How Mugabe’s fallout with war vets led to his demise
By Lovemore Ranga Mataire
President Robert Mugabe, who bestrode Zimbabwe’s political landscape like a colossus, had an ignoble exit from the seat of power he occupied 37 years ago when he became the first Prime Minister of Zimbabwe in 1980.
While many pundits were quick to blame his vacuous wife’s influence for his eventual fall, many believe that his nemesis was the failure to take heed of the counsel of former liberation fighters who felt the revolutionary party was deviating from its foundational values and ethos.
In the post-2013 period, there was one man Mugabe, on reflection, wished he had brought closer and lent an ear despite his seemingly raucous character.
This man is Christopher Mutsvangwa, a man who was part of ex-University of Rhodesia students who joined the liberation struggle at its pinnacle around 1975.
Mutsvangwa had a short illustrious career as Zimbabwe’s top diplomat in China at a time the country was isolated by the United States and the West following the country’s land reform programme.
A self-made businessman, Mutsvangwa was among the pioneer corps to be sent out of the country on national duty, serving in Brussels, Belgium, where he was accredited to the European Union.
He also served at the United Nations in New York together with the late national hero Stan Mudenge. In 1989, Mutsvangwa was part of the observer team that observed elections in Namibia in 1990, which saw the coming of SWAPO into power.
But it was when Mutsvangwa became the leader of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans (ZNLWA) on 16 November 2014 that his political star began to rise.
He was to be appointed Minister of War Veterans Welfare, a position that further cemented his political stability and endeared himself with many freedom fighters.
Not long after being appointed, Mutsvangwa had a huge fallout with his principal when he insinuated that there was a conflation between the state and institution of marriage.
This was in reference to the G40’s apparent influence on the First Lady Grace Mugabe. Mutsvangwa was fired from his cabinet post but remained the ZNLWA leader.
Despite falling out of favour with Mugabe, Mutsvangwa had already created much groundswell among former freedom fighters for the holding of a penultimate meeting with their patron.
An initial attempt to have a war veterans meeting in Harare was thwarted by police which tear-gassed and dispersed the former freedom fighters who had gathered at City Sports Centre in Harare.
Realising the need to rein in flaring emotions, the new Minister of War Veterans, together with the ZANU-PF secretary for war veterans in the Politburo, Sydney Sekeramayi, held a series of meetings with war veterans for the penultimate meeting.
Curiously, the series of brainstorming meetings held at the War Veterans Ministry were all attended by army generals and other security chiefs. It became clear that the concerns of the ZNLWA association went beyond the confines of their regular membership.
The involvement of the army generals and other security chiefs was the first real indication of their disapproval of the direction in which the governing party was taking regarding the issues of former freedom fighters and the preservation of liberation war ethos.
And when the meeting was eventually held at the same venue of the earlier abandoned meeting, it became clear that the stakes were high, as former freedom fighters candidly reminded Mugabe of the sanctity of the liberation struggle.
Far from being a mere talk-show, the indaba succinctly located the morass behind the seemingly endless factional wars bedevilling the revolutionary ZANU-PF party. While some dismissed the indaba as a no-show, the meeting was in fact an historic occasion whose essence was to realign and reconnect ZANU-PF with its foundational ideology.
It was clear from the onset that the indaba bore all the petals and pageantry of an enduring occasion whose implications would be far-reaching in directing the party back to its source. On reflection, even Mugabe would remember that this was a genuine attempt by the former freedom fighters to reclaim their man away from the parochial influences of the mafikizolos (Johnny come latelies), who were slowly entrenching their influence in the party. For the first time in the history of ZANU-PF, an associate group aligned to the revolutionary party was able to mobilise more than 10,000 members around a singular purpose of trying to redeem the party’s adorned image, as a party of liberation hope.
For the first time since independence, the indaba offered an opportunity for the former freedom fighters to have a candid conversation with their patron where they expressed their apparent discontent with the direction that the party was taking.
The meeting offered an opportunity for old fighters, some of who had last met during the demobilisation period in 1980, to reconnect and share their hopes and aspirations. And away from the sentimental reconnections, the indaba reasserted the comrades’ organisational capacity, which was punctuated with military-style precision.
Anyone who was present at that historic meeting could not have missed the profundity and conviction in which presentations were made.
The issue that seemed to dominate all the presentations was about revisiting the party’s ideology and threats to the revolutionary party’s hegemonic power.
