War Veterans Arrested: Is Zimbabwe’s Succession War Reaching Tipping Point?

War Veterans Arrested: Is Zimbabwe’s Succession War Reaching Tipping Point?

Top leaders of a Zimbabwean war veterans group once loyal to President Robert Mugabe have been arrested and one was charged with insulting the long-serving ruler as the country faces growing protests over economic mismanagement.

The war veterans — former liberation fighters in their 60s or older — said last week they have withdrawn their support for Mugabe. He has mismanaged the economy, caused divisions by his authoritarian rule and abandoned the ideals of the liberation struggle, they said.

The veterans urged Mugabe to quit, saying an economic turnaround can only occur in his absence, Zimbabwe Independent reported.

The 92­-year­-old Mugabe blamed Western countries for infiltrating the veterans’ association. Addressing thousands of supporters on Wednesday, the president demanded new leaders for the group, according to New Zimbabwean.

Following the speech, war veterans’ spokesman Douglas Mahiya and Secretary General Victor Matemadanda were arrested.

The world’s oldest head of state, Mugabe has said repeatedly that he plans to run again for president in 2018 and rule until he dies. He has been in power for 36 years, and this month told critics to leave Zimbabwe if they are unhappy with conditions at home.

Growing criticism of economic mismanagement by Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party resulted in nationwide protests and strikes organised via social media earlier this month.

The veterans’ criticism has unsettled Mugabe, said Eldred Masunungure of the University of Zimbabwe’s political science department, China Post reported.

“This is a result of his failure to hand over power,” Masunungure said. “The succession war is driving towards a tipping point.”

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The Zimbabwe War of Liberation, or the Second Chimurenga, was a 15-year civil war from 1964 to 1979 that ended white minority rule in Zimbabwe and brought a black majority government.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change party and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights condemned the arrests of the war veterans and demanded their release, New Zimbabwean reported.

Spokesman Mahiya has been charged with subverting a constitutional government and insulting the president, lawyers said.

“Zimbabwe is in a crisis that may explode if the attack on civil liberties continue
unabated,” said Kurauone Chihwayi, spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change. “Zanu PF is now dead and at an advanced stage of decomposition and
only a miracle will inject life for it to resurrect.

“The brutal attack on the leadership of the authentic Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association is an insult to all genuine liberators of our motherland. We are calling on Mugabe to release the war veterans leadership caged for exercising their democratic right.

“The people of Zimbabwe are now ready to die for their country and no amount
of intimidation or tactics will stop the demand for a democratic leadership.”

The veterans have been core Mugabe loyalists since the country’s 1970s liberation war against white rule, often using violence to crush the opposition, New Zimbabwean reported.

But frustration is growing in Zimbabwe over alleged corruption and the deteriorating economy. The veterans blamed it on “bankrupt leadership.”

If found guilty of undermining the authority of the president, veterans’ spokesman Mahiya faces a year in jail, Global News Network reported.


Mugabe described the veteran’s association leaders as “rebels” who will be punished for their crimes related to “seeing regime change.”

Zimbabwe’s liquidity crisis led to the largest anti-government strike seen in more than a decade on July 6, AP reported, according to Global News Network.

Evan Mawarire, a Zimbabwe pastor, who launched a social media campaign criticizing the government, has urged a peaceful uprising.

Mawarire left the country because of safety concerns, but addressed a crowd at a South African university on Thursday night. The government “cannot deal with people that are genuinely peaceful,” he said. “Catastrophe has been our story for far too long.”

War veterans played a crucial role in bringing Mugabe to power, endorsing him to take over the Zanu PF leadership that effectively shut out then-incumbent Ndabaningi Sithole, according to Zimbabwe Independent.

Mugabe has had a love-hate relationship with war veterans, said Pedzisai Ruhanya, director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute. There have been clashes over the years.

“Mugabe is not a war veteran, but a nationalist without war credentials,” Ruhanya said. “War veterans were in the battlefront, while Mugabe led the guerrillas without going to the front. That has been the gulf since he took over the Zanu leadership. Zanu PF has managed to hold on to power through the coercive apparatus which include the security and the war veterans. Now that there is no longer elite cohesion, Mugabe will find himself in an awkward position and this has a bearing on future elections.”

The veterans accuse Mugabe of dumping them in favor of a more youthful group associated with his wife, Grace Mugabe, whose political power has grown in the past two years, China Post reported.

In a Dec. 23 report, The Guardian reported that Grace is already in charge, having effectively staged a “palace coup.”

Mugabe has lost his grip on power and been replaced by his wife, according to Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s opposition leader and former prime minister from 2009 to 2013.

The government has been paralyzed and members of the ruling party are jockeying for position, he said.