WAR veterans are under pressure to prove their mettle as game-changers in the Zanu PF power matrix as they face a strong challenge from a group of young party officials in the battle to succeed President Robert Mugabe.
BY MOSES MATENGA
First Lady Grace Mugabe last Thursday attacked “a few war veterans”, whom she described as divisive during a rally in Harare, laying bare the fissures in the ruling party over the former liberation war fighters’ role in the succession politics.
Having been a vital cog in the Zanu PF political processes since 1997 and influencing far-reaching decisions in the party, war veterans have been battling pressure from the G40 faction.
Analysts said if they remained tactful, the vocal war veterans could play a significant role in the succession issue.
“War veterans have always been a key constituency for Zanu PF since independence,” political analyst Takura Zhangazha said.
“They, however, became key game-changers post 1997 and in the context of their lead role in the land invasions of 2000.
“They appear not to have looked back ever since, to the extent that they need to be consulted on key party decisions, hence they now have a whole ministry to look after their needs.
“So, yes, they will be decisive in any Zanu PF succession plans and anyone who has their support will most probably win the succession.”
Ernest Mudzengi, another analyst, said war veterans could be game-changers in the Zanu PF politics if they remained tactful.
“They can be game-changers if they play their cards correctly. It only requires them to be tactful. All they need to do is play their cards right,” Mudzengi said.
“It depends on how they present themselves. The other time they prevailed, with regard to their welfare. Now it is about power.
“If they demonstrate their potency as they did in 1997, they will certainly be listened to.”
Gladys Hlatywayo, another political analyst, also said war veterans would only follow Mugabe as their patron.
“Whether they are going to be game-changers or not depends on where their patron stands,” she said. “If Mugabe indicates left, they are most likely to indicate the same. As long as the patron is still alive, they are most likely to listen to him, especially on the succession issue.” she added.
“The patron is a difficult person to read, but it is more likely that Grace is getting support from him.
“There is no way she can be doing all of this without the blessings of the patron.
“What we don’t know is whether the patron will be consistent or he will change course. This question will largely depend on what ‘Team Lacoste’ [Mnangagwa faction] will do.”
War veterans have been fighting for Zanu PF and Mugabe to remain in power since the time they demanded and successfully got Z$50 000 each from government in 1997. They then led the land reform exercise in early 2000.
After their former leader Jabulani Sibanda organised the “one million men march” in 2007 in support of Mugabe’s candidature in the 2008 elections, the war veterans thwarted attempts to unseat the 91-year-old leader by Zanu PF factions and the opposition.
The former fighters went on to create a niché as a powerful constituency in the Zanu PF power matrix.
In 2008, the war veterans unleashed an orgy of violence in rural areas, intimidating villagers in the wake of fierce competition from the opposition MDC-T ahead of the June 27 election runoff.
They also played a role in the ouster of a team linked to former Vice-President Joice Mujuru in 2014, which was accused of trying to topple Mugabe.
This forced Mugabe to create an independent ministry to look into the affairs of former fighters, led by Christopher Mutsvangwa, who doubles as the war veterans’ chairperson.
Events in the past few months have led to many questioning whether they will have a say in the party’s volatile succession matrix, especially after they have been called either “drunkards” or “frustrated extortionists” by the young turks, while some have been attacked by Grace herself.
There were reports that war veterans were planning a massive demonstration against members of the G40, accusing them of playing down their role in the liberation struggle.
Mutsvangwa had earlier been quoted saying: “They (G40) won’t succeed against war veterans, they are too young.”
Last Monday, war veterans’ secretary-general Victor Matemadanda told journalists of “elements working towards destabilising Zanu PF and acquiring land on behalf of their handlers”.
He was blasted by businessman Phillip Chiyangwa, who described him as a “frustrated extortionist”.