President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s dramatic rise to power last year was mainly driven by former freedom fighters, who were working closely with the military.
As Mnangagwa prepares for the biggest test to his legitimacy with harmonised elections expected between July and August, the war veterans are once again central players in the race to determine Zimbabwe’s leader for the next five years.
Zanu PF’s secretary for war veterans Victor Matemadanda (VM) told our reporter Blessed Mhlanga (BM) that the former fighters want a clean campaign and a free and fair poll.
He also declared that Mnangagwa would win the polls despite a resurgent opposition. Below are excerpts from the interview.
BM: You led from the front in the battle to dislodge former president Robert Mugabe from power. What is your take four months after Mugabe’s ouster?
VM: When we went to war, we did not fight colour or a particular group, we fought the system, even under Mugabe, we were not fighting Zanu PF.
As a party, we were fighting a system that had been brought about by the G40 (faction) and now that system is gone, we are trying to improve the way Zanu PF is run and so on and so forth.
BM: Since you say you were fighting a system, will you challenge Mnangagwa if he becomes another Mugabe?
VM: He will not be another Mugabe. He will be another Mnangagwa. He cannot be a Mugabe, they have different totems, so they will never be one.
BM: I mean in terms of actions. If he regresses and becomes everything that Mugabe was, are you going to challenge him?
VM: He is not going to do that.
BM: Why do you say that?
VM: Because I know him. He is democratic, he is principled, he is very consultative, he is always in touch with the people and very well-informed.
BM: Many expected you to be rewarded for being on the frontline against Mugabe. Are you happy with the roles that you have landed because there are some who say the war veterans have been sidelined once again?
VM: I can be deployed by my commander where he thinks I can perform best. Wherever I am deployed, I will try to give my best.
BM: During your short stint as the Zanu PF commissar before you were replaced by Engelbert Rugeje, what plans had you put in place to heal the fractured Zanu PF?
VM: I had put in place quite a lot of activities and they are not different from what the current commissar is doing because we come from the same page.
BM: There were murmurs of disapproval that after Mugabe’s removal, the military grabbed most senior positions in Zanu PF. What is your reaction to that?
VM: You don’t know where they came from. they came from the war, they are war veterans, they fought not to watch others leading. They also fought to rule. That’s good deployment.
BM: Mugabe is on record saying his ouster by the military was illegal. Do such issues pose any challenges to Zanu PF?
VM: Former president Mugabe is the one who is illegal, not President Mnangagwa.
BM: How so?
VM: Mugabe has never been legal, he presided over a government that saw the collapse of this economy, human rights abuses, to the extent of even abusing the war veterans, calling people names.
Remember in 2016 when he teargassed us — he referred to us as dissidents — allowing his wife to take charge of this country, allowing his wife to abuse civil servants and ministers, that is illegal, so he is illegal himself.
BM: Mugabe is reportedly backing a new political party, National Patriotic Front. Are you prepared for this new type of opposition?
VM: We are not preparing to deal with them because it’s a group of disillusioned people. They can’t even qualify as an opposition political party.
They are just a bunch of failures, you look at (interim president Ambrose) Mutinhiri, he is a failure.
BM: Under Mugabe, Zanu PF was hostile to the private and foreign media, but he is now turning to those platforms because he is isolated. What do you think is happening?
VM: That’s why I say he is confused. He is illegal, he is confused, he doesn’t know what he wants.
He doesn’t know what type of an animal he is because if he knew, he would have been embarrassed to call on the foreign media.
He would know that when he had power he was not open, was not democratic, he never made the people of Zimbabwe enjoy a minute of his presidency, he was a serious dictator. he was an uncompromising person and he cannot expect some people to respect him. He is just getting a taste of his own medicine.
BM: At some point as war veterans you idolised Mugabe and campaigned for him to rule for 37 years, but you don’t have anything good to say about him. How is that possible?
VM: He manipulated us. He took advantage of us when he joined the liberation struggle because he had many degrees and was already old.
He was joining people with an average age of 14-15. He could just manipulate and instil fear in them.
The multitudes of people you saw marching in Harare (on November 17, 2017) showed that people did not respect Mugabe, but they feared him.
(In the 37 years) who could stand up to Mugabe?
BM: But you did stand up to him, where did you finally get the courage?
VM: Because we knew him, we knew that he was a paper tiger and he was an owl that pretended to have horns.
BM: If he was a paper tiger, who was the power behind him or what made him to be a feared leader?
VM: It was his capacity and ability to pretend that he was a star when he was not, the capacity to manipulate and abuse others made him survive.
You see the way he abused people like (former Zanu PF commisar Saviour) Kasukuwere, (former Higher Education minister Jonathan) Moyo and [Zanu PF youth leader] Kudzi Chipanga who were talking a lot of rubbish and creating terror groups that would assault people willynilly and not being arrested, this is how he managed to maintain his power.
BM: Some say that the power behind Mugabe was Mnangagwa.
VM: How do you become a border jumper if you are the power behind the throne?
BM: Isn’t it that Mugabe lost the throne after Mnangagwa had escaped the country?
VM: So it means the power was Mugabe, it was never Mnangagwa, that’s why he jumped the border.
BM: You were arrested and threatened with death, but you kept pushing. What pushed you that far?
VM: We are made of different fibre and texture, that is me.
Some of the stories can be best told by my mother, but now that she is gone we may never know.
I really felt we must stop Mugabe from creating a dynasty. That was my life, my dream and that’s what kept me going.
I never doubted what I was doing and I had to fight him the best way I could.
BM: What role will war veterans play in the forthcoming elections?
VM: Our role is to harmonise, to bring sanity to the elections, to make sure that we know that our candidate, President Mnangagwa, is going to win, but we want that to be done smartly and very transparently.
BM: Will you accept a result if Mnangagwa loses.
VM: He will not lose.
BM: What if he does?
VM: Why should I think of something that will not happen? I will never see God walking on this earth, but I will see someone sent by God to do his work.
I will not see things that won’t happen.