It was the freedom fighter’s valid opinion that the party’s socialist-oriented ideological thrust, which had managed to sustain it during trying times was under threat from a clique of latter-day leaders keen on refashioning the party as a post-modernist entity.
While admitting that ideological ethos, just like all living entities, occasionally need realignment with the prevailing dynamics, the former freedom fighters were of the view that the core values of ZANU-PF, as a pro-poor and pro-majority party, needed to remain unshakeable.
All over the world, political parties are sustained and glued together by a shared ideology. In highlighting the issue of ideology, the war veterans were concerned by the nonchalant attitude exhibited by some members within ZANU-PF in appreciating and applying the foundational ethos that have sustained the revolutionary party.
Of major concern to the comrades was the lack of seriousness in implementing agreed congress and conference resolutions, particularly one on the establishment of the Chitepo Ideological College. The absence of an ideological school was attributed to the lack of understanding of the party’s ideological standing, leading to rampant indiscipline, incessant expulsions and suspensions, all threatening the integrity of the party.
President Mugabe was told by the former freedom fighters that the absence of a rigorous foundational induction or orientation process was the basis for failure by new cadres in entrenching themselves emotionally to the party’s belief system.
It was highlighted to him that it seemed some new cadres had imported a new hedonistic culture into the revolutionary party to the extent of coining slogans and songs, which had no linkage with the ideological standing of the party.
Conscious of the divisiveness of such slogans and songs, the war veterans recommended that all party slogans and songs be submitted first to the Central Committee before being used as had become the norm.
Another issue that was also of concern to war veterans was the marginalisation of the freedom fighters body, as a mere affiliate whose influence was lobby-based.
Using Mao’s fish and water analogy, the war veterans said the supremacy over the gun was premised on the fact that the two shared similar ideological convictions. It is for that reason that Munyaradzi Machacha told the gathering that “during the liberation struggle, the military institution (the gun) had representation in the party’s Central Committee and the national executive of ZANU, as exemplified by the inclusion of Cdes Josiah Tongogara, Josiah Tungamirai, Solomon Mujuru and Justin Chauke and others”.
What the war veterans were clamouring for was the establishment of a symbiotic relationship between the gun and politics that would result in sustainable peace and stability and fostering a non-antagonistic environment under the ZANU-PF flagship.
A stone-faced Mugabe was during that indaba reminded of his words during a Radio Maputo broadcast in which he said “our votes must go together with our guns. After all, any vote we shall have has been the product of the gun. The gun, which produces the vote should remain its security officer, its guarantor.”
The preamble of the ZANU-PF constitution is very clear on the symbiotic relationship between the party and its fighters: “Whereas we the people of Zimbabwe acknowledge the role played by the Zimbabwe Revolutionary War Fighters of the Second Chimurenga and those who died while fighting the colonial enemy and those that are still alive and the fact they will forever be custodians of the Zimbabwean revolution and the bedrock upon which the ZANU-PF party will continue building itself from.”
It was thus a contravention of the party’s constitution to label war veterans as peripheral to the daily management given their status as the bedrock of the party.
After the presentation by the freedom fighters, Mugabe skirted around critical areas of ideology and the status of war veterans in the revolutionary party. What became apparent soon after Mugabe’s address was not entirely committed to the discourse of the war veterans being an integral organ of the party.
Yet that indaba had offered Mugabe the opportunity to introspect and retrace his footsteps to a time when the fighters and their party were inseparable. At that time, the G40 gang had not yet entrenched itself with his wife.
However, sensing a possible loss of power and influence within the revolutionary party, the G40 gang of Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere and Patrick Zhuwao raised their ante against anyone with liberation credentials. Their vitriol was mainly against former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, largely seen as an obstacle to their plan to refashion away from its traditional ethos as a liberation party.
In the end, the G40 gang got their way and Mugabe was fed with poisoned chalice that his former liberation colleagues were plotting against him. The situation was further exacerbated by the President’s wife who behaved like a loose cannon, insulting all and sundry and managed to alienate the Head of State from the generality of the membership.
It came as no surprise that after the First Lady was booed by a section of ZANU-PF supporters in Bulawayo, the President was so uncharacteristically angry that it took him just a day to fire his own vice president, a man who had served him and the country for more than 50 years.
The same war veterans whose advice he had failed to heed at their inaugural interface with him were the ones that were to spearhead his eventual downfall.