Source: It’s not Fifth Colum… it is the citizens speaking | The Financial Gazette July 28, 2016
IT was only a matter of time before the rope that tied together the ruling ZANU-PF party and the veterans of the country’s 1970s liberation war snapped.
The cord, which had worn out due to years of friction between the two sides, spectacularly came apart last week, ending nearly 36 years of a love-hate relationship.
A stinging communiqué issued in Harare last Friday by the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), representing ex-guerrilla fighters, threw diplomatic etiquette through the window.
It was made abundantly clear that ZNLWVA had severed ties with its patron, President Robert Mugabe, over a catalogue of issues.
Overarching their grievances is the deteriorating economic climate — an erstwhile hot potato that torched countrywide protests a few weeks ago.
There is also realisation among the war veterans that their fellow comrades in government have lost the moral compass by departing from the values that led them to take up arms in order to uproot the colonial settler regime which condemned the real owners of the land to second class citizens in their own country.
In the court of public opinion, at long last there is the meeting of minds between ordinary citizens and those who fought for their freedom.
For years, these gallant fighters had drifted far away from the values that underpinned the war effort.
Instead of entrenching themselves with the masses like they did during the bush war when their relationship with villagers was like that of fish and water, ZNLWVA and its membership had detached themselves from the very same people they took up arms to liberate.
They began to see things through ZANU-PF’s lenses.
In other words, the party’s perceived rivals became their enemies too.
Instead of elevating themselves to neutral arbiters, they had become the ruling party’s paratroopers whose objective became one — to entrench ZANU-PF’s rule.
Along with traditional leaders (chiefs and headmen), ZANU-PF found convenient lapdogs, on hand to perform its bidding whenever duty calls.
What had blinded them is ZANU-PF’s patronage system which rewards “yes-men”, and penalises those who disagree with it.
Even under these circumstances, it was being ill-advised for the war veterans to expect President Mugabe to continue dishing out freebies when his government no longer has the capacity to even pay its workers.
Around mid-February this year, there were ominous signs that should have signalled them to stop pushing their luck after they were tear-gassed on the outskirts of central Harare for convening an unsanctioned meeting.
It was also this episode that triggered the cathartic fall of Christopher Mutsvangwa, ZNLWVA’s chairman, who was eventually thrown outside ZANU-PF early this month.
Last week, he ceased being the Member of Parliament for Norton and soon he is going to lose the ZNLWVA chair.
Now that Mutsvangwa and his executive at ZNLWVA have broken ranks with ZANU-PF, having notices that there is no more fiscal space to fund their endless demands, pressure is mounting on President Mugabe’s government to do a reality check.
It is no longer just the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in its different shades speaking out against ZANU-PF’s excesses and shortcomings. Neither is it the Western governments and their allies alone trying to effect “a regime change” through their proxies in Zimbabwe (read civil society organisations).
The voices are multiplying in number, from the clergy, business leaders to ordinary citizens.
While it is easy to dismiss external voices, can ZANU-PF afford ignoring internal discord?
That alone has been a source for optimism amongst the democratic forces disenchanted with ZANU-PF’s continued rule, rising poverty levels and the state of despair gripping the country’s citizens, the majority of whom are doing menial jobs in foreign lands as economic refugees.
Government can only continue to dismiss these voices at its own peril.
Last week’s communiqué had nothing new.
Despite the tenuous economic situation, the dichotomy between the haves and have-nots is widening, with the political elite in ZANU-PF feasting aboard the gravy train.
Corruption has spiralled out of control as the elite few fatten their back pockets at the expense of the majority of Zimbabweans who are trapped in a web of poverty.
But as unemployment and company closures grind government machinery to a standstill, not even the political elite will be insulated from the economic meltdown henceforth.
Before anger boils over, these dissenting voices must be engaged through dialogue in order to chart the way forward.
The National Association of Non Governmental Organisations (NANGO) is one of the civic society bodies imploring government to consider the issues raised by citizens with a view to addressing them rather than ignoring them and becoming hostile towards the citizens.
“The political, social and economic challenges that the country is currently facing has further relegated many into abject poverty and inequalities. The message which the citizens are saying is simple, the government should address corruption, deal with the cash shortages, resolve economic challenges, reverse the ban on imports, refrain from the introduction of bond notes, amongst other multiple maladministration issues in government,” NANGO said this week.
