FOLLOWING recent concerns raised by the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), that government has neglected their welfare, 43 years after independence, a cross section of Zimbabweans believe the freedom fighters are becoming irritating “cry-babies” given the handouts they have received over the years.
The ZNLWVA is funded by government, while war veterans whose credentials have been verified by government, have benefitted from various government schemes to empower them.
These include monthly pensions, land allocation and free fees for their children up to university level, among other things. Those with companies are given preference on government tenders.
War veterans however about 90 percent of the former freedom fighters are living in abject poverty.
Speaking to the press on Wednesday, the National Interim Committee Vice Chairman of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), Cde Ethan Mathibela said despite the framework that was put in place by the government to embark on various business programmes and projects which would guarantee improved living standards and social comfort for former liberation stalwarts, about 90 percent of them have not benefited anything.
“Forty-three years after independence, ex-combatants are still wallowing in abject poverty and they have nothing to show for it. It is indeed a total embarrassment to witness that the majority of veterans have no access to basic healthcare services, a decent living pension, and no roof over their heads they would call their own,” he said.
Mathibela said the living conditions of war veterans was unacceptable more-so because their erstwhile colleagues are running the government today.
“They should be the first to understand the plight of the rest of the veterans of the liberation struggle because they shared trenches with us, risked their lives with us, and had their backs protected by us to enjoy the independence under their purview,” said Mathibela.
A cross section of Zimbabweans however feel some of the economic challenges that Zimbabwe is facing today is as a result of unbudgeted payouts, which were given to war veterans during the Mugabe era.
For example, on 14 November 1997, the Zimbabwean dollar lost 70% of its value against the US dollar while shares on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange tumbled in what is now known as “Black Friday”. While there are many contributory factors, including anxiety over government policies and the failure of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme, the major cause was the issuing of ZW$50 000 gratuities to war veterans.
The gratuities were unbudgeted.
Government paid out the gratuities after sustained protests by war veterans, who were led at the time by the militant Dr Chenjerai Hunzwi.
The massive plunge of the local currency signaled the genesis of economic collapse and heralded the beginning of a downward spiral in the country’s economic fortunes.
Zimbabwe has never recovered from the 1997 blow.
In 2016 war veterans’ spokesperson Douglas Mahiya demanded a fresh round of gratuities for freedom fighters, who have now raised their voices yet again.
Government, which is on an appeasement drive ahead of the 2023 general elections, may be forced to act.
A Harare man, who spoke on anonymity said that the war veterans should stop being “crybabies” and own up for their mismanagement.
“They were given several opportunities but they failed to capacitate themselves with the limited resources that were given to them. As the country continues converging on one group and their unending-selfish grievances will continue affecting the growth of the economy.
For example, the country suffered heavily from the ZW$50 000 that was given to each war veteran in 1997. In addition, there is no unity within the structures of ZNLWVA which shows that nothing productive would come out of it even if they are given another series of compensation today,” he said.
Alfred Nicholas Mukandi from Goromonzi said freedom fighters were remunerated enough.
He said Zimbabwe’s war veterans were among the most remunerated people in our continent.
“They were given a ZW$50 000 lump sum and enjoyed a ZW$4000 monthly salary for a very long time. The veterans’ benefits contributed a lot to the collapse of our economy. Those who are old enough to remember the Black Friday of November 1997 will attest to this,” he said.
Rutendo Dube from Marondera agreed and further stated that claims by the war veterans were baseless and outrageous.
“Compensations should have been for the injured or maybe for the paralysed who were injured during the liberation struggle but surprisingly most of them are still able-bodied. We have seen it all. This is a looting tactic much like the party that they align themselves with. Remember the criminals surrounding the President, the mantra that died soon after it was launched, criminals with offshore funds to be brought to book? It’s just a race, smash and grab scheme. They are on a looting spree every time the so-called elections come,” she said.
Moreblessing Manomano from Mutare added that vakadya zvakawandisa vanhu ava. Mapurazi vanawo vana vanoendeswa kuzvikoro, mbeu vanopihwa but havaguti vanhu ava (they have benefited in so many ways. They got farms, the fees for their children is paid by government and they getting farm inputs but they are still ungrateful).
However, in an interview with She Corresponds Africa, a local politician, and LEAD president, one of the opposition parties in Zimbabwe, Linda Masarira said it is important for the nation to acknowledge the contribution of war veterans.
She said the freedom fighters should be treated with dignity.
“In most countries, the fighters of the liberation struggle are well taken care of, they are given dignified monthly payouts, medical aid, and decent accommodation to enjoy their retirements,” said Masarira.
“I believe that their grievances are valid. It is baseless to assume that those that were given the compensation misused the money. But in fact, it is important to understand that the Zimbabwean economy was in recession and this affected any form of investment that a person could have.
People lost money in banks and some lost their money in investments. In 2008, our economy got to a point that there was no money, there was hyperinflation and this affected everyone including these war veterans.”
She said government should consider the sacrifice that war veterans made for independence and ensure they have dignified livelihoods.