By Takura Zhangazha*
Veterans from Zimbabwe’s liberation war are an ever present generational feature of our political landscape. Their narratives of struggle have largely been captured by Zanu PF as a political party and as a former liberation movement. They are however not uniform in how they have responded to contemporary challenges that our society faces.
I have noticed that there are perhaps three strands of war veterans. The largest grouping is that which places emphasis on its historical roots being in Zanu PF (especially as a united party after the Unity Accord in 1987). These are the veterans who have been willing players in the fast track land reform that began in the year 2000. They have also been the most active supporters of their party during highly contested elections as they occurred over the last thirteen years.
Recalling their loyalty to their party and their historical role in the liberation struggles, these war veterans were at the height of campaigning for Zanu Pf, often times violently, were key to all the victories that came to claimed by their party. It is also this group of politically active war veterans that continues to be at the heart of land redistribution and allocation of land to citizens or even party supporters. This they help in distributing both by way of being party activists or being senior civil servants or security personnel. They are also involved in indigenisation issues particularly where it comes to mining, safari operations and importing of fuel.
There is a second strand of war veterans that are not as politically active but remain committed to the former liberation movement. They however do not get involved in the daily conundrums of party campaigning or organising. Instead they generally rely on themselves and the qualifications that they acquired either via post independence education or businesses that they established.
You will find them in offices of private corporations, in mining or even commercial agriculture predating the fast track land reform programme. They will however occasionally defend Zanu Pf in social conversations, and politely so. What they do insist on is that they continue to get their pensions and that the scholarships offered their children are duly fulfilled by the state.
The third strand of war veterans are those that have actively taken up opposition politics. These are in the minority of war veterans. They offer counter narratives as to how the liberation war was fought and how they never intended, as liberation fighters to have one party rule the country for so long. These war veterans have actively supported major opposition parties and in some cases sought form their own as some did with Mavambo in 2008. Their political aspirations aside, these war veterans do not directly benefit from the state and are generally not keen on enjoying the pensions and other benefits that come with war veteran status.
In all of the aforementioned groups of war veterans it is increasingly apparent that in part the general tendency amongst them is that they are fully cognisant of their political importance. Some utilise these reputations and history for direct political benefit . Others are a bit more circumspect about the politics but all the same rely on the state for some of their basic needs, which include pensions and other benefits such as school fees for their children. Others still have abandoned the state largess to attempt direct involvement in opposition politics.
In every respect however, these groups of war veterans can be viewed as a generation that has come full circle in relation to its political importance in Zimbabwe. And they appear to be at the height of their influence on the direction that national politics takes. Not just by way of campaigning for the ruling party but also by being in key positions either in government, parliament, the civil service or the security services.
While the nationalists remain in overall charge of government, its mechanics are increasingly in the hands of war veterans. Or at least those who were either at the front of the liberation war or in the training camps. And they will definitely be key in determining who succeeds President Mugabe.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)