Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) spokesperson Douglas Mahiya became the first victim of the former liberation war fighters’ fall-out with President Robert Mugabe after he was arrested and locked up in remand prison for close to a week. Mahiya (DM) was later hauled before the courts on charges of insulting Mugabe.
After his release on bail last Tuesday he told our senior reporter Richard Chidza (RC) that although he was taken aback by the arrest, he remained unfazed and insisted the “writing is on the wall” for Mugabe.
RC: How was the experience of being jailed by a government you helped install?
DM: It was very sour. I did not expect it. I had to look at my life in retrospect, trying to figure out why it was necessary for me to spend my youthful years in the bush for independence.
I began to question why so many comrades, some still lying in unmarked graves in Mozambique at Chimoio and Zambia [went to war]. I went through the whole gamut of emotions.
I also evaluated the revolutionary programme set before us before anyone handled the gun. I took stock of what was done and what has not been done.
I tried to look at the reason for the failures and realised it was the disbandment of the instruments or the organisational character of the revolutionary forces who were behind the execution of the struggle.
Those that went on to take the reins of power disregarded these principles. The revolution shifted direction as a result of the inclusion of forces that were anti-revolution, like the intellectuals who later on joined the party.
I did not like it because the instruments that were used by the enemy are the same today. The character that was displayed by the regime that I fought, its cruelty and brutality, was the same thing presented to me by my own government as an experience.
RC: And how do you feel now?
DM: I feel rejected. I feel that the government is not doing much for the people but for a group of people who are within. It is not possible for a government of the people by the people to separate itself from the people.
War veterans came from the people, and the people are suffering. If you look at the country’s political, socio-economic setup, it has nothing to do with the people.
I feel that the government has lost direction and that seems to have happened ages ago. But let me assure you, the war veterans and the people are one. We will simply go back to basics.
RC: You are talking about going forward now?
DM: Yes, we will simply go back to the people and explain. In fact, you want to put it on record that the writing is on the wall.
We might be powerless or lack the resources to achieve that, but the freedom fighters and the people will simply have to come up with an understanding to deal with this.
RC: What vehicle are you going to be using, the ZNLWVA, or are we going to see the emergence of a new grouping?
DM: The ZNLWVA under the leadership of Christopher Mutsvangwa is here to stay. It is the legitimate leadership and the puppet leadership created after the Chiweshe rally [by First Lady Grace Mugabe] is an illegal entity.
It is a puppet war veterans grouping and they are not even an association because they are not registered.
The war veterans association is intact and soon we will sit down and review the situation and map a way forward.
RC: Government has threatened to withdraw the benefits due to war veterans because of the current disagreements, what is your view?
DM: If it happens, it will not be something new. We will have no option, losing whatever government is giving us as war veterans loses value when the people are suffering.
People are living on less than a dollar a day and we shall not separate ourselves from the people. Our principle has always been that the people are the water and we are the fish.
The economic situation is bad. The political situation in the country is so bad and corruption is rampant. If they withdraw everything, let it be, it will actually be evidence of their true character.
RC: War veterans have for years been a major part of the Zanu PF machinery used for power retention. Why the sudden change of heart now?
DM: We have discovered that everyone who wanted to occupy a position in the party and government identified themselves as a “comrade” but then abused the principle.
The revolutionary programme was gaining political independence and it was a path to formulating policies for the benefit of the people.
We were sure it was not going to happen overnight and that is why we have been patient. We have allowed individuals to go into our political laboratory, mix chemicals that produced a political monster using the enemy’s tactics.
We expected political power to be used for the benefit of the people but unfortunately we have only been made to wait for nothing.
We are at a starting point. The people and their forces, Zanla and Zipra, will achieve their political and economic objectives.
Now that the war veterans are being expelled from the party, it has convinced us that this government has failed. We have suffered in giving them the opportunity to reform.
RC: You think the revolution has been hijacked?
DM: True, it has been hijacked. We have explained this to others before. The struggle was about fighting an international force. We realise now that in 1980 we had a false dawn, it was a military strategic retreat by the enemy. Their instrument has always been the intellectuals.
We also know that the enemy has always placed agents in our midst. You have heard Jonathan Moyo saying you cannot destroy a revolution or Zanu PF unless [you do it] from within. (Moyo has denied ever making such remarks).
He is happy about it, he is achieving and these are the people being used to destroy us. This is why we are being expelled. It is our legacy that is at stake and once that is destroyed, then the enemy would have won.
RC: We are a few days away from Heroes Day celebrations, what is your view?
DM: It becomes senseless. Its value has been reduced to zero. If people are not receiving what they paid for then it is not necessary to recognise the importance of the day.
The people of Zimbabwe are suffering except for a cliqué within the government.
It is time for the people to demonstrate and be able to truthfully look at themselves and say it is not necessary to celebrate.
As long as one has not received the things their sons and daughters paid for with their blood, what would be the value of attending the heroes’ celebrations? People must demonstrate against going to the National Heroes Acre.
RC: So you would advise war veterans not to attend?
DM: Any war veteran who shared the trenches with another fallen or alive, and their welfare is not attended to, must understand that there is no value in attending Heroes’ Day commemorations.
We only begin to see images of war veterans dying in Mozambique and other leaders towards the Heroes’ holiday. That is a betrayal because what that stands for is not representative of what is on the ground.
RC: In your view, how would Josiah Tongogara and Herbert Chitepo feel about the situation in the country if they were alive?
DM: If they were still occupying their positions as back then, the first thing they would have done is weep and then react to remove all barriers that have been put in place today to undermine the interests of the masses.
Before his death, Tongogara said we were fighting a system and not the white man, but he would be surprised to see the same system intact and he would have to continue with the struggle.
RC: Mugabe has used harassment and other unscrupulous tactics to deal with his opponents and now he has turned on war veterans. What do you make of this?
DM: It’s a shame. Again, I would want to tell the people that we need to go back to basics. War veterans from now on will work with people, regardless of their political affiliation.
When we joined the struggle, we wanted the people to be independent. We must not belong to any political party.
Instead, we must embrace them all and simply become referees, keeping them in check to see if their positions are in sync with the people.
The people in the MDC-T, Zanu PF and other parties lost relatives, children, sons and daughters in the struggle. So they have a right to take part in the politics of the country. We will work with them, we will be their power.
We were more aligned to Zanu PF by default because of instruments put in place to stop us from working with any other party.
RC: Would you want to apologise for having allowed the situation to come to this?
DM: We would rather request the people to appreciate the efforts that brought independence. If we made mistakes, it was in the process of trying to do something.
We lost the most important part of our life to bring independence. What is important is to embrace each other and move forward.
RC: Given what has happened in the past 36 years, why should Zimbabweans trust you now, given war veterans’ hand in rights abuses?
DM: It was not the war veterans but the government.
RC: But in one way or the other, war veterans took part or were used in these abuses.
DM: I have said this earlier, that people are abusing the principle of comrade and the principle of being a war veteran.
There are people who call themselves comrades, there is Cde [Saviour] Kasukuwere, [Ignatius] Chombo, [Kudzai] Chipanga and many others, even Cde Jonathan Moyo, but they are not.
RC: You mean in the sense of the liberation struggle?
DM: Yes, in the principles of the revolution, they address themselves as comrades. A true comrade’s life is bound by blood but they have done this to enrich themselves.
Their political stock in the trade is “Jonny-come-lately”, war desertion and avowed cowardice when the nation called for supreme sacrifice.
Now they are ensconced, sitting cocky and preening over the finest freedom fighters Africa has ever produced.