PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe yesterday threw down the gauntlet and told war veterans they have no legal or moral standing to dictate who should succeed him.
By Everson Mushava
Officially opening a meeting of the Zanu PF central committee in Harare, Mugabe threatened punitive action against the war veterans’ top leadership, which has thrown their lot with Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and has lately been pushing the veteran politician to name a successor.
In an emotionally-charged speech, the 92-year-old leader described war veterans as “dissidents” for threatening bloodshed should Mnangagwa fail to land the country’s top post.
Mugabe said war veterans should stick to their role of lobbying for the welfare of the former fighters and stop trying to direct the party’s succession plan.
“We don’t want to see another rise of dissident activity. I say no to the war veterans’ association that does not know its mandate,” he thundered.
“It is not your function to talk of who should succeed the President or, worse still, threaten that unless what you want is fulfilled, there shall be bloodshed.
“Bloodshed? You want to shed blood again? That will not be allowed and steps will be taken against them.”
The latest fallout between Mugabe and war veterans signifies a major paradigm shift as the latter had consistently campaigned for him in the previous elections.
Mugabe now seems to have realised that war veterans are a spent force and would rather have his 2018 election campaign led by youths and the women’s league.
He said the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association was formed for the welfare of all veterans.
“That is its primary objective, which we have since given greater validity by creating a whole ministry to serve them,” he said.
“It is, thus, with utmost consternation that we see attempts at turning this welfare organisation into a pressure group against the party. That cannot be allowed.
“Nor would it be proper for anyone to use this welfare body as a platform for attacking the top leadership, or for seeking to direct party processes in a certain direction preferred by some individuals.
“To do so would amount to going the way of the dissidents.
“Dissident activities cannot be allowed to continue when they were ended in December 1987 when Cde Joshua Nkomo and I put our hearts together and said never shall this happen again.
“The war veterans’ association was formed to cater for the welfare of war veterans and not to champion politics.
“Dissidents tried it and you know what happened,” the President said, raising the spectre of the Gukurahundi massacres, when a crack army unit was deployed to Matabeleland and Midlands to ostensibly crush insurgents, but was accused of gross human rights abuses and genocide.
“Those dissidents were war veterans too. No, war veterans, that is not your function. It’s not your business to choose who should succeed and who should not, worse doing so under the pretext that there would be bloodshed if your preferred person doesn’t succeed. You want to shed blood? That is dissident behaviour and we will not allow it. Steps are going to be taken.”
About 20 000 civilians were killed in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions in the 1980s following the deployment of the North Korea-trained Fifth Brigade allegedly to “thwart a dissident movement” in a genocide now commonly referred to as Gukurahundi.
Mugabe said although he respected war veterans and the sacrifices they made during the struggle, he would not tolerate a situation where they wanted to control Zanu PF.
He said it was always agreed during the struggle that the gun would not lead politics and that Zanu PF organs should co-ordinate in order to achieve electoral success.
“Given that kind of superlative performance, the sequel should subsist in more programmes that propel the party to higher heights, surely? What is this discordance we now hear from certain quarters? No, war veterans’ association leadership, no! The hallmark of a trained cadre is discipline, impeccable discipline. The hallmark of a trained cadre is steadfast knowledge of the party line. Yes, the hallmark of a genuinely trained cadre is a firm sense of station and hierarchy,” Mugabe said.
War veterans last week met in Gweru and resolved that Mnangagwa was the second most senior party member and should be named as Mugabe’s successor.
The Zanu PF leader also chastised the former freedom fighters for publicly denigrating Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko by labelling him a war deserter.
“Those persons are appointed by the president and first secretary of the party and, thus, carry about them the weight of the appointing authority. We expect that to be respected by all and sundry, unless there are other motives and intentions,” he said.
“So let us all build on the stupendous gains we made through the million-man march, itself a fitting climax to our resounding electoral victory of 2013.”
War veterans’ spokesperson Douglas Mahiya yesterday refused to comment, saying he would respond today after gathering more information regarding Mugabe’s statements.
Mugabe also assured party members that the current cash squeeze, which he blamed on the commodification of the United States dollar, would soon end with the introduction of the bond notes which he described as “surrogate currency”.
“As I address you, cash shortages are being felt across the board by our people, who cannot easily access their savings or earnings. But this is a temporary problem, which should be behind us sooner,” he said.
Mugabe added that the ultimate aim was to reintroduce the local currency.