FROM school fees, land, mining concessions, veterans of Zimbabwe’s liberation strug- gle’s feeling of entitlement hit new levels last week during a meeting with President Robert Mugabe.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA/EVERSON MUSHAVA
They even went further to demand preferential treatment in both Zanu PF and government, demanding positions in key positions such as permanent secretaries, ambassadors, lands officers, among others.
The much, anticipated meeting — where some Zimbabweans expected the former fighter to pull the plug on Mugabe and tell him to address the economy and that time was up for the veteran leader — was all about war veterans and nothing for the 14 million Zimbabweans.
Besides the political demands, the former freedom fighters begged for a litany of trinkets from an economy they are fully aware can hardly crawl.
As Mugabe sat at the top table hands cupped in a “praying mantis” pose, the war veterans did presentations on the economy and made their demands clear.
“Comrades want government to legislate for the 20% land policy so that they get farms. It is a policy adopted by government but never implemented,” said a presenter.
The war veterans also demanded that as recognition of the “supreme sacrifice” they made to liberate the country, government must automatically give them 99-year leases on land as well as title deeds.
“Inheritance by surviving spouses or children must also be automatic and comrades agreed that they should be exempted from paying taxes on land,” the former fighters said.
In mining, the former fighters said they wanted a 30% quota in all concessions.
They also demanded 20% of all machinery and farming equipment distributed by government, a 20% quota in all indigenisation deals and told Mugabe they wanted a “partnership” with the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Mining Company.
At the end, Mugabe made the promise: “You have my promise. We have listened to what you have said and will try our best to make you a little happier than you are now. I will say this even when I resign or go and this will be part of what I say you [war veterans] must do when I am gone.”
But Mugabe quickly put the war veterans in their place: “When we went to war, we were fighting for freedom,” a statement that could possibly suggest the veteran leader was checkmating them on their ever-increasing demands.
But he quickly toned down.
“Whenever you have demands, we will ask Finance minister [Patrick Chinamasa] to make you a priority, that is if the money is there, which, however, he often has.
“Money is always there, it’s a matter of priorities,” Mugabe, whose government is struggling to pay workers, said.
Political analyst Alexander Rusero said although the war veterans were a critical mass, they had started behaving like mercenaries in 1997 when they demanded gratuities and land in 2000.
“During the liberation struggle, the slogan of the day was ‘The wage of the struggle is freedom,’ not anything else,” Rusero said.
“That is what distinguished freedom fighters from mercenaries. Sadly, now the difference between freedom fighters and mercenaries or criminals is somewhat blurred. The war vet of today is quite different from the real war fighters who went to war, the majority of them who are in rural areas.”
Rusero added: “What we now see are men in suits who have an exaggerated sense of contribution to the independence.
“They exhibit exaggerated enthusiasm of having liberated this country, such that the younger generation now questions whether really the war was fought or if it’s just a scripted narrative crafted by crooks and extortionists masquerading as liberators of this country.”
UK-based Zimbabwean lawyer Alex Magaisa said the war vets had alienated themselves from the people by being selfish and being used as vanguards of a repressive regime rather than the struggle.
People’s Democratic Party spokesperson Jacob Mafume said failure by war veterans to tell Mugabe to retire while focusing on their materialistic demands showed that the former fighters had lost direction.
“War veterans talked school fees and allowances, Cecil John’s grave and forgot to talk about the fact that Mugabe should retire, like what other veterans in the region did to the founding leaders,” Mafume said.
But Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association spokesperson Douglas Mahiya said war veterans also needed a life.
“People should know that I am no longer the Mahiya or the Motochimurenga they knew in the liberation struggle,” he said.
“I now have a family, I get sick and my children should go to school. I should take care of my family.
“That is what we are trying to do, we are not ignoring the masses at all.
“We are not mercenaries and we have never been mercenaries.
“All those who say those things, I think they need to reconsider that we are human being like any others.”
In 1997 the government was forced to dole out ZW$50 000 each to the over 30 000 war veterans after they protested against Mugabe.
At the turn of the millennium the former fighters led violent farm invasions where a number of them grabbed prime land.