For years Zimbabwe’s former freedom fighters brought misery to the citizens, and were among the largest recipients of ZANU PF patronage. In a major twist, the war veterans’ association recently issued a statement denouncing President Robert Mugabe accusing him of having dictatorial tendencies and of destroying the country. The ZANU PF leadership retaliated ordering the arrest and suspension of several senior war veterans from the party. The latest stance by the war veterans has baffled many. Why has it taken the former freedom fighters so long to stand with the people? Have they really come to their senses or is the reason they are now ‘fighting’ the system the succession issue in ZANU PF rather than the national interest? Do they appreciate what Zimbabweans have been going through and will they apologise for the role they played in destroying the country? Journalist Violet Gonda brings you an in-depth interview with a leader of the war veterans Douglas Mahiya, who was arrested last month following criticism of Mugabe.
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Violet Gonda: Hello and welcome to the program Hot Seat, my name is Violet Gonda. In our 2nd episode of this new series we talk to Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association spokesman Douglas Mahiya, who was arrested last week following the release of a damning communiqué which described President Robert Mugabe as a genocidal dictator and urged the 92 year old leader to leave office.
Thanks for joining us Mr. Mahiya. Now the war vets association has been a major voting block for the ruling party but now you are being accused of undermining the authority of president Mugabe.. what can you say about this?
Douglas Mahiya: Violet you need to understand that the prefix-Cde – has been abused in this country by some people who have their own political ambitions. So some of the things that have been registered in the minds of the people and covered in the papers – that are not progressive were not committed by war veterans but by people who we see today protecting those interests that are negative to society. For example, the issue of corruption, the issues of bad governance. We have realized it is not proper for these people to call themselves comrades because they commit crimes against people in the name of comrades. So it’s not the real war veterans who did all those things that are registered by the people.
Gonda: So if that was the case why has it taken the war veterans association all this time to come out and stand with the people? Especially during the 2008 violence
Mahiya: Yes, I am happy that you mentioned the 2008 violence and this violence is attributed to the people who wanted to be called war veterans. They did a lot of atrocities in our name but they were not the real fighters. Yes it is true that we have taken so long (to speak out) but you have to understand Violet that ours was a revolution. It was a turning-about of a circle, to turn things around for the benefit of the people and what we did not have was the political power, which we then got in 1980. And we needed to do these things gradually and couldn’t make changes one time. So it has taken a lot of time and we expected the people with power to deliver. But to date we discover that not much has been done.
Gonda: But Mr. Mahiya this sound hard to believe especially as the people behind these atrocities were said to be war veterans – such as the violence seen in the commercial farms and during election time, and also which people are you really talking about when you say they were not real war veterans?
Mahiya: Ahh, let me take you back to the liberations struggle. There were people known as vana Mujiba and Chimbwidos. Those people behind the backs of the war veterans could do certain things that were contrary to the operations and regulations of the liberation struggle but still they called themselves war veterans. Let me also take you to the contemporary issue, so that you understand. The corrupt leadership in the government. The ZANU PF political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere has got a 50-roomed house and he calls himself a Comrade. If someone does not know Kasukuwere he will think those things are being done by war veterans. So people must understand this. Secondly, I don’t think it is important to dwell on the past – it is important to dwell on the future so that at the end of the day people will be able to achieve what they had long wanted to achieve.
GONDA: I think some people will disagree with you. It is important to talk about the past because we learn from this and not be repeated in the future. There are also calls from many, like exiled judge of the High Court Justice Benjamin Paradza, who say you need to ‘publicly and sincerely apologise for the shameful roles your group played in bringing misery to Zimbabweans over the years.’ What’s your response to this
Mahiya: Well if people are more concerned about an apology than a progressive position that will save our people then that is quite different. As long as I am convinced that these things were done by people who were not war vets, or who went about calling themselves war veterans – such an apology will be done simply to be together with the masses. Because we know the majority of the masses and the international community in general are more important to us than the current leadership in the country.
Gonda: Would you say Mugabe or Emmerson Mnangagwa and Joyce Mujuru who have been part of this system are not war veterans?
Mahiya: Well Violet if you are talking about what those people did then those people are high profile members of the party and whatever they did against the people it is not … or rather the war veterans is not answerable because they are not members of the association at all. Not all war veterans are members of the War Veterans Association. Those have been working and using the government and party apparatus, which we are not responsible of.
Gonda: There is a view that the reason you are now fighting the system is not because there is a governance problem but the fight is over succession… that the war vets’ common agenda about “Mugabe must go” is borne out of selfish interests and not out of national interests.
Mahiya: People must here it from the horse’s mouth. Let me give you this background. I am a son of a mother . I am a son of a peasant farmer. That is where I came from and since I went and came back nothing has changed in terms of their social, economic and political situation.
We are sons and daughters of society. Of the ordinary man that waged a struggle against the Smith regime and managed to grab political power which we thought was going to be used progressively for the benefit of that society and that did not happen. So the people who committed anything against society for the period you were talking about and the high profile people you were talking about – of course they are called comrades and they call themselves comrades but those people were not members of the association. They are members of the government.
