Friday, 19 February 2016

War Veterans Last Act and Their Waning Exceptionalism

 By Takura Zhangazha*

The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) this week prevented the divided Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) from holding a public rally .  In a fashion similar to how mainstream opposition political and civil society organizations public gatherings have regularly been banned since national independence.  So there was teargas, random police beatings and the threat of arrest and arraignment.

Social media as is now its utilitarian habit exploded with a mixture of expressions of humour and shock  at the images of elderly war veterans being chased by young police officers holding baton sticks. Other reactions were a bit more analytical and related largely to how this latest incident affects and reflects on Zanu Pf factionalism. 

Evidently it appears as though the faction referred to as Generation 40 (G-40) is in control  of key political space through deciding who can organize, attend and even speak at their party’s rallies.  The other dimension is that the Mnangagwa faction now commonly referred to as ‘Team Lacoste’ despite having been prevented from holding this particular rally for war veterans, demonstrated beyond any doubt that it will not go down without a fight.  Albeit initially appearing contrived this war vets rally is the clearest sign of that.  Whether they continue with their rallies or survive expulsion and suspensions is yet to be seen. 

A third analysis that has emerged on social media was the quick comparison of this particular incident with the l997 demonstrations by war veterans as led by the late Chenjerai Hunzvi. And further speculation as to whether the current crop of war veteran leaders can take as great a risk as did those of the Hunzvi era.  The only fault with this comparison would be failing to recognize that the reason for the current mobilization of war veterans is the Zanu Pf leadership succession issue as opposed to demands for compensation.

What is clear in this is that the war veterans have been at every key point of political rapture in the post 1997 period.  They have continuously leveraged their revered liberation war role and statuses in times of political and economic crisis. Both within their party Zanu Pf or without where it comes to (violently) mobilizing for national election campaigns or controlling the fast track land reform programme (FTLRP). All of this predicated on their given relationship with the security services.

Their current role in the succession battles of the ruling party may be their final ‘vanguardist’ national political act.  This is not only because of their ages but also because there are new intentions at controlling their influence by their fellow ruling party members who either were not involved in the liberation struggle or are pushing what they have referred to as the generational factor.

In this the most significant issue to consider is the national import to not just the Zanu Pf factionalism but the consistent political change agent role of war veterans in the country. 

The first would be that the war veterans believe in their own national political exceptionalism.  That’s why while they are shocked and disappointed that they have been tear-gassed and stopped from meeting like everyone else, they still firmly believe they shouldn’t be treated like everyone else.  It is a view that has generally been accepted in public discourse, more out of fear than it is out of respect.  This exceptionalism has now come to be directly challenged by the first lady and strongly defended by the minister responsible for war veterans.

The second aspect which is much more difficult to place and argue on is the fact the war veterans have failed to address the issue of generational consciousness/praxis with clarity.  They have continued to be the most radical within our society while at the same time stymied the consciousness of young Zimbabweans to do the same.  Their sense of exceptionalism and continuing radical political acts has essentially meant they have served as a key political tool in preventing the full flourishing of newer visions of what the state should be as well as a much needed leadership renewal in the ruling party. This has made them directly complicit in the long-duree leadership of President Robert Mugabe and the suppression of the opposition.

The third aspect is that within the context of the reality of their waning influence by way of not only age but also the current succession battles, they are not necessarily  viewed as being part of a democratic solution to the country’s problems.  That they have been treated as everyone else through the police banning their march does not make it likely they will want to join forces with broader pro-democracy organizations. The latter would also find it hard to organically collaborate with those they have also perceived to have been part of the undemocratic tendencies of the state. 

As to their waning national political exceptionalism, the war veterans, should they win the Zanu Pf leadership succession battle, will have to prove that theirs was and is not a fight solely for their interests. Because what remains at stake is not only their liberation war legacy, but their post independence democratic posterity. 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (