Zimbabwe's fracturing war vets


Zimbabwe – War veterans come in many shapes and loyalties

On Tuesday July 26, Zimbabwe’s war veterans received a “summons” to present themselves at Zanu-PF headquarters on Wednesday, July 27, to discuss their “treasonous” statement of the blindingly obvious – that President Robert Mugabe is a dictator. Whatever follows is unlikely to deliver any real insight into the balance of power inside the deeply divided Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association.

Like most other political structures in Zimbabwe, from the ruling party to the opposition to civil society organs, the war vets are a deeply divided and fractured organisation. Some elements remain steadfast in their loyalty to Mr Mugabe, while others clearly no longer share that adoration.


So the numbers who may heed the call to present themselves at Zanu-PF will provide no insight into where the balance of power among the war vets lies.

Further complications arise when young men who were clearly born long after Zimbabwe achieved majority rule in 1980 are among those paraded as veterans of the freedom conflict, an issue that dates back to land invasions in the early 2000s. At that time young men (some in their teens), presented themselves as veterans.

Back in June this year the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association set the cat among the political pigeons by “endorsing” Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa to succeed Mr Mugabe and warning of possible bloodshed should that not happen – a clear reference to the ambitions of Grace Mugabe.

That did not go down well in State House, with Mr Mugabe complaining that the war vets were interfering in politics.

“That is dissident behaviour and we will not allow it. It is not your business to talk of who should succeed the president and worse still I am stunned you threatened that unless your wish is fulfilled, there shall be bloodshed,” he retorted, on the record. It would appear that the rift between elements of the war vets (the real ones) and Mr Mugabe began to tear at that point.

Fast forward five weeks or so to mid-July when the president was once again criticised by war vets this time for his dictatorial style of leadership. The difference this time was that the criticism came after an unprecedented mass civil society uprising against the government and the president Mugabe, and demands for economic actions and political reforms to save the country.

What terrified Zanu-PF was that the war vets appeared to share the concerns and supported the mass actions. Zanu-PF called the comments “treason,” suggested that no real war vet would ever be so disrespectful and used its control of State media to encourage all former freedom fighters to gather at Zanu-PF headquarters to show solidarity with the president.

The development in summoning war vets and encouraging a public show of support is part of the ruling party’s strategy to demonstrate to Zimbabweans that their president is still popular and still in total control. 

READ: Zimbabwe war veterans turn on “dictator” Mugabe, exposing rifts

Caution is required when assessing the impact of any developments in Zimbabwean politics as the fractured and divided nature of key structures and institutions is a complicating factor.

It is clear that the generic term ‘war vets’ contains at least two and possibly more factions with their own agendas and motivations and it is equally clear that these factions pull in different directions. Consequently, drawing conclusions over these events is risky because we have no way of telling real war vets apart from opportunists and Zanu-PF deployments. If the general and majority view among real war vets is turning against Mr Mugabe, then he does indeed face mounting problems, but we need to wait and make sure we are dealing in fact and not fantasy.

Gary van Staden, Political Analyst, NKC