HARARE – President Robert Mugabe is coming down hard on the country’s small but courageous community of war veterans in a move that analysts say reflects the increasingly authoritarian nature of the cornered nonagenarian.
This comes as Mugabe, 92, told the Zanu PF top branch last week that he was tired of war veterans — a hitherto key pillar of his support — interfering in politics and seeking to function outside of their mandate within the ruling Zanu PF party by supporting one of the current vice presidents, Emmerson Mnangagwa, as their chosen successor to their party’s leadership.
Mugabe launched one of his fiercest attacks, threatening to deal severely with disaffected war veterans who are pushing unyieldingly for Mnangagwa to succeed him.
Political analyst Takura Zhangazha said war veterans have what can be considered a sequential approach to leadership recognition or succession.
“They look at the history of their party and argue that it is now time for at least someone who was at the war-front to get closer to assuming political power,” Zhangazha said.
“It is their historical expectation; by way of their own perceived and real sacrifices for the liberation of the country.”
The president’s reference to the dark era of the early 1980s when the government unleashed the North Korea-trained 5th brigade that massacred an estimated 20 000 innocent civilians mainly in Matabeleland and the Midlands dropped jaws and sent a chill down the spines of most of the gathered Zanu PF bigwigs.
Mugabe was insistent that it was not the responsibility of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) to anoint his successor, but that of Zanu PF.
From Mugabe’s perspective, this was disloyal on two fronts: not only is all talk of succession discouraged while he is still on the throne, but Mugabe currently appears to be favouring his wife Grace Mugabe to follow in his footsteps, not Mnangagwa.
Dewa Mavhinga, a senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, said Mugabe’s threats to crush war veterans was a revelation of the authoritarian nature of Zanu PF where democratic debate about succession is brutally suppressed.
“It shows just how dictatorial Mugabe is, and how he views the Gukurahundi period as a mission accomplished to crush dissidents instead of viewing it remorsefully as a time of horrific human rights abuses for which the perpetrators must be held to account,” he said.
“With such an attitude towards Gukurahundi, it is no wonder thousands of victims have not received justice and perpetrators of that egregious injustice continue to occupy senior positions in government.”
He said the war veterans should not be deterred by the idle threats from their 92-year-old leader.
“They need to push for the democratisation of Zanu PF and for succession to be discussed and resolved openly and urgently without any fear.
“If they are unable to exercise their constitutional and democratic rights within Zanu PF under Mugabe, the war veterans should consider joining forces with Mugabe’s former deputy and fellow freedom fighter, Joice Mujuru, to challenge Mugabe from outside the structures of Zanu PF.
“Recent statements by Mugabe and his wife Grace are an indication that Zanu PF is no longer home for war veterans, rather, it has become a haven for Mafikizolos with genuine freedom fighters under the new Zimbabwe People First tent.”
He said war veterans should call Mugabe’s bluff, saying he lacks the capacity to carry out the threats to get rid of war veterans who oppose him.
“Ironically, some of the war veterans who Mugabe now threatens may have been part of the Fifth Brigade that carried out the infamous Gukurahundi atrocities.”
Election Resource Centre director Tawanda Chimhini said violence should never be an option in a democratic society.
“The reference to it by leaders especially those with access to and control of instruments of State power is a constant reminder of the entrenched nature of the culture of violence in Zimbabwe,” he said.
“The reference to such violence in contested terrains such as succession, which have a strong bearing on future electoral contests, spells doom for any future democratic processes that must be hinged on a strong culture of political tolerance.”
Chimhini said since Zimbabwe goes to the polls in almost two years’ time, any political contest, intra- or inter-party, must be conducted in a tolerant and responsible manner.
“Failure to show such responsible leadership in managing differences must not only be condemned in the strongest of terms but should be dismissed by all peace-loving, patriotic Zimbabweans with the contempt it deserves.
“Never again should the violence of our political history be an option in moving forward as a country.”
Piers Pigou, a southern Africa senior consultant at international conflict prevention organisation International Crisis Group (ICG), said: “Mugabe’s brinkmanship with Zimbabwe’s security sector reflects his waning capacities to manage the contradictions of misrule now manifesting.
“We are moving towards the end of an era — unpredictable and dangerous — and fundamentally unnecessary as Mugabe seems to squander what’s left of his tattered legacy.”
Political commentator Mcdonald Lewanika said when it comes to safeguarding his power; nothing can be put beyond Mugabe.
“Pre and post-independence Zimbabwean history is littered with examples of Mugabe and Zanu PF’s violent political culture and easy resort to coercion in dealing with perceived political foes,” he said.
“The president clearly knows no shame when his power is threatened. But dealing with war veterans may not be as easy a prospect as the president makes it sound due to various factors, including the fact that his own arms of coercion are led by these war veterans.
“However, over the strength of evidence and track record, targeted reprisals, victimisation and other extralegal actions like abductions cannot be put beyond Mugabe and his regime.”
Commentator Rejoice Ngwenya said: “Mugabe is a paranoid, senile old man. I would not take what he says seriously.
“War veterans are a historical institution difficult to wish away. He should apologise.”
Media activist Tabani Moyo said Mugabe was in a process of diffusing the war veterans from his political strategy and investing in the youth.
“That is why the youths are now occupying a predominant part in the affairs of the party, combined with the women’s league.”
Moyo said the threats on war vets points to a declaration of intent that Mugabe is willing to sacrifice them for his political survival.
“According to him, the best way of sending the message was to revert to his gruesome past and paint a clear picture of his callous political approach in the face of intensity of leadership jockeying.
“His declaration does not show any signs of regret in such a murderous past but one which is celebratory and worthy unleashing at the tail-end of his political career.
“We shall obviously witness a mix of purging and gruesome chapter if conditions prevailing remain the same.”
Political commentator Elliot Pfebve said Mugabe has a violent past and is still very dangerous as head of State because of the power he wields through the security institutions which he has abused since independence.
“At 92, he is capable of taking a million souls into the grave with him to leave an unsolicited legacy of fear,” Pfebve said.
Political commentator Blessing Vava said it is regrettable that Mugabe boasts of violence.
“He is not even remorseful about the crimes he committed during Gukurahundi which resulted in thousands being killed under the guise of fighting dissidents.
“We know for a fact that Mugabe has never tolerated any dissent and anyone who thinks differently with him is thus labelled an enemy and should be dealt with.
“Of course that statement might have not been directed to the war veterans alone but anyone who opposes his leadership.
“And Zimbabweans, especially opposition parties, must brace for a violent campaign as we head towards 2018,” said Vava, adding that Mugabe’s statements show a cornered man, who never expected such dissent, especially from war veterans.