Nothing to celebrate, 42 years on

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By Jacob K Mutisi

AS Zimbabwe celebrates forty-two years of independence today, it is a tale of unrelenting suffering for the majority of the nation’s liberation heroes and heroines except for the privileged few who were able to squeeze their way into the ranks of the ruling elite who never took part in the war to liberate our great nation.

In an exclusive interview Zimbabwe War Veterans Pressure Group chairperson, Amos Kumbulani Sigauke (Vasco) gives a chilling account of the plight of Zimbabwe’s Second Chimurenga heroes in a no-holds-barred exchange.

Sigauke contends that with a pension emolument of less than the equivalent of US$100 per month, the gallant fighters have been relegated to a life of poverty and deprivation at a time when health challenges such as diabetes, high blood pressure and other infirmities associated with the onset of old age abound.

The monthly pension emolument falls way below the poverty datum line of US$600 per month. Efforts by liberation veterans to seek redress after government unilaterally reduced their monthly emolument from US$2 000 per month in 1998 to the current amount of less than US$100 per month have fallen on deaf ears resulting in the majority of our war veterans living below the poverty datum line. According to Sigauke “all this is occurring in stark contrast to decent pensions paid out to their regional counterparts by their governments in Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia and Angola,”

It is a sad story, indeed, considering that the Constitution of 2013 has clauses that are supposed to protect the war veterans. The preamble to the Constitution refers to the need for the nation to extol and exalt these brave sons and daughters of the soil. The Constitution also calls on the nation in section 3 to hold in high esteem the principles and values of the liberation struggle while section 23 explicitly states that institutions of the State and agencies of government at every level should accord befitting respect, honour and recognition to veterans of the liberation struggle.

On the other hand, section 84 stipulates the entitlement of war veterans to a decent pension and other benefits which include medical aid. To the contrary, the facts on the ground point to a situation in which there is no conformance with these stipulations of the supreme law of the land.

Sigauke pointed out as an example the harsh treatment of 39 war veterans who were arrested and continue to be harassed by State agents for assembling in order to merely handover a  petition of their plight  to the Presidency. It was against such a backdrop that the war veterans pressure group, realising and cognisant that the collective interests and rights of war veterans are under threat of being rampantly trampled upon by government, we took the decision to stand-up and challenge such malfeasance.

The promise of a democratic and progressive developmental State that was the centrepiece of our ideological thrust during the war of liberation has proved elusive. We are worried that instead of delivering a democratic and socially just system our leadership appears to be taking us towards a dictatorship in which the rich and powerful few selfishly and irresponsibly dominate and oppress the majority. Instead of benefiting the nation as a whole, the abundant natural resources are now a preserve of a few.

This situation is typical of the “vortex” in which our liberation struggle icons find themselves. The resultant contradictions for any conscientious cadre are obvious. How do we defend a system that devours its own and contradicts and runs against the foundational principles and values of our erstwhile struggle for freedom and emancipation? For the comrades who interacted with Commander Misihairambwi, his famous promise that we will have enough food when we are back home eating from Munhumutapa hotel, has turned out to be a laughable fallacy.

There is a need for the government of Zimbabwe to immediately start to look at the plight of our freedom fighters and give them the lifestyle they deserve similar to those in the region which is why the nation should be celebrating independence yet the freedom fighters themselves are living in poverty? The Zimbabwean government should provide the freedom fighters with free healthcare, hefty pensions and free education for those with children still in tertiary education.

Long live Zimbabwe and long live freedom fighters. Let us provide them with the life that they deserve.

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