Political scientist, Ibbo Mandaza, opined last week Friday that ZANU-PF has been shattered by the sudden shift in political winds.
“This of course has been a big blow to (President) Mugabe that this anointed group of war veterans, who were involved in the ousting of (former vice president Joice) Mujuru, has finally broken ranks,” he observed. While he doubted whether President Mugabe and his party would flinch at the war veterans’ vicious and crude jibe, the coming weeks would be interesting to watch for students of history.
Within hours of releasing the communiqué, ZANU-PF didn’t waste time to hit back.
A witch-hunt is currently underway to fish out “culprits” behind the “treasonous communiqué”, which is being treated as the work of “Fifth Columnists”, which refers to a group of secret sympathisers or supporters of an enemy that engages in espionage or sabotage.
ZANU-PF’s coercive machinery is already in full swing, rubbishing the development as a non-event.
On Tuesday, fence-sitters from ZANLA and ZIPRA — the armed wings of ZANU and ZAPU during the liberation struggle days —were being mobilised to come in their numbers to the ZANU-PF headquarters in Harare to demonstrate their solidarity with their patron. They were expected to be joined by ex-detainees and war collaborators to boost the numbers.
As for Mutsvangwa and his executive, the die has been cast.
Soon, they will be shunted aside under the pretext that they were trying to impose “their poisonous views” on ZNLWVA’s “loyal” membership.
It may not be far-fetched to speculate that criminal charges might be preferred against them although it may be an exercise in futility to sustain them.
Not that ZANU-PF wants to see Mutsvangwa, Victor Matemadanda and Douglas Mahiya as guests of the Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services: The whole idea is to turn them into the black sheep of the war veterans’ community and condemn them to the political Siberia.
It would be mission accomplished for ZANU-PF to have a new ZNLWVA leadership not in cacophony with the party’s women and youth leagues, and with unflinching loyalty to their patron going into the 2018 elections.
At some point, there could be collateral damage among those who might be viewed as sympathetic to Mutsvangwa and his ilk, especially with the party conference looming large in Masvingo this coming December.
Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the man favoured by the current ZNLWVA executive to succeed President Mugabe in the event that he quits active politics, will need to engage his Public Relations machinery into overdrive in order to survive the contagion effects arising from the fallout.
To dodge the onslaught from his nemesis in Generation 40, a faction fighting tooth and nail to block the Vice President from assuming the top job, Mnangagwa must do a lot more than depending on his long association with the incumbent, without risking losing his allies.
Already, the perception in ZANU-PF circles is that he forsakes his lieutenants whenever the chips are down.
Writing on his Facebook wall, lawyer and political commentator, Alex Magaisa described the fallout as “a major turning point”.
“The war veterans’ declaration is a statement of an irretrievable breakdown in a relationship dating back to the Mgagao Declaration. It opens a new chapter and things will never be the same again,” said Magaisa.
Incidentally, President Mugabe was thrust into the leadership of ZANU-PF through the famous October 1975 Mgagao Declaration made by radical ZANLA guerilla fighters based at Mgagao in Tanzania.
Through the declaration, the young guerilla fighters ousted the party’s then leader Ndabaningi Sithole, choosing instead to be led by President Mugabe.
Writing in an article titled: Mugabe and the revolt of the war veterans, Magaisa also argued that President Mugabe’s relationship with the war veterans had not been smooth-sailing despite the war veterans having been “one of the most critical elements of (President) Mugabe’s campaign for survival”, especially when he faced his sternest test ever from Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC-T party.
The ouster of Mutsvangwa and other war veterans sympathetic to Mnangagwa would certainly diminish the association’s contribution to ZANU-PF’s survival.
Once more, another chip will come off the war veterans’ bloc, leaving ZNLWVA weaker.
ZNLWVA has suffered divisions at each epoch defining moment.
In mid 2000s, liberation war icon, Wilfred Mhanda (now late), broke ranks with the rest of the war veterans to form the moribund Zimbabwe Liberators Platform.
When Mujuru was fired from ZANU-PF, she also took with her a group of war veterans who included war commanders, Parker Chipoyera and Agrippa Mutambara, to form Zimbabwe People First (ZPF).
Jabulani Sibanda, Mutsvangwa’s predecessor, is also working with Mujuru’s ZPF.
Ex-liberation war fighters who fought under ZIPRA have also defected from ZNLWVA, preferring to work with Dumiso Dabengwa’s ZAPU.
