Zimbabwe War Vets

Paper presented by Wilfred Mhanda to the SAPES Trust Policy Dialogue Forum in Harare on 7 April 2011. Wilfred Mhanda, aka Dzinashe Machinugura, was a commander of the Zimbabwe People’s Army (Zipa), and in the leadership of the alternative Zimbabwe Liberators Platform.
Zimbabwe’s former liberation fighters have become a household name for all the wrong reasons. This paper will seek to trace the development of the role of war veterans in Zimbabwe’s political and economic processes particularly from 1997 onwards to date and provide a contextual background for their perceived role and put the public perception of the former fighters in perspective.
The war veterans came into being with the demobilisation of those former ZIPRA and ZANLA fighters who were not attested into the Zimbabwe National Army, ZNA in 1980. The advent of Zimbabwe’s independence on 18 April 1980 and the subsequent formation of the Zimbabwe National Army made the former liberation armies both superfluous and redundant as their mission of liberating Zimbabwe had been accomplished. ZIPRA and ZANLA no longer had any role to play in an independent Zimbabwe. From then onwards, we could only refer to former ZANLA and former ZIPRA fighters. It is these fighters who then became referred to as veterans of the national liberation war. Maintaining the ZIPRA/ZANLA labels and their links to the liberation parties would have only served to undermine the unity and cohesion of the new army as evidenced by the counter-productive ZANLA/ZIPRA clashes in places like Entumbane in 1980/81.
The former fighters were weaned off from their parent political parties ZANU and ZAPU and their welfare became the responsibility of the new Government of Zimbabwe and not of their former mother parties. Any links with the political parties could only now continue in terms of individual membership of those political parties. It is instructive to note that, technically, the overwhelming majority of the former fighters were never card...