Gonda: But Mr. Mahiya that is not what I am asking. How can you convince the masses who feel you are not there because you feel Zimbabweans are suffering but because of the succession issues in the ruling party?
Mahiya: People have to understand it when I say there is no better expression that I can give rather than explain exactly how we feel about it, exactly how we have analysed the situation, and identify the areas that are not proper for good governance. We cannot invent new expressions or words to be able to express.
Gonda: There is a general sentiment that you are aggrieved because the ZANU PF youths were given stands … that your sudden anti-Mugabe reaction is a response to the fact that you felt you were being sidelined in favour of the youths and the women?
Mahiya: War veterans are self reliant. We are against that idea. We are not worried about those residential stands because it’s not the end of the world. We are not worried about that but what we are worried about in that exercise – if ever the government wanted to do, it was to make sure that land was made available and given to the local authorities for distribution through a legal waiting-list with the local government. But the government has decided to do it another way which we think is not progressive and is an example of bad governance. We are not worried about those stands and we do not need them.
Gonda: How true is that statement really, that you are self reliant. When your critics say you are the largest recipients of ZANU PF patronage … that you have been given preferential treatment over the years – such as access to land and disability allowances.
Mahiya: For your own information when the land issue was done, it is true that the war veterans got land but that land as we speak is being withdrawn from the war veterans. So you must understand that the land imbalance that was there a long time ago was in the process of being addressed and in that process the masses and the war veterans were the target group. War vets also needed to make use of the land and that was the reason that we took up arms to fight the oppressors.
Gonda: When you say the land is being taken away from your members, are you saying you have not benefitted from the land reform program?
Mahiya: I wish you had enough resources, my dear to come to Zimbabwe and make an assessment of what is happening. You would discover that not many war veterans benefitted as we anticipated.
Gonda: Can you give us figures. How many of you are there and how many were given land?
Mahiya: Of course I cannot give you the numbers right now but you can believe it from that statement – that is the real position on the ground.
Gonda: In hindsight would it not have been better to advocate for a more conscious effort, such as fighting for a veterans hospital or veterans pension fund
Mahiya: ummmm the hospital issue and other benefits are issues that are enshrined in the war veterans’ Act or war veterans provisions. So that one is being implemented by government. However, this does not necessary mean that the hospitals will only be for war veterans alone but will benefit the society.
Gonda: Why is the government taking the land from the war veterans right now?
Mahiya: It’s because of the brand new character in ZANU PF – the Generation 40(G40), which is a new bad in that party. They don’t want to see the war veterans. They are the people spearheading this.
Gonda: There is a question that keeps coming up on the issue of sustenance… that is the issue of fees for war vets’ children still going to school…I understand the cash strapped government has to find at least $6million dollars a term to pay towards fees for war vets children… do u have figures of school kids that still need to be sustained?
Mahiya: You have to also understand that the war veterans as an association is a very poor organization and does not have the apparatus to capture information for information precision. But the children of war veterans that are school going today are the ones benefiting from the little amounts from the cash strapped government and this has only been done this year. All the other things have not been paid. It is supposed to be every term but there is no money for that and there is no money for treatment or for the burials. Nothing has been happening for a very long time now.
Gonda: So do you appreciate now what ordinary Zimbabweans have been going through and have been saying all these years about the regime?
Mahiya: Yes we do, we do. We saw that but we have not been the people who were in-charge of these things. What we needed all along Violet or what was not done was the implementation of an international program after the war – that is known as the DDRR – the Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration and Reinsertion. If that program had been done, if you research you will find out that all other countries had this program which is implemented with the assistance of the United Nations. But for Zimbabwe nothing was done. If it had been done there would have been no need to go to government because the reintegration and rehabilitation aspects would have been done. But this was not done for the war veterans of Zimbabwe. That is where a vacuum was create. Up to now it has not covered.
Gonda: How do you respond to people who say the war veterans are now old and toothless and don’t pose a real threat… that the reality is Mugabe doesn’t really need you anymore?
Mahiya: Oh well the question of age is true. The question of us being unable and … what did you say?
Gonda: Toothless. That you are no longer that powerful.
Mahiya: Ya if it about the physical strength at our age then it is true but if we are talking about the understanding of problems as they should be, you don’t look at the age. You look at the problem. As to whether the government is worried about us or feels any threat from us – I don’t know. But what we are talking about is that – we together with the masses will go back to the basics and fight against what we think is injustice – politically, economically and/or otherwise.
Gonda: Although you say those involved in the violence were not real war vets, traditionally our war vets are known as a violent group… Opposition political parties especially have consistently complained of being brutalized and traumatised by war veterans. So how do you reconcile with the past?
