedom fighters for a press conference in Harare and announced she had ousted Mutsvangwa, declaring herself interim chair.
The greater part of war veterans rubbished her and declared their allegiance to Mutsvangwa.
The war veterans accuse G40 of disrespecting them. Team Lacoste is seemingly capitalising on that to gain their support, seeing how G40 has controlled other ZANU-PF structures.
But the biggest question of the day is: Have these war veterans, icons of the deadly liberation war and once an untouchable constituency within the Zimbabwean body politic, suddenly become pawns in this political gamesmanship?
Or has it always been the case?
Whatever the case, the fact which remains is that these survivors of the country’s darkest period deserve everyone’s respect and no one should be allowed to temper with the legacy of the liberation war, however their political standing.
What was even refreshing was to see the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which has been at the receiving end of the police’s heavy handedness over the last decade and half (water canisters were specifically acquired for them) were greatly sympathetic to the war veterans in their predicament.
Ben Freeth, the spokesperson of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal Rights Watch in Zimbabwe, contends that the war veterans were being used as pawns in a deadly political game by cunning politicians out to extend their political dominion.
“They are pawns in a game and are being used by politicians. I actually feel very sorry for them that this is the extent to which they are being used by the politicians,” he said.
Freeth, at the height of the land invasions in 2000, was a victim of the war veterans-led farm invasions and alongside his late father- in-law, Mike Campbell, were pushed out of their Mount Carmel farm in 2009.
The late Campbell and Freeth rose to international prominence in 2007 when they took President Mugabe’s ZANU-PF government to court at the SADC Tribunal. This was due to the government’s ongoing attempts to unlawfully seize Campbell’s Mount Carmel Farm, violating the SADC Treaty by denying them access to the courts and for engaging in racial discrimination and violence against white commercial farmers and their farm workers.
Their lawsuit against the ZANU-PF government was chronicled in a 2009 documentary film entitled: “Mugabe and the White African.”
“If you speak to them (war veterans) one on one, many admit that they didn’t want to do the things which they have had to do in the past. Whether it was farm invasions or in the current politics: The war veterans no longer want to be used,” he said.
Freeth said the events taking place in the ruling party confirmed what had already happened a long time ago and that was that ZANU-PF had lost its way.
“What is ZANU-PF now? …Simply many different parts which all want to be ZANU-PF. We now basically have (got) individuals out on a quest for power, but the party lost its way a long time ago,” he said.
The repercussions of ZANU-PF’s infighting, Freeth said were now reverberating through every strand of the economy and society in the country.
There are, however, two good case studies on how to honour these liberation icons.
The Unites States still passionately celebrates the Founding Fathers of the United States of America for steering an independence which happened as far back as 1776.
They have managed to keep their legacy for over two centuries.
Across Europe, they still parade a handful of the surviving heroes of the Second World War which ended 71 years ago, parading them in wheelchairs down the streets.
But here in Zimbabwe, just 36 years since independence, everything seems to have lost significance.
Young men and women have the temerity to wield baton and throw teargas on their own liberators.
Today, even social media pundits demean and disparage them with reckless abandon.
Something must have really been done wrongly over the short life of our independence which threatens to destroy the legacy of Zimbabwe’s pride unless action is taken to restore things.
At least, President Mugabe showed that he still has a lot of respect for the remaining freedom fighters. — Additional reporting by Ray Ndlovu, Assistant Bureau Chief, Bulawayo
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