By Paidamoyo Muzulu
WAR Veterans across the globe are respected. They are the soul of the nation for they fought, sweated and bled in defence of the country’s sovereignty and its values.
They are the moral compass of the nation.
However, their national standing is diminished the moment they play partisan politics.
They become rogue the moment they align with one political party and use violence or threats of violence against citizens and the State.
It is a fact that every State should look after all its citizens. States pay pensions to the elderly, disabled, former employees and its veterans.
It cannot be overemphasised that States more often than not have to operate within an approved budget.
Treasury may from time to time use the unallocated reserves in an emergency situation.
An emergency situation refers to national disasters such as floods, droughts, storms that affect infrastructure such as roads and bridges or railways.
However, it should be made clear that pensions and wages are not an emergency from whichever perspective. The majority of Zimbabwean war veterans are partisan and of late have become mercenary in nature.
This may sound a harsh description of them but the following points will amply demonstrate the point.
Soon after independence in 1980, all war veterans, who were not attested into the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, were paid a demobilisation payout.
This was a substantive amount then to those who could not be integrated into the new national army.
Zipra combatants, unlike their Zanla counterparts, pooled their resources and formed companies such as Nitram.
They bought hotels, industries, farms and other financial investments. This was a noble and clear example of torchbearers and people who believed they were not to be perpetually taken care of by the State.
In the 1990s, the government created a War Veterans Compensation Fund. The fund was looted by senior politicians and some war veterans leaders. The majority of war veterans became aware of the fund when it was nearly depleted.
War veterans, instead of being the national soul, thought of getting on the feeding trough. In 1997, they demanded a hefty $50 000 each plus a monthly pension for life, school fees for their children and medical care.
Then President Robert Mugabe capitulated and paid despite the huge dent such a huge payout was going to inflict on the country’s economy. The local currency shed as must as 75% of its value in one trading session on the forex exchange.
In 1998, war veterans demanded to be given farms and by 2000 they were daring and demanded 20% of all land that was to be appropriated by the State from white commercial farmers. The Zanu PF administration acquiesced to this and even went a gear up by providing free farming inputs to them for the next two decades.
It has become a pattern that they become vocal towards an election.
They bargain using their coercive power in the communities. The subtle threat is — we can make or break a government.
This week, 39 war veterans were arrested in Harare for organising a demonstration against their $16 000 monthly pension. They want more.
According to court papers, the 39 are charged with participating in a gathering with intent to promote public violence, breach of peace or bigotry as defined in Section 37(1)(a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the war veterans’ bargaining chip is the looming 2023 polls. It’s so huge an opportunity because they have a double duty — confirm the Zanu PF candidate internally and support that candidature against the opposition.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa is in a bind. He has to give in to the blackmail or extortion by the war veterans to earn another term or kiss the presidency goodbye.
The stakes are just too high and the citizens may once again carry the can for Zanu PF to extend its incumbency.
Pensions in Zimbabwe are peanuts across the board. Nssa is paying about $3 000 monthly to pensioners.
Private pension funds are no better with some paying below Nssa and those with defined benefit schemes still getting a bit more if they were executives but all below $10 000.
Veterans should have ventilated the bigger issue of calling the Mnangagwa administration to have a holistic re-look into pensions, health insurance and education. Reducing the matter to themselves is a mercenary attitude and a great incurable misplaced sense of exceptionalism.
These are matters that need urgent and closer attention whether there is an election pending or not. All Zimbabweans, young and poor need decent lives, better health and high standard education.
This boils down to having a candid discussion on taxation, a topic which the administration is uncomfortable discussing for fear of upsetting capital. It is an anomaly that personal taxes and value-added tax bring in more revenue to the fiscus than corporate taxes.
It is high time we debate if it is desirable and morally correct to give investors tax exemptions like what happened to Huawei and other mining companies.
The time has come that the economy has to be fixed for the many and not the few.
That veterans should not be given room to advance their partisan interests irrespective of what is happening to the broader economy.
Allowing the less than 20 000 surviving veterans to hold the country to ransom is irresponsible. They have been cared for at personal level and the time is now to do for the nation at large. Their issues are no different from any other citizen.
- Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.