Since Zimbabwe gained independence, veterans of the war of liberation have been respected and rendered almost untouchable. Rightly so, they have been feted as heroes and heroines of the war. They became revered so much to an extent they could neither be disappointed nor disproved. Sadly this gave them a lot of misplaced arrogance.
The ex-fighters became a law unto themselves. The undivided patronage from President Robert Mugabe provided the requisite immunity from prosecution. As expected, the war veterans responded to the pleasant imposition by milking the situation with the ferocity of little piranha fish. They even managed to blackmail President Robert Mugabe into disbursing $50 000 in Zimbabwe currency to each and every one of them as hush money.
The ex-combatants cemented their status as Zimbabwe’s untouchable by bulldozing their fingers into the core of the nation’s dwindling finances. They thought they had managed to instill godly fear in Mugabe. On the day he announced the shock payments, Mugabe was reduced to a tiny, vulnerable and clueless leader. In their case, the ex-combatants sealed a new untouchable status. From there on, whenever they sneezed Mugabe extended a teaspoon with cough mixture to soothe their discomfort. The ex-combatants felt they needed to return the favour using varying levels of infamy and notoriety on behalf of Zanu PF.
It was not surprising when they became a force to reckon with. Their first step was cementing a sense of political relevance. An opportunity to shine presented itself on the onset of the farm invasions which followed the government’s defeat in the 2000 referendum. New faces in the socio-political scene included the likes of Biggie Chitoro, Comrade Satan, Hitler Hunzvi, Joseph Chinotimba and Black Jesus among others.
The 2000 elections campaign set the bar of election violence several notches higher. The ex-fighters used all forms of violence against known members of the fledgling opposition. The ex-combatants slackened a bit during the 2008 harmonised elections, only to resurface weeks later with more vigour and cruelty during the run-off presidential vote weeks later. The wickedness was extended to the 2013 elections. Voters in the Bikita area will recall Jabulani Sibanda’s not so charitable campaigns for Zanu PF.
The mere mention of ex-combatants infused fear, trepidation and despondence within the hearts of the people, including the once feared police. The nation remembers how the police stood helplessly as the country’s agricultural sector was ravaged by the war veterans during the so-called Agrarian revolution. Mugabe even defended his lack of action against the invaders blatantly telling the world that he would not use the Zimbabwe Republic Police to antagonise the war veterans. Despite the High Court ruling that the government swiftly evict the war veterans from the farms, Mugabe chose to disregard the judiciary due to his fear of his erstwhile fighters.
In any language or context, the war veterans lived by the sword even during peaceful times. They reigned fear among communities and they continued to be a powerful power broker. Due to an induced fear of the ex-fighters, Mugabe chose to maintain a form of symbiosis where he and the ex-fighters could co-exist for their mutual benefit. The ex-combatants did his dirty bidding and he paid them handsomely using State funds. This was to be so until factionalism wrought by succession battles visited Zanu PF.
In the beginning of the succession war in Zanu PF the fight appeared to be between former Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa. The latter seemed to be well-supported by ex-combatants and the First Lady Grace Mugabe.
Grace was efficient in destroying Team Mujuru and everyone including a majority of the untouchable war veterans seemed to be happy for a while. The situation quickly transformed into two distinct factions pitying Generation 40 (G40) against Team Lacoste. Mnangagwa fronted Team Lacoste and enjoys the support of most ex-combatants whilst G40 is fronted by Grace with the likes of Jonathan Moyo and National Commissar Saviour Kasukuwere tagging along.
Still believing in their invincibility and their untouchable nature, the aging ex-fighters felt personally aggrieved by Grace’s open agenda to expose and destroy Team Lacoste. Under the aggressive leadership of War Veterans minister Christopher Mutsvangwa, the ex-fighters convened a meeting in Harare to denounce the arbitrary votes of no confidence against some members of the party allegedly instigated by Grace on behalf of G40. The old former fighters were still banking on the belief that Mugabe will shiver once he hears that they were mobilising against his wife.
The war veterans made a monumental blunder. They forgot that the perception of fear they supposedly instilled on Mugabe did not transcend to the police. Just like Mugabe had unleashed the veterans to fight during the war of liberation, he could unleash the police to confront them in ruthless fashion especially when they were putting his personal interests at risk. The ex-combatants failed to realise that their untouchable stature was only a temporary arrangement for as long as it perpetuated Mugabe’s interests.
In reality Mugabe temporarily conferred the state of being untouchable unto the ex-combatants at his convenience. It is at his pleasure that he has decided to withdrawn that priviledge. The untouchable are now so touchable as evidenced by the manner they were tear-gassed by the police during their unsanctioned meeting. This goes to prove that no-one is perpetually untouchable in the eyes of the law, not even Mugabe himself.
lMasola wa Dabudabu writes in his personal capacity.