War vet vs War vet

ZIMBABWE's militant war veterans, for long used by President Robert Mugabe's Zanu- PF to unleash violence on people, are at each others' throats amid revelations that they are fighting over the successor of the ageing leader.

The divisions have worsened in the last few months due to reports of Mugabe’s ill-health and his advanced age. Mugabe turns 87 in February and is believed to be planning to quit politics in the next few years.

The war veterans are deeply enmeshed in Zanu-PF’s succession battles, with some aligning themselves with the faction led by retired army general Solomon Mujuru, while others are said to be aligned to the Minister of Defence Emmerson Mnangagwa.

For a long time, Zanu-PF has been divided into two main groups both hoping to replace Mugabe when he finally quits or when he is incapacitated.

Mnangagwa has been long touted as the natural successor to Mugabe while the Mujuru faction is said to be pushing for the general’s wife, Joyce, who is one of the current vice-presidents, to take over as president.

The divisions among the war veterans came to a head at the Zanu-PF conference held in December last year when there was a dispute as to which group of veterans would give a solidarity speech.

The stronger of the groups, led by Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association Jabulani Sibanda, who is aligned to the Mnangagwa camp, managed to force its way to the stage and delivered the speech.

The Mujuru camp had lined up its own war veteran, a retired brigadier-general Ruwodo, but the other group refused to let him speak and the conference degenerated into chaos that left delegates, including Mugabe and thousands more who were watching on state television, shocked.

Senior Zanu-PF officials, including Mugabe, had to order the war veterans out of the congress to sort their problems.

The problems seem to have deepened now, with the Mujuru-aligned veterans insisting on ousting Sibanda from his post, saying he was causing divisions in the organisation.

The divisions worsened last week when a group of war veterans, who are not interested in being named at the moment, issued press statements castigating their fellow veterans for being used by Mugabe and Zanu-PF instead of serving the interests of all Zimbabweans

Sibanda dismissed both the new group and those aligned to the Mujuru faction, saying they were wasting their time.

"We won’t lose sleep over those people. It’s just one or two individuals," he said.

But a senior army official close to the Mujuru-aligned war veterans dismissed Sibanda as an illegitimate leader and insisted he should never represent the interests of war veterans.

"Jabulani (Sibanda) is a soldier of fortune and we doubt whether he is a war veteran in the first place. He was elected by a dubious group of war veterans last year at an illegitimate congress. He is pursuing the interests of a certain politician who wants to topple President Mugabe.

"He has a sinister agenda. Right now he is running around in Masvingo like a rogue element, threatening innocent people in the name of Zanu-PF, but that is not what war veterans fought for. "He is grandstanding to impress President Mugabe so that his faction will find it easy to grab power," he said.