THE Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association leadership is basking in the after-glow of a successful meeting in Harare attended by over 1 000 members. According to the association’s leadership fronted by national chairperson Christopher Mutsvangwa, secretary-general Victor Matemadanda and spokesperson Douglas Mahiya, the meeting, held in the face of an attempt by a government scared of anyone opposed to it, was a defining moment for the ex-combatants battling to shed off their bad-boy tag. NewsDay senior reporter Richard Chidza (ND) talked to the three war veterans (MMM) after the meeting to understand their feeling and the way forward. Below are excerpts:
Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association chairperson Christopher Mutsvangwa
ND: What now after this meeting?
MMM: The war vets will now go to give the masses the consciousness of the tasks ahead, which are to fight corruption, fight creation of the [President Robert] Mugabe dynasty, fight regionalism and fight dictatorship as well as all other social and economic ills. We have also been advised by the constituents to go back to basics and have a relook at the road we have travelled since chairman Herbert Chitepo left the country to set up the revolutionary army that dislodged colonialism and the problems we have faced up to this day.
ND: Do war veterans condemn the use of violence as a tool for power retention?
MMM: War veterans fought for peace and justice and would never encourage violence. If it happened, it happened through ignorance and manipulation. War veterans have never practiced violence on the people and the atrocities against the people have been perpetrated by opportunists created by the party through various organs who have assumed the name “comrade”, but these are not necessarily ex-combatants, but rogue units unleashed to terrorise the people in our name. We condemn violence the same way we took up arms to dislodge using violence because the enemy was violent.
ND: Are war veterans against the politics of patronage and agree that if the country was being run well, they would not need to wait for handouts?
MMM: Politics of patronage has always kept those so patronised under bondage and abuse, but for people who went to war most as young as 11, it was difficult for them to realise that they are being patronised, so society should help to give awareness than to just blame.
Patronage under the Rhodesians became a national grievance and still is to this day. It drove us into exile to fight and accord the people of this country to speak out against such excesses. At our extraordinary congress last year, the war veterans agreed to amend our constitution and identify all former fighters with Zimbabwe and not a political party as long as all players in the political landscape recognise the ethos of the liberation struggle. Government was supposed to create the space and opportunities to allow war veterans and all other Zimbabweans to produce for themselves and the country. Zanu PF promised 2 million jobs in 2013, but nothing has come of it because of corruption.
ND: How do you plan to deal with the “enemies” you claim are embedded within Zanu PF structures given the association is virtually sidelined now?
MMM: During the struggle we were not members of the Rhodesian regime, but we fought and won. Together with the people of Zimbabwe we will fight to restore a democratic State in Zimbabwe. We will explain to the people what it means to vote. We will also field progressive people against Zanu PF candidates we think would have been imposed on regional and ethnic lines as happened in Norton during the by-election. They are not enemies to the extent that you can use firearms against them as suggested by Kudzi Chipanga [Zanu PF youth league leader]’s overzealousness. However, this tells you how much healing our nation needs. People should be free to associate and disassociate, but they can’t and anyone who opposes Zanu PF and especially the G40 faction is an enemy of the State. Contradictions are very necessary in a revolution, they only become dangerous when the leader drifts towards cultism and dynastic dictatorship.
ND: What does the successful hosting of the meeting against attempts to stop it by the police mean to the fight for democratic space in Zimbabwe?
MMM: It was a watershed, game-changing meeting. It recast the image of the war veteran. He [war veteran] has recovered that integrity and seriousness befitting a revolutionary hero of the Chimurenga independence war. It banished his image and standing, doing away with the idiosyncratic caricature of violence and mayhem. The Zimbabweans are once again proud of the stellar military actors who did so much to restore the battered bias against modern African military prowess. We presented the war veterans as the heroes of the Zimbabweans, the heroes of Africa. That is the biggest success that we got and it will marginalise the elements that are against progress particularly as epitomised by the G40. The G40 is the opposite of what we want in Zimbabwe. We have demolished them and reworked the image of war veterans and removed the element of caricature.
ND: Zimbabweans continue to fight for democratic space and a free and fair election expected next year. To what extent do war veterans subscribe to this?
MMM: It has been very clear to us that the Public Order and Security Act is being used to oppress the people and not only war veterans. It is an instrument being used by G40 to sustain its existence. If that instrument is properly administered, G40 will be defeated. Where there is oppression there is resistance and the more our people are oppressed, the more they will resist. We will work with our people and teach them that there is need to resist the kind of politics we are living in for them to attain the kind of democracy they aspire for.
ND: What is your message to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec)?
MMM: Zec must be non-partisan and apolitical and unless they are, it would be difficult for them to cultivate the trust they need from the people. Zimbabwe will find it difficult to come back from the brink if Zec are not going to run a credible election acceptable to all parties. The Zec leadership needs to differentiate between personal interest and national interest knowing that people are watching. It is critical for those at Zec to know that posterity will judge and judge them harshly if elections are not handled well.
ND: Do you think Zanu PF should hold an elective congress to reconfigure its structures ahead of next year’s elections?
MMM: It is not necessary to have an elective congress unless the structures are redone by people without ulterior motives. The current structures are G40 structures so an elective congress will produce a factional outcome. If anything, Mugabe was not appointed leader by a congress. The idea of a congress is being pushed by people who are against an existing revolutionary structure and this can only result in more divisions and chaos within the party and country. Zanu PF should do what is good for the party, but if anything it has already disowned its own constitution and now become some sort of Animal Farm with a clear plan to sideline all war veterans from the party.
ND: What platform do war veterans have to make sure their demands are met?
MMM: We simply go back to the people, we will continue to speak the truth and provide direction.
ND: What is the likelihood that a government that you argue has been infiltrated by your enemies will listen to your demands?
MMM: It might not because the people who are holding positions today, for example, the ministers of Home Affairs, Higher Education and Local Government are counter-revolutionaries and would never accept our demands. We started this crusade after the Chiweshe rally. We are clear Zimbabweans understand what we are saying and will know who to vote for. It is a small group of people with no social base. Next year’s elections will tell.
ND: When you say counter-revolutionaries are now residing at State House, do you mean Mugabe is being held against his will?
MMM: Sure, at his age the President was supposed to have retired and be able to write books and putting down what he has done for the country for future generations to benefit from the wisdom, if any, that he has. Those who are in the corridors of power are only interested in looting the country’s economy.
ND: So what do you think needs to be done to rescue the President and the country?
MMM: The only way to do it is to vote and find a suitable leader even among those that did not take part in the liberation struggle. We are 14 million citizens and if we choose well among us, they should be able to serve our common interests as a people. It is not possible that there is no one who can lead better than those in power today. We can always find one because nobody is indispensable. Zimbabwe is greater than individuals and will be there long after we are all gone. We need to reach out to the Diaspora engendered by the illegal sanctions and the ham-fisted response of the clueless, vapid and vacuous G40 in their illicit control of the apex of Executive power.
ND: Who funded the meeting?
MMM: It was funded by our members across the provinces, but we still owe some service providers because whatever we had raised was not enough.