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We must all go together to the police cells in the same way we traveled to the warfront during Rhodesia, screamed our two war veterans, while confronting police officers near Africa Unity Square in Harare yesterday.
This country was built on top of the graves of those who sacrificed for it, exclaimed a male war vet.
Disgruntled war veterans yesterday withdrew their affiliation to the ruling Zanu PF party after they were arrested, for the second time in as many months, for protesting against poor pension stipends.
Some 40 ex-combatants were detained at Harare Central Police Station after they gathered at the Africa Unity Square to protest over the $16 000 monthly allowance they are getting from government.
Others were detained at Rhodesville and Borrowdale police stations.
Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said he was yet to get a briefing on the charges being laid against the war veterans, who are being represented by Tinashe Chinopfukutwa, Paida Saurombe and Blessing Nyamaropa of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
This is the second time the former freedom fighters have been arrested this year. In August, nine of them were arrested for protesting at Finance minister Mthuli Ncube’s offices, demanding a review of their pension benefits.
They were, however, released at night without charge, allegedly following instructions “from the top”.
But Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) chairman Christopher Mutsvangwa immediately accused a Zanu PF faction, G40, and the MDC Alliance of inciting war veterans to protest against government.
Yesterday, the protesting ex-combatants, who are members of the War Veterans’ Welfare Pressure Group (WVWPG) and drawn from across the country’s provinces, accused President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government of neglecting them.
Police in riot gear stormed Africa Unity Square, where the war veterans were gathered and blocked them from submitting a petition to Mnangagwa for review of their pension earnings.
Some ex-combatants fled from the scene before arrests following a violent confrontation with the police.
WVWPG chairperson Amos Sigauke said the heroes of the armed liberation struggle were disappointed with Zanu PF as he announced the end of their “political marriage” with the ruling party.
“We are not attending (the conference) because we are not Zanu PF,” Sigauke said in reference to the ruling party’s national conference taking place in Bindura.
“We have nothing to do with Zanu PF. We are not involved in Zanu PF politics. We are not even a Zanu PF faction. Zanu PF has its own problems, which we are not concerned with.
“If there is anyone among us who wants to attend the Zanu PF rally, they can go in their own capacity.
“We are not concerned about their affairs. What we are concerned with is for government to consider our plight and review our monthly earnings. If government addresses our concerns, then you will not see us here.”
Zanu PF acting spokesperson Mike Bimha said members of the ZNLWVA were part of the party conference underway in Bindura.
“The war veterans that were allegedly protesting in town are just a few individuals with their own views detached from the position of the association which is affiliated to our party,” he said.
“The ZNLWVA is the latest wing which joined to form our party and we are working well with them. If there were issues with regards to the members’ affiliation to the party, the chairperson Comrade Mutsvangwa would have notified us.
“So far, there are no complaints as far as membership of the war veterans in Zanu PF is concerned. War veterans are part of the proceedings of the conference underway.”
Mutsvangwa yesterday refused to comment, referring questions to Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri, who was not picking calls.
ZNLWVA spokesperson Douglas Mahiya was also not reachable for comment.
Another war veteran, Obert Hazvinei Machingura from Mvurwi, however, said the former combatants were holding protests because of false promises made by Mnangagwa’s government.
“We have seen other groups, including the ruling party itself, being permitted to conduct protests, but we are being blocked,” Machingura said.
“We have gone back to the (late former Rhodesia Prime Minister Ian) Smith regime. We are not allowed to speak. Why is it so hard for the authorities to allow us to submit our petition to the President?
“We are wallowing in poverty, but we contributed immensely to the liberation of the country. Some of us lost limbs, relatives and homes to free the country, but what is the reward for that?Nothing.”
Mildred Chimurenga, who came all the way from Kwekwe, said the arrests were an indication that there was limited freedom of expression in the country under Mnangagwa.
“Government should be committed to improving our welfare the same way we dedicated our lives to the liberation of this country,” she said. “We have been reduced to beggars when we deprived ourselves of some freedoms and opportunities to enrich ourselves and chose to go to war. However, only a few are enjoying the benefits.”
MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa said war veterans deserved respect. “One thing I will never do as president of Zimbabwe, I will never harass, terrorise, disrespect, victimise, disregard and forget our war veterans and liberation heroes,” he said.
“Their welfare is and shall be our top priority. All their grievances must be addressed. Stop harassing or arresting our liberation heroes.”
The ex-combatants have been a key cog in Zanu PF’s election campaigns since independence. -Newsday