Show solidarity with war veterans

KENT - Events in the ruling party, Zanu PF, have taken a dramatic turn following the arrest of leaders of the war veterans association, believed to be behind a communiqué which severely criticised the leadership of President Robert Mugabe and declared withdrawal of war veterans’ support from the nonagenarian leader.

The association’s secretary for publicity, Douglas Mahiya was arrested last week. The secretary general, Victor Matemadanda was arrested a day later.

Their charges are not clear although there are suggestions that they are being charged with “insulting Mugabe” — an offence under Zimbabwe’s criminal code.

It is plain that the arrests are outrageous and politically-motivated, especially coming soon after Mugabe issued threats against rebellious war veterans who have challenged his leadership.

In social media discussions, some people including myself have suggested that Zimbabweans must show solidarity with the beleaguered war veterans.

While this has received support, there are some who reject the idea, arguing that the war veterans are getting a taste of their own medicine, having been accomplices to politically-motivated offences against ordinary people in recent years.

I understand these concerns. However, here, I explain why, in my opinion, it is prudent to stand in defence of the rights of the distressed veterans. My reasons are grounded both on principle and strategy.

Defending the rule of law

My first reason is based on the rule of law. The rule of law is not selective. It is not about defending good people or bad people. It is about recognising the equality of every person and the principle of protection of the law.

It is about according everyone, no matter their alleged crimes, the right to the principles of natural justice. It is about recognising and upholding the fundamental rights of every person, as provided in the Constitution, regardless of our opinion of them.

We might not like an alleged murderer, but the rule of law says he must be given a fair hearing, before an impartial court, that he must be given a right to be heard and to defend himself.

Once we begin to select who must benefit from the rule of law and who must not, we are making a grave mistake.

We are creating a culture of selective application of the law, something that Zanu PF has thrived on, indeed, something that we want to get rid of in our system of justice.

It does not matter what our opinion of the war veterans is: they deserve, like anyone else, the benefit of protection of the law, a right that is recognised in our Constitution.

Just as we defended the rights of pastor Evan Mawarire and Linda Masarira to be treated fairly and justly, we must demand the same for Mahiya and Matemadanda.

Rule of law is not equivalent to sympathy

Some people have said the war veterans do not deserve empathy or sympathy because of their past deeds. I understand them. But those are the wrong concepts in the context of the rule of law.

The rule of law is not synonymous with empathy or sympathy. You don’t have to empathise or sympathise with a man in order to accord him the protection of the rule of law.

The rule of law does not protect a guilty man. It simply allows him to go through the processes of a civilised legal system, based on principles of fairness and justice.

There is no requirement that we must empathise or sympathise with the war veterans. But we must defend their right to the protection of the rule of law.

Let’s not be like our oppressors

My next reason is inspired by the work of theorist Paulo Friere, who wrote in his seminal book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, how the oppressed tend to mimic their oppressed. “The oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors,” he wrote.

It is very easy for us to behave like Zanu PF. My view is that we Zimbabweans who feel oppressed must be careful not to become like those who oppress us.

Otherwise it becomes a never-ending cycle of oppression. There must be a break somewhere. We must show them what it means to be humane; to do the right thing.

This is not the same as forgiveness, no. Forgiveness and justice are not synonymous.

No-one is asking Zimbabweans to forgive the war veterans. But we must demand their right to be treated fairly and justly, just as we would want our friends and allies to receive fairness and justice. If we do not do that we perpetuate a culture of impunity which will continue to be a trap for all of us.

A policeman who abuses his powers of arrest against Mahiya will not stop there. When faced with these situations we must always ask: What would Zanu PF do?

Zanu PF would ignore the rule of law. That is not how progressive Zimbabweans should behave. For if they do, they are no better than the system they are fighting to replace.

The bigger picture

Finally, there is a strategic rationale for defending the rights of war veterans. When you are a fisherman, you do not go fishing in your own fishpond and claim that you have caught new fish.

You go to the river and try to catch new fish to add to the fishpond. The same point is expressed in the timeless words of the great ancient Chinese war strategist, Sun Tzu who tells us in The Art of War, that in war, “The captured soldiers should be kindly treated and kept. This is called using the conquered foe to augment one’s own strength”.

The war veterans may not have been on the side of fairness and justice. They may have sided with a regime that has caused untold suffering.

Indeed, they may have participated in causing that suffering. But if we can make them see sense by demonstrating that we are not selective, that we stand for principles and not for particular persons, if they can be persuaded by our deeds, then it is for a good cause.

If there are war veterans who committed crimes in the past, they will face the law properly in terms of the Constitution. There is no need to be hostile to the war veterans who have joined the cause against an oppressive system.

These men have already shown they are capable of breaking away from the tired Zanu PF line. The war veterans’ communique which is the cause of their predicament showed solidarity with the citizens’ movement.

I disagree with a lot of things that some of the war veterans have done in the recent past. But this is not just about war veterans but a defence of the rule of law, a defence of our humanity and a strategic perspective that looks at the bigger picture.

I have great hopes for Zimbabwe, but only if people are committed to building it upon a foundation of the rule of law, not vengeance and certainly not against the rule of law.

The rule of law does not look for a pretty face or a good heart. It applies to all without discrimination. But it needs good men and women to carry it through.

I conclude with a final Sun Tzu quote: “Excessive rewards are a sign of desperation. Excessive punishments are a sign of exhaustion.”

What is happening to the war veterans and others and the growing threats against citizens should tell you where Zanu PF is right now.

*Magaisa teaches law at the University of Kent in the UK and is a former adviser to former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. He can be contacted on wamagaisa@gmail. com

Comments (3)

With the aid of "This Flag" let shut Zim from 2 Jan 2017 if the whole constitution is not aligned and operational including the sixth schedule as a whole becoz everything we are crying for is in the constitution and thats why the powers be are reluctant to have in full operation

Lacost - 1 August 2016

Like the Saul of Tarsus and the prodigal son, the Johnny come latelys' these are the people who will hasten the end of tyranny

Nooshie - 1 August 2016

like PAUL OF DAMASICUS MU GABE used WAR vert to beat people Now they are Over turning to him Dindingwe rinonaka richakweva vamwe kana rokweiv a roti mavara aro azara ivhu He must Pay for his evil deeds #Go MUGABE GO

diehard - 2 August 2016

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