Harare – War veterans once loyal to Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe have been “strangled by grief”, a top MDC official said on Monday, as crowds turned out in a Harare court to support a war veterans’ leader imprisoned for insulting the 92-year-old president.
Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association spokesperson Douglas Mahiya was granted bail by a magistrate in Harare, but his colleague Victor Matemadanda, who’d come to show solidarity with his colleague, was arrested at the courtroom.
The pair (and other veterans of the 1970s war for independence in Zimbabwe) are being pursued by the authorities because of their links to a statement from the former freedom fighters that was highly critical of Mugabe.
Nelson Chamisa, a lawyer who was recently appointed vice president of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and who was at the court, said: “Our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters who sacrificed their livelihoods for our independence have been robbed of hope and dignity, they have lost opportunities for their children and grandchildren and above all they have lost the promise of this great country.”
“The very essence of their struggle has been violated by those whom they have entrusted with their future,” Chamisa said in a post to Facebook. He said war veterans had been “driven to the cliff” in Zimbabwe, which is witnessing a wave of protests amid a worsening economic crisis.
A former war veteran himself, Mugabe has never faced a such a serious revolt from those who have been his staunchest supporters for decades. He plans to stand again in elections in 2018.
Angry and humiliated, the authorities say the statement was the work of a handful of war veterans’ leaders and not representative of the majority feeling.
But the scenes and songs outside the court, according to reports, were reminiscent (on a smaller scale) of the support shown for protest pastor Evan Mawarire who was imprisoned and freed last month.
Former vice president Joice Mujuru was also at the court. The leader of the Zimbabwe People First party, she has become more outspoken in her criticism of Mugabe and her ex-ZANU-PF colleagues recently.