By Sij Ncube
Harare, April 09, 2016 – PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s much-hyped indaba with war veterans turned out to be largely a damp squib but analysts say the Zanu PF leader has asserted his authority over the freedom fighters which appeared to be waning in the past few months.
Mugabe has been under fire from war veterans since his wife Grace went on whirlwind tours of the country holding rallies in which she had occasion to attack Zanu PF rivals she accuses of trying to topple her husband.
She was further accused of directing her diatribes on war veterans.
This resulted in a messy fallout with the ex-combatants which culminated in the suspension from Zanu PF of their leader Chris Mutsvangwa and his wife Monica and other war veterans.
The fall-out was mostly played out in the media in which the verbose Mutsvangwa appeared to cast aspersions on Mugabe’s leadership with some within his rank alleging the veteran politician was a victim of “bedroom politics”.
The charge in 2014 saw former war veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda unceremoniously kicked out of Zanu PF.
After the skirmishes which appeared to split the already faction-riddled Zanu PF right in the middle, Mugabe moved with speed to call for an indaba to address war vets grievances.
In the run-up to the meeting held Thursday at the City Sports Centre in Harare, the boisterous war veterans appeared and sounded seriously aggrieved but after Mugabe’s 90 minute speech they trekked out of the venue looking like children they had been easily cajoled through what many find as false promises by the wily and Machiavellian politician.
In just under one and half hours, all the bravado was gone.
“Everyone gets promised some sugar, everyone goes home feeling sweet,” remarked a former state media journalist as war veterans returned to their provinces, hoping to reap the promised rewards after the address by their “Dear Leader”.
But critics have been quick to remind war veterans estimated to be 30 000 in the country that Zimbabwe is technically broke and Mugabe has no wherewithal to make good his promise of paying their outstanding debts, including fees for their children.
The war veterans demanded stakes in the mining sector and typical of his populist policies, Mugabe appeared to incite the former freedoms fighters to violate the constitution by invading the mines.
But they also conveniently forgot that there are the same people who caused the near collapse of the economy in November 1997 when Mugabe doled out unbudgeted lump sum payments of $Z50 000 each to an estimated 50 000 war veterans, leading to what is infamously referred to as Black Friday.
The economy has never recovered and this was further compounded by their seizure of white owned farms in 2000.
Ricky Mukonza, a political analyst who holds a doctorate in Public Management and works at the Tshwane University of Technology in South Africa, agrees the meeting was a damp squib.
“At the end of it all, they were exposed as a selfish lot who do not have the interests of the people at heart. What they raised were their own issues that fell short of addressing political and economic issues that are bedevilling the country,” said Mukonza.
“But the meeting worked in Mugabe’s favour in that it allowed him to tame the war veterans by deflating their emotions. By and large, the meeting served to reassert Mugabe’s authority over war veterans, something that had appeared to be waning in the past weeks.”
UK based journalist and economist Bekithemba Mhlanga, believes it was only Mugabe and the war veterans who took the meeting seriously.
“Everyone outside that meeting hall and some inside knew that it was just a facade. I doubt very much that it changes the dynamics much between the war veterans and Mugabe.
“Those against him and his faction know fully well that the red-lines have been crossed. The succession battle cannot be reversed now – it is a fight to the end,” said Mhlanga.
Maxwell Saungweme, a development analyst, chipped in saying the meeting was much ado about nothing.
He said that most of Mugabe’s meetings do not proffer solutions to succession, liquidity crunch, economic crisis, drought effects and collapsing social services sector.
“He might appear scared of them but right now the war veterans are not a priority to him,” said Saungweme.
MDC T spokesperson Obert Gutu, concurs the indaba was much ado about nothing, saying it would appear that the war veterans were outmanoeuvred and outsmarted by Mugabe.
“The war veterans presented a litany of demands that cannot be sustained by Zimbabwe’s collapsed economy. Nothing tangible came out of Mugabe’s meeting with the war veterans.
“For now, the veterans will have to accept that whatever Mugabe wants is what will happen. Up until such a time that the war veterans are bold enough to openly call upon Mugabe to step down on account of his advanced age and failure to stop the haemorrhaging of the national economy, the status quo ante shall prevail.”