ZIMBABWE’S liberation struggle which became an armed struggle resulting in immense human losses and suffering during the war was meant to be a glorious revolution bringing together the guerrilla fighters, their nationalist leaders, peasants and workers in one collective supreme effort to dislodge the racist oppressive and repressive Rhodesian regime.
Rarely in the history of a nation are citizens as united and committed as Zimbabweans were in resisting and fighting against the racist settler regime. Whether you were ZANU PF or ZAPU or even the other nationalist parties who did not have armies to wage war, we were all agreed on the evils of settler rule and the need for a democratic dispensation based on equality of all and one person one vote. Those whom history favoured and burdened with the mantle of being the armed guerrillas were meant to be our heroes who placed themselves in direct harm’s way so that we could all be free. To these the nation owes eternal gratitude.
The tragedy though is that a large number of war veterans somehow allowed themselves over the years to become the very antithesis of the people’s heroes they were meant to be. These allowed ZANU PF to appropriate them into a private army placed above the ordinary laws of the land, as a crack force to negate, constrain and often erase the very freedoms of the people the liberation struggle was meant to secure.
Dazed by the impunity granted to them by the State exempting them from obedience to the ordinary laws of the country, many of them soon became a vigilante private army at the behest and call of ZANU PF to attract and enforce obedience, submission and praise of ZANU PF rule even as that rule brought the country to its knees and impoverished the people in ways which were impossible to imagine could be the price we would pay for being ruled by our erstwhile liberators during the heady days of the liberation struggle.
They soon forgot that the very essence of freedom is not the right of those who agree to shout, scream, sing, dance, march, jambanja and demonstrate their agreement, but the right of he or she who is in disagreement with us no matter how numerous we are, not just to hold that divergent opinion but to express it against us as we shout, scream, sing, dance, march or toyi toyi our majority agreement. The failure or refusal by ZANU PF – backed by the exempted illegal violence of some war veterans exacting retribution, vengeance, revenge and plain cruel punishments against the opponents of ZANU PF often constituting the majority over nearly the last two decades – to accept this elementary conception of freedom is largely responsible for the collapse of our country.
The position of war veterans over the years should have been in defence of the freedoms of each and every Zimbabwean in words and in deeds. But alas, the very opposite has been true. To be fair, significant numbers of war veterans have not been party to the pervasion of the ideals of our liberation struggle. But their contrary voices have been not just few and far between but feeble and muted. Not that these few would have stood a chance against the marauding violence of the perverters of our liberation struggle.
Nothing could have been more ironic, more humiliating, more comical and theatrical, more ahistorical and indeed more farcical than the images of war veterans collapsing and fainting under the weight of police tear smoke recently in Harare as they sought to make themselves the arbiters of who is and who is not to be President Mugabe’s successor. The more discerning would have realized that the power they thought they had was nothing more than that which Mugabe grants them to act outside and above the law if and when he decides that they are amenable to the law as the rest of us are; the illusion of their power became obvious.
The critical question though is whether or not Mugabe will dismantle before he leaves office the instruments of political violence, coercion and control that he so painstakingly constructed to protect and defend his failed rule. In this way if G40 succeeds in its attempts to force ZANU PF politics out of the cocoon of hostage to war veterans and youth militias, it would have done Zimbabweans a great service of making the prospects of a free citizenry a little more realistic during our life time.
But the G40 is no haven of democrats but of very ambitious youngish Turks as cruel and anti-people as their opponents have been over the years. However, regardless of their well -documented undemocratic credentials, if they succeed, it would be a lot more difficult for them to create alternative instruments of coercion and control outside the security apparatus of the State itself. We could yet be beneficiaries of the unintended consequences of their success – if they succeed.
For now, the events of the last few months have shown that Robert Mugabe is indeed the Alpha and Omega of ZANU PF as the names of some of his businesses teach us. He who commands the power to exempt obedience of the law controls the State. The war veterans opposed to G40 should have known this – just as it should have not been too difficult for them to grasp that notwithstanding his age, Mugabe is the patron, key strategist and leader of G40.
By this time of the year in 2000, almost 60,000 people had invaded close to 7,000 commercial farms owned by white Zimbabwean citizens at the behest of ZANU PF after its crushing loss at the Constitutional Referendum. At the forefront of this ‘great trek’ were violent war veterans. Three years earlier, President Mugabe had succumbed to war veterans’ threats under Dr Chenjerai Hunzvi and squeezed millions of dollars out of the national fiscus in political ransom money.
