This is an angry time in Zanu PF. Party supporters — crucially including liberation war veterans, a key constituency — are boiling. They feel betrayed by their own party.
The last straw for the war veterans was when First Lady Grace Mugabe tactlessly and scurrilously questioned the importance of their role in the armed struggle and the integrity of their current leadership, belittling them as good-for-nothing overblown characters who are past their sell-by date.
It’s most true that many categories of people contributed to the liberation war effort, but the tone and circumstances of the reminder was something else.
I hold no brief for war vets, but making or spreading scandalous claims about a group of people with the intention of damaging their reputation is bound to provoke a strong reaction.
This was exacerbated by the blatantly tribalistic and ignorant remarks made by the sycophantic Vice-President Phelekezela Mpofu that it did not follow the next leader of Zimbabwe must be a Karanga, a thinly-veiled reference to Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa. We have had vulgar and divisive rhetoric when we need solid and concrete facts.
Is it any wonder then that all hell has broken loose with the hitherto obedient — or timid? — war vets now telling their patron, President Robert Mugabe, openly that Grace’s wings must be clipped?
Mugabe could have made his biggest political miscalculation by getting his wife into the political fray or letting her force her way in. Battle lines have been drawn. Who will blink first? Let the games continue!
But the general populace had long been failed by Zanu PF, and all that people could do was just to look on — initially with surprise and gradually with disgust and resignation — as it dawned on them that the war vets had became enablers of the regime’s excesses of repression and corruption under the misguided notion of defending and consolidating the gains of independence.
In 2000, war vets spearheaded the so-called fast-track land reform programme with murderous invasions of white-owned farms, as their patron egged them on: “Instill fear in the white man.”
How did it get to this point?
Well, Zanu PF had over the years deliberately kept the ex-combatants in a war mode, in a fighting mindset, resulting in them not viewing Zimbabwe as a State, but a revolution. War vets bought the lies and propaganda that the opposition was treacherous and puppets of the West.
The result was over-dependence and over-attachment to the party, but the party is now ditching these war vets as their political stock falls, and is now looking up to new and younger stormtroopers or shock troops.
No wonder the tables were turned on the war vets last month: They were busy being teargassed and water-cannoned, while the upstart Generation-40 (G40) faction was having a big, big laugh.
The war vets, from the footage seen when they were dispersed by the heavy-handed police, are now like a Grandad’s Army. They have no one to blame, but themselves because they remained in the same mode for too long despite the ageing process and other changes.
They were not going to be young and fit forever making all manner of physical threats, but they continued to play the physical enforcement card (hard power/coercion) whereas they should have transformed this to soft power (a persuasive approach entailing the ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction).
Now there is no more that coming together, that collective consciousness. That shared vision has gone because absolute power has corrupted the regime absolutely. Power has gone to their heads.
But war vets themselves have been largely to blame. Once out of the nest, a bird cannot return there.
But war vets, despite not being fledglings anymore, have time and again been returning to the nest to be fed by Zanu PF instead of fending for themselves. Why should grown-up people put themselves at the mercy of someone when they can branch out on their own and not only survive, but also thrive? War vets just have to break this cycle of dependency. Having mere crumbs thrown at them to pacify them is not the pathway out of poverty.
For the sake of mere morsels of farming land, they forgot the permanent necessity of opposing the wanton destruction of agriculture and upstream and downstream industries that has led to their further impoverishment, with the country now importing maize from Zambia grown by the banished white farmers, who were the fortunate ones by escaping from being killed in cold blood.
That said, war vets have a greater chance — through soft power — than the current opposition of galvanising those Zanu PF supporters who are fed up with the regime. Yes, main opposition MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai has proved he can win all over the country, but there is need to join hands with others to ensure the nation gets over the hump, that most difficult part, past that midpoint that ensures no turning back.
We need to get to that turning point, that point after which things will begin to improve irreversibly. If we get past that midpoint, more than half the work would have been done.
This time around, the opposition — whose ranks, by the way, are swelling with the formation of ZimFirst led by former Vice-President Joice Mujuru and the war vets’ open stand against the repressive and corrupt system — should not just win like it did in 2008, but win big to bury the regime once and for all, never to rise again. And to achieve that, you need to reach to voters who are not traditional party supporters.
So, it’s quite pleasing that war vets are adjusting to the fact that the regime is not forever; it’s replaceable.
They should not keep on being sentimental about the past when the rift between them and the system has widened to unbridgeable proportions.
In 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced: “We should increase China’s soft power, give a good Chinese narrative, and better communicate China’s messages to the world.”
Now that war vets are unshackling themselves from the regime, we expect soft power from them, not more of the same.
lConway Nkumbuzo Tutani is a Harare-based columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org