Mahiya: I am not sure if what I am going to talk about will be understood by people who did not go through that. But the reason why we succeeded in defeating the enemy was because of the relationship between ‘us’ and the people. It is the relationship that we have with the ordinary person and it is about the true veterans or the fighter who fought during the war of liberation. We created a relationship with the masses and that relationship still exist. So really if anybody is saying that – he is talking about those people who call themselves comrades and yet they are not.
Gonda: Ok, even those real comrades, as you say, where were they when members from the civil society or opposition were being brutalized? Even yourself. Where was your voice if you call yourself a real CDE?
Mahiya: Violet, let me give you an example of the slaves in America. It happened and it was happening and they are there. They speak, they might speak but you know the state has control of all information. Information is censored. War veterans have been talking and talking but never taken seriously.
Gonda: With all due respect – in the last decade Zimbabweans had not really seen this. What can you say about the solidarity you are receiving from Zimbabweans generally especially when you were arrested. Some of the people supporting you were demonized in the past and called agents of the west by war veterans … what can you say about that kind of solidarity?
Mahiya: Violet it is a confirmation of a real war veteran or the war veteran who executed the war. Their relationship with the masses is what was exhibited when I was arrested and the support that I got and we still have in this country. What we have discovered is that there is a new dynamic position in Zimbabwe – there is now a political conversion which we think we are going to promote.
Gonda: What is your stance on the ZANU PF succession issue?
Mahiya: The succession issue still remains a mystery to us. I think it is the reason why we have a so-called G40 in ZANU PF because it is a question of people trying to position themselves and take over power in case of calamities.
Gonda: So are you as war vets supporting the other faction that calls itself – Lacoste?
Mahiya: We don’t belong to any individuals. Those are media made groupings. We don’t belong to an individual at all and the ZANU PF infighting has nothing to do with the war veterans. Even if any one of them takes over power war veterans will not benefit from anything from that.
Gonda: So what exactly do you want. You say Mugabe must go – and then what?
Mahiya: The people must be allowed to choose a leader of their own choice. A leader they think will deliver the political and economic benefits that they desire. People have to have the freedom that they require in order to produce a leadership in government that they want. As long as that person is a Zimbabwean from where ever grouping/political party – we are not worried. What we want to see is to remain the (inaudible) of the people and assist them to achieve what they want to achieve politically.
Gonda: What did you make of Mandi Chimene’s comments regarding Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa? She accused him of leading a faction supported by the war veterans.
Mahiya: Those are the indications. Those are the issues that we are talking about surrounding the infighting in ZANU PF and the war veterans are not involved. They are only involved in the sense that they are Zimbabweans, we know what is happening there but we are not part of that.
Gonda: Mnangagwa seems to be under fire and seems to have abandoned the war veterans. Do you feel betrayed by him or you understand why he denounced you group recently?
Mahiya: War veterans have never been a grouping that is aligned to any individual or in these faction fights.
Gonda: So what did you make of his statement denouncing the war veterans?
Mahiya: If anybody denounces the war veterans, well that is when we will be able to defend ourselves like what I am doing. If anybody talks about what we have not done, we will simply prove it to him that we have not done it. That is the only instrument that we have.
Gonda: Exiled judge of the High Court Justice Benjamin Paradza said in an article recently that Mugabe does not care about the rest of the comrades because he was never a Cde in the first place. Do you agree with this?
Mahiya: I think he is talking about him (Mugabe) being a trained member of the ZANLA. A trained person and NO he has not been trained. If that is what he is referring to then that is the truth.
Gonda: So do you see him as a CDE?
Mahiya: Well the enmity that was between the fighters and the Smith regime and the enmity that is between us and him makes us doubt whether he was very sincere.
Gonda: You know Justice Paradza also said: ‘Your role in the violence that preceded the attack on Judges in their chambers and in the Supreme Court in 2001 resulted in the forced resignation of the Chief Justice and hence directly threatening the rule of law.’ Will you now respect the rule of law especially during elections?
Mahiya: Like I told you, the war veterans will want to go through an election so the people can elect a leadership that they want. The war veterans will assist the society to achieve that. Also the dimensions of political developments that we are talking about is a dimension that happened some time back. We as war veterans are looking at the wayforward rather than what happened during that time.
Gonda: Since you talked about the need to have had the DDRR, as an association what programs have you embarked on to ensure that, going forward, your members are on the right track as far as rebuilding Zimbabwe is concerned?
Mahiya: War veterans on their own cannot do it. That’s why they are going back to the people and together we will achieve.
Gonda: What do you make of the #ThisFlag campaign that was started by Pastor Evan Mawarire?
Mahiya: Mawarire and #ThisFlag campaign are doing a bit of what they think will assist the people of Zimbabwe achieve a political objective and I think it is their right. They have the war veterans’ support.
Gonda: And a final word
Mahiya: I would want the society in Zimbabwe to respond to what we are going to do. We are going to call people from various political backgrounds and affiliations to discuss these positions and unite them against our common problems.
Gonda: Thank you very much for joining on the programme Hot Seat.
Mahiya: Thank you.
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