By Joel Mandaza
Zimbabwe got its independence through a protracted liberation struggle.
From the war, emerged veterans who by definition are men and women who played key roles in the war.
Given the apparent danger of war, their respect is non-negotiable. In countries like America, being a veteran comes with a degree of honour.
In Zimbabwe, it used to be the case except that our own veterans sometimes act like avenging spirits (ngozi).
Intermittently they make demands from Government which do not make conventional sense. In fact, the present economic crisis in Zimbabwe is attributed to this group.
They are said to be the trigger which left a black hole in Zimbabwe’s economy.
A bit of history.
In 1997, war veterans demanded that the Government compensate them for their heroic efforts.
At that point, the veterans were still physically active and some had not been disarmed.
Government through courtesy and calculated security concerns gave hefty payouts to the war veterans.
The payouts were not economically viable at the time, so Robert Mugabe went against economic logic and created money.
This weakened the Zimbabwean currency and it has not recovered since then.
The payout was a grave mistake as veterans adopted an extortionist mindset.
A precedent was set that when they exert enough pressure, Government gives in.
In 1999, when the quickfire land reform program was hastily implemented war veterans were again the biggest beneficiaries.
Two years after getting payouts, they got land, which is what anchors our economy.
Instead of strategically using the land to benefit the country and themselves in the process, they instead took over farmhouses and sold equipment.
Besides a few outliers, land reform has been a crying shame and a significant percentage of the landholders are veterans of the struggle.
After getting land and money which should have at least provided a basis for self-sustenance, war veterans are still asking for money.
Presently there is a Veterans of the Liberation Struggle Bill which Government is gathering contributions as they work to turn it into law.
Some of the contributions have been absurd if it was not tragic it would have been hilarious.
Recently, in Chitungwiza some war veterans demanded that they get tax free imports, free education and they get to host their meetings in five-star hotels.
— Open Parly ZW (@OpenParlyZw) January 31, 2020
There is a method to Zanu PF’s madness, they continue acceding to the demands of an ambitious nature.
The party since the war has benefited from the network of veterans in communities. They have worked as unofficial commissars especially during election time.
In 2008, during the bloody election run-off between Zanu PF and MDC, war veterans were at the forefront of brutalising perceived opponents.
Their continued presence in communities has subtly perpetuated political traumas in communities.
As a result, war veterans believe the relentless grip Zanu PF has had on the country’s politics is a product of their sweat.
The party has afforded them this bargaining wherewithal by referring to the war veterans as its stockholders.
If the status did not come at the expense of the whole country, it would not be an issue to those not interested in the operations of the party.
But unfortunately, it does.
The Zimbabwean government, which is failing to service its Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) debt to schools, is paying university tuition fees for war veterans’ children.
It means war veterans children whose parents received payouts and in some cases hold rich productive land are being prioritised at the expense of underprivileged children.
This has created a new problem for the country as the entitlement within the war veterans rank and file has transcended generations.
Now children of these veterans think they too deserve to be spoon-fed by the taxpayer because their fathers took part in the war.
If we are not careful we will have ten generations of people with vulgar entitlement.
The umbilical cord has to be cut in earnest if this country is going to develop.
If the Zimbabwean government so insists that it wants to continue babysitting veterans, their children and grandchildren, they have to do so in a strategic way.
Although I maintain it is not necessary, the country has bled enough.
They can create companies and consortium which generates money that is distributed among veterans.
That way, they will be able to eat what they kill.
It could be in agriculture as most veterans have land already.
If veterans fail to handle their own investment then they will have their own things to blame in future, should they find themselves starving.
This will instil a sense of responsibility in the veterans who have become parasites in the country.
The government cannot continue giving handouts to war veterans as if they are the only demographic, there are more pressing issues.
There is a joking statement which says “war veterans should take the country back to where it was before independence so that the new generation can liberate it themselves.”
This is more than a joke but a cry for help.
Those who fought to free the country are seeking to milk it dry. –