Harare – Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe on Thursday sought to shore up his hold on power by offering reassurances to war veterans who have become increasingly vocal in their criticism of his regime.
The war veterans have often played a crucial, and violent, role in supporting Mugabe.
But, as the 92-year-old president has become more frail, they have been infuriated by criticism aimed at them by Mugabe’s wife, Grace, 50, who is one possible candidate to succeed him.
“I am sorry you have not had this opportunity before,” Mugabe said addressing his first open meeting with war veterans since fighting ended with Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.
“The condition of the war veterans is a priority and I leave you with my promise,” he said, vowing to allocate money to pay for hospital bills and children’s school fees.
In February, Zimbabwean police shocked many observers by using water cannons and teargas to prevent a meeting planned by the war veterans to air their grievances.
Some of the veterans back former vice-president Joyce Mujuru, herself a former fighter, to take over from Mugabe.
She was expelled from the ruling ZANU-PF party in 2015 at the apparent instigation of Grace Mugabe, who accused her of plotting to topple the president.
“Some are calculating the President is going to die,” Mugabe, who has ruled since independence, told the crowd of about 10 000 at a sport centre in Harare.
“That’s why you see people now jostling each other [for power]. To put you to shame, I am not dying.”
Starting in 2000, the war veterans led the seizures of white-owned commercial farms in what Mugabe said was a reversal of imbalances from the colonial era.
The seizures have been blamed for a slump in food production that contributed to the country’s economic collapse.
Some veterans are also accused of the widespread intimidation and violence during recent elections that have kept Mugabe in power.
“We played a role in the liberation of our country,” Menias Chimbaira, 62, told AFP.
“We need to remind the younger generations, especially the young politicians, to accord us our right place.”