His government was further plunged into retractable scandals as Hunzvi masterminded a State sponsored Ponzi Scheme of monetizing war ‘injuries’ that government used to rate the ‘worth’ of each war veteran’s ‘contribution’ to the liberation struggle. Thousands of former freedom fighters, including ‘healthy’, nonetheless already wealthy party leaders, plundered the compensation fund and sent Zimbabwe’s economy into a Kamikaze tailspin. In a tragic take, some serving government ministers with no visible injuries were ‘medically’ determined to have suffered 98 percent disability.
Today is almost sixteen years since Zimbabwe’s liberation war heroes embarked on a course of self-immolation. However, the tragedy is that of collective condemnation. Like you, me, and millions of Zimbabwean villagers who experienced firsthand the cruelty, bitterness, joy and anxiety of the liberation war – we know that out there, among those fifty thousand liberation fighters, there are thousands of men and women of honour.
These are the citizens who do need convincing that every one of us, in our own little way, is a liberation war hero. Those who study the science of liberation will know that there is no formula that unlocks the enemy without the support of ordinary, grassroots masses. As Brad Meltzer opined: “We are all ordinary. We are all boring. We are all spectacular. We are all shy. We are all bold. We are all heroes. We are all helpless. It just depends on the day.”
For someone who does not understand the complexities of our political history, Meltzer would find it hard to accept how such a group of erstwhile men and women can be associated with so much acrimony, hate, violence, misery and destruction. For us who are in the trenches, we have a pretty simple explanation.
President Mugabe once had an opportunity to stand on the side of constitutionalism and truth. Yet confronted with dwindling political fortunes and a growing tide of independent political thinking, chose to exploit the greed in a band of thugs and criminals to entrench his hegemony on Zimbabwe’s polity. When they invaded land, the then vice president Joseph Msika pleaded with him to order them off private land, but he, Mugabe, chose to sacrifice sanity at the altar of political expediency. Economists, sensible ones at that, produced dozens of papers as evidence that the results would have devastating long term effects.
Why am I talking about this, today? For the simple reason that our country has come to a standstill. Our economy is in a state of comatose because those that entrusted themselves the responsibility to govern have chosen to battle for political survival at the very expense of the welfare of the villagers they claim to have liberated. For the umpteenth time since that fateful day in 1997, a small band of self-anointed heroes has sown the seed of greed and avarice that it is only them and a few thousand citizens entitled to handouts, free education, free health and pension.
But lest we forget, there are thousands of men and women of integrity who chose to be sober, the real war heroes who know that theirs was not a path to self-enrichment. Amongst this group of heroes are teachers, judges, farmers, soldiers, clergymen, lawyers, businesspersons, community leaders, politicians and ordinary citizens in the villages. They have refused to be drawn into this diabolic sandstorm of ruthlessness and toxic entitlement. Like Brodi Ashton would say: “Heroes are made by the paths they choose, not the powers they are graced with.”
Let me add to these wise words. Heroes are not declared; neither is their status conferred. Hero status, like respect, is earned, not owed. True heroes, like Joshua Nkomo, Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo, Herbert Chitepo, Josiah Magama Tongogara, Nikita Mangena, Lookout Masuku, Solomon Mujuru and, indeed, Jairos Jiri need no one to declare them as such. They are just heroes by whom they are. A hero does not demand, take by force, kill the innocent or insult the very community that nurtured him. A hero fights on the side of the poor, the oppressed, the weak and the sick. A hero does not occupy the front seat of the gravy train, but rather, he lies across its track and dares it to run him over in protest against predatory parasitism.
Genuine heroes do not evict villagers from their ancestral land to plunder diamonds and stash the profits in foreign lands; they do not watch, in bemused silence, as hospitals and roads crumble; companies close and as millions of citizens they helped liberate from colonialism leave the country in search of greener pastures in foreign lands. My wish is that every one of us, next time we are in the village, turn to your neighbour and say: “You and every one of you around here, are the true heroes of the struggle.”
I end by simply saying Cry, Cry the glorious revolution that was stolen from the people with the aid of those who sacrificed so much so that we could be free. Into bondage they delivered us.
Prof Welshman Ncube is leader of the MDC party.