War veterans yesterday defiantly backed their embattled leader Christopher Mutsvangwa — a day after President Robert Mugabe publicly humiliated the minister for trying to lead a demonstration against his wife.
The former fighters were on Thursday tear-gassed by police in Harare as they tried to converge for the demonstration.
Some reportedly fainted after the police used teargas and water cannons to disperse them.
Mugabe, in a televised address, on Friday apologised to the former fighters but said Mutsvangwa was to blame for their battering by the police.
He said the minister organised an unsanctioned meeting and would be disciplined.
“We are all being abused, the president, his wife, in a manner that is very disgraceful. It’s a shame,” Mugabe charged, signalling that drastic action would be taken against Mutsvangwa.
But the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) said although it accepted Mugabe’s apology, it stood by Mutsvangwa.
ZNLWVA secretary general Victor Matemadanda told journalists in Harare that war veterans had their own structures that reported to Mutsvangwa, not Mugabe.
War veterans provincial chairpersons attended the press conference where support for Mutsvangwa was declared.
“He [Mutsvangwa] is not leading the president; he is leading us, and leading us very well,” Matemadanda said.
“Cde Mutsvangwa was not elected by the people who are here, but by the people around the country.
“As war veterans, he is our leader; he is leading us well, that is why we have provincial chairpersons here because they are in support of him.
“If other sectors do not want him, we will continue with him.”
Matemadanda, who together with ZNLWVA spokesperson Douglas Mahiya struggled to respond to questions raised by journalists, said Mutsvangwa was still their chairman.
Matemadanda said no one had the mandate to force Mutsvangwa out, in a pointed challenge to Mugabe, who is the ZNLWVA patron.
“The people who are here are not the ones who elected him. He was elected by the people in the first place,” he said.
“The comrades who chose him are saying he should continue, if we do that, the comrades are going to push us out and remain with Cde Mutsvangwa.”
Matemadanda added: “We are sitting on a mandate that we were given by the electorate and what we are saying is what the electorate is saying.”
He said they did not care how their statements would be interpreted.
“Don’t make news, take news and what I have given you is the news you should take,” he said.
“There are situations when people want to confuse the relationship between the president and war veterans; we want to smoothen the relationship.
“We cannot say more than we said. But if people want to read what they want from the words, we are not worried. We are in support of the president.”
Meanwhile, Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko dared “unruly” war veterans to leave Zanu PF and form their own political party.
Speaking at a Zanu PF rally in Marisamhuka, Mhondoro Mubayira on Friday, Mphoko said war veterans who demonstrated in Harare on Thursday were not genuine ex-freedom fighters.
“Those who talk bad about the president and First Lady are not Zanu PF.
“There is no war veteran who is under the command of the president who then turns against the president.
“Those who talk bad about the First Family are not genuine war veterans.
“If you want to form your political party go ahead. We know them.
“There are some who trained in the army in the early 1980’s and are now retired, they are not war vets.”
Mphoko appealed to Zanu PF commissar Saviour Kasukuwere to extend an olive branch to genuine war vets who strayed but were now apologetic, among them former serial Mugabe bootlicker, Webster Shamu.
“We have real war vets like Cde Shamu whom went to war with to liberate the country,” he said.
“We have his history and if someone comes and apologies and is prepared to follow the party, we have a lot of them, we want such comrades back into the party.
“Don’t turn them down because you fear to lose your posts to them.”
Shamu was made to stand up and chant a war cry song and he did not disappoint.
Despite being suspended for five years, Shamu had been attending most Zanu PF rallies and meetings.
But he is often booed for his association with the then Zanu PF gamattox faction led by former vice-President Joice Mujuru.
Shamu’s greatest weapons have silence, compliance and resilience.