HARARE - While veterans of the liberation struggle deserve the respect of all Zimbabweans, when they align themselves to a particular political party and fail to rise above partisan interests to focus on national interests that they sacrificed life and limb for prior to independence, they lose the respect of some segments of the population, analysts said.
The analysts believe the ideal situation is whereby the Zimbabwe Liberation War Veteran Association, an umbrella organsation for freedom fighters, be one for all ex-combatants regardless of party affiliation.
They believe that in essence the current association has been captured by Zanu PF to propagate its political interests and not advance the welfare of its rank and file.
Curiously, many of them are sick and have no medical insurance, starving and struggling yet they are abused every election.
Civil rights activist McDonald Lewanika said, war veterans are a critical constituency which in the past has been instrumentalised by Zanu PF as the blunt end of its campaign stick.
“These veterans have emerged in the past as potent mobilisers, but also violent intimidators and enforcers of support for the ruling party. Due to their partisan conduct, one is tempted to think that the political field is better without their coercive and intimidation tactics.
“While feuding may be a normatively bad thing, critical distance from one party and embracing all veterans despite their political affiliation is good for the veterans association.
“It may be a loss to Zanu PF but it will be a gain for the country which perhaps can finally have veterans who rise above the fray of partisan politics and act as the national and liberation conscience that they ought to be without playing partisan favourites.”
War veterans flee after being teargassed by police in Harare recently.
Playwright Silvanos Mudzvova said: “War veterans are associated with Zanu PF and as such our young generation cannot give them the respect they deserve. Their association with Zanu PF and participation in the party’s violent programmes is well documented.
“But now they have come back to their real senses and realised that they fought for freedom and such freedom should be enjoyed by every Zimbabwean despite political affiliation,” said Mudzvova.
He added that as long as war veterans are not supporting President Robert Mugabe’s rule there will be free and fair elections.
“Most of these war veterans are still in the army, CIO and police and as such they can level the playing field by being objective. Elections will bring different results than before.”
Mudzvova said before December 2014, the nation used to have very few war veterans disagreeing with Mugabe but now it is shocking that almost 80 percent are disagreeing with him.
“But Mugabe being Mugabe he will try by all means to win them back even compromising the economy — so the nation should expect huge sums of money being channelled towards war vets.”
Media activist Tabani Moyo said under normal circumstances, the war veterans are supposed to be a national asset esteemed for the decorated role of being at the epicentre of mobilising the nation and taking the lead in dislodging the yoke of colonial rule.
“By its nature, the membership of political establishment was not the defining requirement for one to participate in the war. In this regard, virtually everyone played a part irrespective of political preferences.
“However, Zanu PF captured the institution and made it a mobilising authority during the land reform on narrow party interests and it became an integral component of Zanu PF functionaries, playing an active role in militant electoral processes, by extension being implicated in the human rights abuse record,” said Moyo.
He however, added that now there is a paradigm shift, led by Mugabe himself, of attempting to diffuse the importance and role of the war veterans in Zanu PF.
“This includes an attempt to ‘raise a new age of war vets’. He is acknowledging the youths as highly likely taking over the role of war vets in the ruling party — because they are aged and very soon the ministry of Youth and Economic Empowerment will be playing an active role in the mass conditioning of the youths as the new force of reckon in the party.
“In this new path, Mugabe is succeeding in re-engineering the party and remaining the only source of institutional memory along the way.”
Commentator Elliot Pfebve said he sees a scenario where war veterans will refuse to be used in campaigns.
“Zanu PF will be defeated overwhelmingly. War veterans cut across all political spectrums and that should be respected, they do not belong to Zanu PF.”
Legislator Jessie Majome said if the association’s constitution limits membership to Zanu PF members only then that would be their predicament.
“The association’s affiliation to Zanu PF has given it the undemocratic advantage of a paramilitary wing in coercing and intimidating voters who would want to vote otherwise.”
She sees the feud between the war veterans and Mugabe dividing the Zanu PF vote.
Social commentator Blessing Vava said historically it is difficult to separate the war veterans from Zanu PF.
“The war veterans are borne out of Zipra and Zanla but one thing they forgot is that they were not fighting for a political party, rather for all Zimbabweans to be free and instead embedded themselves in Zanu PF politics.
“And Zanu PF has been using them as a force to intimidate opposition activists every time elections were held. But we should not forget that most of the war veterans were a disgruntled lot, not until they were given packages as part of the compensation, equally the land.
“In Shona we would say; vakapuwa vharamuromo (they were bribed), hence events which happened after 2000 completely changed the political dynamics.”
Vava said what is most likely going to happen is that those who are too vocal will be removed and a new executive which is loyal to their patron is installed, but their influence would be less this time.
“A majority of the ex-fighters feel used by Mugabe and this feud will have a bearing come 2018 because these are people who have been used all along to campaign for Zanu PF.
I do not see them being foot soldiers this time around. The war veterans are deeply divided, some are with former vice president Joice Mujuru.”
Political commentator Settlement Chikwinya said first we must acknowledge that there is little or no separation between Zanu PF and the state at list according to Zanu PF mentality.
“The war veterans are an integral part and structure of Zanu PF, hence the party views any person who is a war veteran to belong to them. The unfortunate scenario is that as divergent views emanate tracing back to the succession issue of Zanu PF leadership we begin to see some war veterans beginning to break ranks with the ruling party and risk being stripped of the genuinely earned status of being freedom fighters.
“Zanu PF has all along benefitted by abusing these poor freedom fighters as they continuously become war dogs during political violence times especially towards elections.”
Chikwinya added that the feud between war vets and Zanu PF should be left to escalate into a fully-fledged war as this will mean the party will have one of its violence machines towards opposition dismantled. “The feud certainly will benefit the opposition. In the absence of election violence I think Zimbabweans have a fair chance to express the will at an election.”