By Cyril Zenda
THIS week, the ZANU-PF Mashonaland provincial leadership made a landmark decision to suspend (hopefully pending dismissal) Christopher Mutsvangwa from the ruling party.
What makes this commendable decision a watershed one is the fact that Mutsvangwa is a war veteran who is also national chairman of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association and more importantly the Minister of War Veterans Affairs.
He is also deputy secretary for War Veterans in the ruling ZANU-PF’s powerful organ, the Political Bureau, commonly known as the Politburo.
What brought about Mutsvangwa’s troubles is his knack to talk disparagingly about anyone whom he did not meet or hear about during his days in the war of liberation.
It appears like many in the party — including President Robert Mugabe himself and his wife, First Lady Grace — are getting increasingly irritated by his attitude and low opinion of others.
And it looks like this also extends to many Zimbabweans, of whom I am one.
A visitor to Zimbabwe who would hear Mutsvangwa pontificating about the war would have to be forgiven for sincerely believing that the man fought the war single-handedly and therefore he is the only person who qualifies to be a quintessential Zimbabwean.
The strong message this most welcome decision — the second in as many years and hopefully it succeeds this time around — sends is that no Zimbabwean is more Zimbabwean than the other . . . that Zimbabwe is not an Orwellian Animal Farm where some animals are more equal than others.
Honestly speaking, if one’s status in a society that purports to be a just one is to be primarily decided by what role they played in a war that ended nearly 40 years ago, then people would be right to start questioning the real motives of those that went to fight in this war.
Did they take up arms because they wanted to pull down a system that put people in different paddocks, or they went to war so that they could end up in the choicest of the paddocks that has the most greenery?
I might be wrong, but I think Mutsvangwa is one example of people who joined the war for reasons all the most dangerous to the democratic values of the whole bloody effort . . . he envied the privileges that the whites enjoyed, and he wanted all those privileges to come to him — and him alone — hence his present “us and them” attitude, not very dissimilar from that of Rhodesian whites. There is no true freedom fighter like that even in hell!
Thankfully, his colleagues in ZANU-PF have finally seen this reality and they have rightly marked him a divisive someone who is a serious threat to the party.
Sadly, this most welcome development is coming too late and too little as ZANU-PF party has for several decades benefited from the primitive type of politics that Mutsvangwa and others have become past masters at . . . if you can’t get something straight and clean in a free and fair democratic contest, pull out the war veteran card!
The war affected almost everyone — directly or indirectly — not only those who were militarily trained, so the US$4 billion question should be why giving special treatment to living war veterans and several of their generations at the expense of the “liberated” masses?
Talking of the war itself, after the historic April 1966 battle of Sinoia where the seven gallant freedom fighters suicidally tried to go it alone and were thoroughly vanquished by the Rhodesian firepower, the national war effort grinded to a screeching halt and for a good six years, everyone was stranded until the late Josiah Tongogara and others returned from China where a crash course in the fish and water strategy — a sine qua non of any viable guerrilla war — taught them the importance of the masses. It was only then that the freedom fighters started scoring one victory after another until the Smith regime sued for peace at the Lancaster House Conference. Had it not been for these masses that selflessly sacrificed virtually everything towards the war effort, the war would not have been successfully executed. Come Independence, that fish has the effrontery to tell the water to go hang!
After browbeating the government, in 1997, into giving them gratuities, monthly pensions and other benefits like free health and education for their families, these surviving war veterans went on to greedily demand 20 percent of land earmarked for resettlement purposes (even though they were less than even 0,5 percent of the national population!) among other rich pickings. And this endless catalogue of demands continues to this day, top positions in the government and the ruling party being some of them.
At the weekend, they were suggesting at the ZANU-PF conference, that they and their children, grandchildren and other chosen relatives and friends be exempted from paying toll fees on the national highways. As the sages say, give a goblin a taste of blood, it will demand some more. At this rate, who knows, very soon they could be demanding all the houses in Borrowdale, all the latest cars, return tickets and accommodation for themselves and their entire clans to international holiday destinations, all beautiful women and handsome men and some such. The reason is that some of them were in the bush for just two years. So how different are these people from the whites that they fought, who buried themselves with all mouth-watering featherbeddings imaginable in life in the middle of abject poverty simply because they were white?
The only Open Sesame one has to bring forth is a war veteran identity card and life becomes a bed of roses.
Mutsvangwa & Co have even set up one or two outfits calling themselves Children of Liberation War Veterans blah, blah, just to defend these shameless benefits… elitist benefits that only serve to make them lazy and less and less resourceful in life.
My own father died in the last days of the war when the members of the winning team started fighting among themselves for positions. He could have been someone up there because one of the top chaps who was throwing the ropes was a very close relative who ended up giving several ropes to even very distant relatives, but not in a single day in my life have I sought to benefit from his heroic war efforts. Only the lazy and the brainless seek to survive on the bizarre sense of entitlement arising from the fact that they or their forbearers fought to liberate this country.
I went to school just like any other child, sometimes paying my fees in kind, like through bricks and labour and have continued doing so to this day. Poor as it might appear, it is a life that is more dignified and satisfying than the parasitic lifestyle of seeking to take advantage of others.
It is actually a cringing shame that seemingly enlightened people like Mutsvangwa would try to teach their children to survive like savannah ticks.
Why should the State, a very poor one for that matter, forever owe a debt of gratitude to a people who claimed to have volunteered to liberate the country if those people have not developed healthy mercenary tastes in blatant negation of the very basis of the liberation struggle?
From my little knowledge, the most cherished prize to a bona fide freedom fighter is freedom itself — and possibly a sincere ‘Thank you’ as a thin icing on the cake — because no amount of material or financial emoluments can ever be reward enough for real freedom. Only a mercenary is thanked in cash and in kind. Unless Mutsvangwa & Co are suggesting that real freedom has become treacherously elusive and they are therefore seeking some form of consolation by rewarding themselves with whatever they can lay their hands on.
If 35 years down the line, people who did not militarily contribute to the liberation war effort are still treated as second-class citizens in a supposedly free country, then questions arise as to the real definition of the quixotic freedom that these liberators really brought. One might be forgiven to conclude that some of these people primarily fought for their own liberation… at which point the masses of Zimbabwe should rightly feel cheated because during war pungwes, they were assured that the war was about liberating everyone from all forms of injustices by anyone, the liberators included. From the way things had been allowed to degenerate in this country, those that appear rude enough to conclude that the country moved from a white minority rule to a black minority rule might not be entirely unjustified.
It is up to war veterans who joined the war for the right reasons to change their behaviour in a practical way so that even the so-called born-frees, who had no chance of witnessing the war, can start respecting, instead of fearing and resenting them.
Last but not least, my sincere wish is for Mutsvangwa to be outrightly dismissed from ZANU-PF so that he can join the ranks of the likes of Didymus Mutasa, Rugare Gumbo, Jabulani Sibanda, Joice Mujuru and others so that he can start really appreciating what it is like to be an ordinary Zimbabwean in the Zimbabwe that he “died” to liberate. After that I will make the most sincere of efforts to make Mutsvangwa, who is currently only my Facebook friend, one of my best friends.