HARARE - President Robert Mugabe’s fear for war veterans has resulted in him granting them audience, following several weeks of waiting, in the wake of the anti-riot police heavily crushing their gathering last month, analysts have said.
The meeting, which is being pushed by war veterans rallying behind Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s mooted presidential aspirations, has been postponed on several occasions.
Among their demands, the war veterans are seeking a stop to the continued purging in Zanu PF, they also want Mugabe to rein in his wife Grace and have a clear succession matrix to be put in place.
They are also complaining about their paltry monthly allowances and the government’s failure to pay school fees for their children.
In the build-up to the meeting that was supposed to be held at the City Sports Centre last month, the angry war veterans expressed their displeasure with Mugabe’s wife, who they accused of fronting an internal faction aiming to take over from Mugabe known as Generation 40 (G40).
“Nyika ino haitongwe naGrace. Tinoterera ... Mugabe (Grace is not this country’s president. We only listen to Mugabe),” some of the war veterans could be heard shouting from the crowd during the thwarted meeting.
Political analyst Shakespeare Hamauswa said history was the judge when it came to issues relating to the relationship between Mugabe and the war veterans.
“I think Mugabe fears the war veterans, if we are to go by history. It is the war veterans who stage-managed the land invasions that Mugabe later endorsed. During those days, some ministers within Mugabe’s then Cabinet were not for the idea of land invasions.
“Another example to support the fear assumption is that towards the fall of the second decade of Zimbabwe’s independence, war veterans demonstrated at the Heroes Acre and Mugabe reacted by promising them money which was maybe ten times the amount they later received,” Hamauswa said.
As Mugabe sought to maintain close links with the war veterans soon after the City Sports Centre melee, he apologised to them in a televised address.
Mugabe blamed former War Veterans minister Christopher Mutsvangwa for calling an unsanctioned meeting, which resulted in the confusion. He said Mutsvangwa was the one who deserved to be tear-gassed.
However, during the City Sports Centre gathering, war veterans vowed to remain in Harare, claiming they would not leave without meeting Mugabe, who is their patron.
“We are not going anywhere,” they said then.
“Isu torara pano, hapana kwatinoenda, tiri mavuto. Taneta nekudzvanyirirwa, takairwira nyika ino (We are staying put, we are soldiers. We are sick and tired of being oppressed, we fought for this country).”
“Vanoda kutijairira (they are belittling us),” some of the war veterans shouted.
Since that day, nothing formal was said pertaining to the actual time-frame within which Mugabe was to meet the war veterans, until Friday, when he specifically said he would meet the ex-combatants during the first week of April.
Addressing a Zanu PF rally at Chipadze Stadium in Bindura on Friday, Mugabe also said that the meeting was going to be attended by securocrats among other war veterans.
However, Saungweme said Mugabe is faced with structural challenges that affected his formula to deal with the war veterans.
“…the Mugabe-war veterans relationship is complex, more than what might be on the surface. There are many intricacies that need to be unravelled.
“He deployed from 1980 many intellectual freedom fighters in key positions in government ministries and departments. It might not be surprising that all that which the war veterans are doing represents the manifestation of strategies being designed by the intellectual freedom fighters within government, some might be right at the Munhumutapa and State House,” he said.
As the meeting beckons, Mugabe faces a serious challenge of uniting the two groups of war veterans that have emerged within his Zanu PF party, owing to factional disputes.
Amid these factional wars, ex-war veterans chairman Mutsvangwa, a staunch Mnangagwa supporter was ousted together with his deputy Headman Moyo and secretary-general Victor Matemadanda.
Among a litany of charges that were levelled against Mutsvangwa and his colleagues including his wife Monica was the allegation of disrespecting Mugabe and his wife and making press statements using abusive language directed at other party and government officials.
However, despite all this, political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said Mugabe has natural and immense respect for war veterans.
“The war veterans have sustained him in power and he knows that.
“It's only natural that he agrees to meet them. Most of these are senior citizens like him and are pivotal in the power dynamics in Zanu PF. He is just being realistic,” he added.