War veterans fume
ZIMBABWE’S liberation war veterans are seething with anger over what they allege to be “infiltration by imposters” whom they accuse of hijacking liberation war credentials for selfish reasons.
A week ahead of their crunch meeting with patron, President Robert Mugabe, the war veterans opened up to the Financial Gazette this week, saying genuine 1970s liberation war fighters were suffering while fake war veterans enjoyed the fruits of their sacrifices during a protracted bush war against the racist Ian Smith regime.
“Everybody in this country, you included, wants to be a war veteran,” charged Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) national information and publicity secretary, Douglas Mahiya.
“Everybody wants to steal the war veterans name while burying and overshadowing the real war veterans for their own selfish benefit. People…have built mansions using our name.
“We know who is a genuine war veteran and these are people who trained and participated constantly and persistently in the liberation of this country. But we now have people who never participated in the war for independence at the forefront of claiming the war veterans title,” fumed Mahiya.
The war veterans meet President Mugabe on Thursday next week following months of ructions linked to factional fights within the ruling party ZANU-PF party.
The internal disputes resulted in ZNLWVA chairman, Chris Mutsvangwa, being suspended from the party and sacked as Minister of Welfare Services for War Veterans, War Collaborators, Ex-Political Detainees and Restrictees.
The hounding of Mutsvangwa triggered jostling within the ZNLWVA ranks as rivals sought to take control of one of the country’s key political constituencies that has for years been agitating for more recognition for their role in the country’s independence in 1980.
Struggling to make ends meet, in a country whose economy has plunged into ruins, the war veterans’ welfare is expected to top the agenda, while their disrespect and ill-treatment by certain quarters within the ruling party would also most likely feature and possibly see a complete restructuring of their body.
Permanent secretary in the Ministry of War Veterans, War Collaborators, Ex-Political Detainees and Restrictees, Asher Walter Tapfumaneyi, has since confirmed what would most certainly top the agenda of the meeting.
He was recently quoted saying: “The themes to be discussed will include, foremost, war veterans’ statutory welfare benefits such as monthly pensions, school fees, medical support, funeral cover, business loans and other measures aimed at improving their livelihoods.”
According to the 2016 National Budget, the Zimbabwe government spends slightly over US$9 million every month on war veterans pensions alone and an unclear amount on school fees, while an extra vote of US$270 000 was advanced to the war veterans outside last year’s National Budget.
Indications are that government’s employment costs are likely to shoot well over the current 80 percent of the National Budget, plunging the State’s capital expenditure and operations into further distress.
The Ministry of Finance is reportedly in sixes and sevens over the matter as it seeks to diffuse the simmering crisis by readjusting allocations to accommodate new demands from the war veterans, a key constituency in the country’s political configuration.
Talk of a possible adjustment to the war veterans’ pensions and other perks has left many on edge, especially given that the last time the former guerrilla war fighters were this angry, they made huge demands for fair compensation for their sacrifices during the country’s bush war. Their demands unfortunately plunged the southern African country into an economic black hole which it is yet to recover from.
On November 14, 1997 the country’s now defunct Zimbabwe dollar lost 72 percent of its value against the United States dollar after the government paid out ZW$2,5 billion to the war veterans as compensation. That day became known in financial markets as “Black Friday”.
The government’s decision to award the gratuities came nine months after revelations that ZW$450 billion had been looted from the War Victims Compensation Fund between 1980 and 1990. The fund had been set up to compensate war veterans for injuries suffered during the 1970s bush war.
The ZW$2,5 billion disaster had only worsened a crisis largely caused by the country’s Economic Structural Adjustment Programme, which led to widespread socio-economic strife that had impoverished the war veterans and the majority of country’s population.
The war veterans could similarly up the ante by demanding more for their welfare next Thursday, considering that they are now in more grave circumstances that during their 1997 agitation.
Fifteen years ago, three years after being awarded ZW$50 000 packages each, the ever restless war veterans invaded former white owned farms to press government to expedite its land redistribution exercise.
The farm invasions deteriorated into chaos and a few of the war veterans ended up benefitting from the exercise after the programme was hijacked by political big wigs and alleged war veteran imposters.
Political scientist, Eldred Masunungure, said it was most likely that President Mugabe would want to eliminate division in ZANU-PF by appeasing the irritable war veterans through some kind of compensation.
“War veterans are still a force to reckon with because of their capacity to mobilise the people and President Mugabe is under pressure to appease them or allay growing fears that the war vets would drift away from ZANU-PF and mobilise themselves and the people in favour of ZPF (Zimbabwe People First) party,” said Masunungure.
“This may end up being a reincarnation of 1997 when the war vets got away with substantial concessions,” added Masunungure, who suspected that this could end up being a fallback position for ZANU-PF after failure of the veteran leaders’ divide and rule tactics.
A recent rebellion in the ZNLWVA body resulted in a failed attempt by a group of war veterans led by Mandi Chimene to take over the leadership of the organisation from Mutsvangwa and his executive.
“Appeasing the war veterans may cool off things a bit, but I don’t think it will heal the wounds of factionalism in the party. Those ructions will continue, maybe at a lower level because the succession issue remains unresolved and it will continue to divide the party,” said Masunungure.
Political analyst, Alexander Rusero, said President Mugabe was definitely afraid of a split that would likely benefit former vice president Joice Mujuru’s ZPF party.
“Any move that gives the People First mileage is detrimental to ZANU-PF,” Rusero said.
“And remember ZANU-PF cannot afford to face another unnecessary split right now, so I think President Mugabe is trying to set an agenda and also trying to pre-empt the sentiments by the war veterans.
“These are just some of the cards President Mugabe plays and remember he is pretty good at playing his cards,” Rusero said.
He added: “President Mugabe is not afraid, and he does not have fear of the unknown; he hires and fires, plus let’s not forget that he is literary in charge of ZANU-PF and that he owns that party for now.”
— Additional reporting by Idah Mhetu
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