While ZANU-PF might succeed in wresting control of ZNLWVA from Mutsvangwa and his coterie, the damage has already been done.
Now numbering less than 35 000 from 41 000 in 1997 and dogged by ill-health and advanced age, the war veterans are now past their sale-by-date.
Their contribution going into the 2018 elections would obviously not be at the same scale as we have seen before under Sibanda in 2008 and 2013 when the war veterans camped in the countryside to drum up support for President Mugabe.
President Mugabe will now have to rely more on the ZANU-PF Youth League and the party’s Women’s League, headed by his wife, Grace Mugabe.
The million-men march led by these two wings of the party might have embolden President Mugabe to talk tough against his fellow comrades-in-arms for the first time in history.
Also, the fallout seems to be something that President Mugabe had anticipated after he threatened to deal with the ex-combatants for interfering in ZANU-PF’s internal affairs.
It was this year when he reminded them that ZNLWVA was formed to cater “for the welfare of the war veterans and not to champion political change, not to be the boss of the party and never to be the bully of the party, nor the entity to make the choices on who should be and who should not be lead”.
One might therefore argue that President Mugabe was the first to signal his intention to undo the marriage vows, and not the other way round.
But can ZANU-PF post further poll victories with a splintered ZNLWVA?
A lot will depend on what Mutsvangwa and his colleagues will do henceforth.
If they go back to the trenches, not in the literal sense, they may combine with ZANU-PF’s rivals to form a formidable challenge to President Mugabe at the next polls. Chances are, however, that they may trade the possibility of their persecution at the hands of ZANU-PF agent-provocateurs for silence, which would perpetuate the status quo.
Whatever the case, last week’s communiqué has psyched-up opposition forces during a winter of discontent in which Pastor Evan Mawarire teamed up with Tajamuka/Sisijikile movement — using social media — to give ZANU-PF a rude awakening.
The other question on many people’s lips is: Could it be that the war veterans have finally seen the light as ZANU-PF’s rivals would want people to believe?
To a lot of people, the war veterans are only crying out for attention in the hope that President Mugabe will once again dig deeper into the national coffers to give them an early Christmas gift.
Under Chenjerai Hunzvi, they succeeded in putting President Mugabe in a tight corner in 1997 when they were handsomely rewarded for their war effort.
They were paid ZW$50 000 lump sum gratuities which precipitated the current economic crisis after the local unit lost 70 percent of its value in one single stroke, in what became known as the “Black Friday”.
In subsequent years, they have not shied away from holding President Mugabe’s government to ransom for their part in bringing about majority rule.
It has been one ultimatum after another, regardless of the successive ZNLWVA leaders that came after Hunzvi namely Sibanda and now Mutsvangwa.
Their last meeting with their patron was on April 7, at which more demands were tabled.
It was at this meeting where they overstepped their boundaries by demanding positions in the Executive, coming short of directing the President to shunt aside those they did not agree with; on top of their list being Saviour Kasukuwere, ZANU-PF’s chief campaigner.
Had President Mugabe not stood his ground, Kasukuwere could have been history by now for calling some of the war veterans “drunkards” and “taxi drivers”.
During weeks that followed the April 7 indaba, the war veterans took factional positions, declaring their preference for Mnangagwa, notwithstanding the fact that President Mugabe had been re-elected as ZANU-PF’s first secretary and president at the 2014 congress to lead the party in elections in 2018.
From the foregoing, it doesn’t require rocket science to decipher that President Mugabe has become bad because his government can no longer meet the war veterans’ endless political and economic demands.
He was their darling only because he was able to respond to their demands.
Now that the cow has been milked dry, the war veterans believe that they have been locked outside the feeding pens by those whom they fought side by side with during the struggle for independence.
To join the gravy train, they would rather have someone else in President Mugabe’s position.
It is, however, quite possible that the war veteran have undergone something of a Damascene conversion.
Former High Court judge, Benjamin Paradza, a war veteran himself who is currently living in self-imposed exile in New Zealand, said the ex-combatants need to cleanse their sins of the past to be accepted by society as having reformed.
“You need to publicly and sincerely apologise for the many shameful roles you have played in bringing misery to our people over the years,” said Paradza.
“We want to hear you categorically state that henceforth you will stand up for the democratic rights of our people and stop blindly following ZANU-PF, simply because it is ZANU-PF, as if it is a cult”.