This week’s nasty and public fall-out between President Robert Mugabe and restless war veterans probably marks the beginning of the end for the increasingly frail nonagenarian’s long tenure in power — analysts, opposition parties and ordinary Zimbabweans say.
In a stunning development on Thursday, the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) virtually served divorce papers on Mugabe — marking the end of a political relationship that dates back to 1975 when freedom fighters catapulted the 92-year-old to the leadership of the governing party.
Until now, war veterans have served as Mugabe’s and Zanu PF’s political power dynamos, playing particularly significant roles to keep the nonagenarian on the throne in the hotly disputed 2000 and 2008 national elections which were both marred by serious violence and the murder of hundreds of opposition supporters.
But to the utter disbelief of many Zimbabweans, the liberation struggle fighters said pointedly on Thursday that Mugabe’s continued stay in power was now a stumbling block to the country’s development, adding almost maliciously that the nonagenarian would also be “a hard-sell” if he contested the watershed 2018 presidential elections.
“We are saying this country will only go up when Mugabe steps aside because his management is no longer respected by anyone, including his own ministers,” war veterans’ political commissar, Francis Nhando, told journalists during a media briefing in Harare.
“If he announces his retirement date now, the economy will improve because there is nobody who will invest his money where the future is uncertain. Nobody will lend money to a 92-year-old and if he does not step aside, 2018 will be the most difficult year to campaign for us as war veterans.
“How do you campaign for someone you do not like and who does not like you either? The relationship between us as war veterans and the president has broken down, he and the party don’t like us anymore,” he added.
And yesterday analysts and opposition parties piled in the pressure, telling the Daily News that the fall-out between Mugabe and war veterans was significant, as it could spell the end of the nonagenarian’s rule.
“The political and historical significance of this moment cannot be overstated. It represents a major turning point in the long relationship between Mugabe and the war veterans.
“The war veterans were one of the most critical elements in Mugabe’s political campaign for survival when he faced his sternest test from (opposition leader Morgan) Tsvangirai.
“When the Mugabe government lost the vote for a new constitution that they were promoting in February 2000, the war veterans stepped in to lead Mugabe’s political campaign, which began with the violent takeovers of commercial farms.
“When white judges were purged from the Zimbabwean bench, it was the war veterans who led the campaign. On one occasion, Joseph Chinotimba, who is now an MP, invaded the Supreme Court along with a gang of veterans and danced on the tables, shouting at judges,” United Kingdom based lawyer and academic, Alex Magaisa, said.
People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader, Tendai Biti, hailed the war veterans for finally standing up to Mugabe, but quickly also warned that the fall-out could have dire consequences for the country.
He said in Africa, when founding leaders either left office under a cloud or died, it was often difficult for such states to recover quickly.
“This is a reflection of the intense contradiction and intense devaluation of the instrument of cohesion that Mugabe has controlled for such a long time.
“What this means is that there is a serious infraction and conflict inside the state. What this also means is that we have the basis of real physical confrontation being laid down,” Biti told the Daily News.
The former finance minister said what was particularly unsettling about the war veterans’ and Mugabe’s fall-out was that the sentiment by the former freedom fighters had the “explicit blessing” of some senior army officers.
On its part, the MDC said the stance by war veterans was indicative of “a consensus” across the political divide that Mugabe was the problem in Zimbabwe and that he had overstayed in power.
“We are very pleased that the war veterans have finally seen the light. We would like to applaud them for fearlessly calling upon Mugabe to step down. The war veterans have now realised that all along Mugabe had been using and abusing them for his own selfish design of creating a one-man dictatorship.
“We don’t hate Mugabe as a person but we have consistently condemned his misgovernance and misrule. After 36 years of Mugabe’s iron-fisted and authoritarian rule, Zimbabwe has been reduced into a failed State with poverty and destitution ravaging more than 90 percent of the population,” party spokesman Obert Gutu said.
War veteran and Zimbabweans United for Democracy (Zunde) president, Farai Mbira, said the decision taken by the ex-combatants was long over-due.
“What we must all understand is that Mugabe is the most illiterate in terms of freedom. He does not understand freedom and is a possible case of psychological dichotomy. He spent the whole of his youth fighting against oppression but spends the rest of his presidency perfecting it,” Mbira said.
The fall-out between Mugabe and his storm troopers also comes as the 92-year-old is battling rising public anger against him and Zanu PF, which has seen strikes hurting the already dying economy.
Earlier this month teachers, nurses and doctors went on strike after the government failed to pay them their June salaries on time.
There are also growing doubts about the capacity of Mugabe’s cash-strapped government to pay civil servants their July salaries on time, although it yesterday released what it said were proposed dates for this month’s salaries.
The military will now get their salaries on Monday — two weeks after the government failed to pay them on due date.
Worried analysts and opposition political parties say the government’s continued failure to pay its workers on time, particularly soldiers, could spark serious disturbances, including violent riots.
Amid all this, tension is rising in the country as fed up Zimbabweans join hands to demand change and an end to Mugabe’s and Zanu PF’s rule, which they say has been catastrophic. daily news