The number of war veterans has more than quadrupled from 34 000 in 1997 to over 142 000 this year following a government decision to compensate more ex-freedom fighters, with critics warning that the move could have long-term repercussions for the economy.
The number now includes ex-political prisoners, detainees and restrictees from the war that led to independence from Britain in 1980.
Critics say the compensation is meant to grease them to support the ruling Zanu-PF party ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Zanu-PF has since 2000 been accused of using the war veterans in violent campaigns in a bid to retain power.
Buckling under pressure from the militant ex-combatants, the late former President Robert Mugabe administration paid them a once-off $50 000 (US$4 300) in 1997, which sent the Zimbabwe dollar crashing in what was later dubbed as Black Friday.
When the war veterans were paid their gratuities, some of them claimed that they had sustained 99% injuries during the war and yet they had no visible disabilities.
In a recent statement, Defence and War Veterans minister Oppah Muchinguri stated: “In terms of section 8 of the Veterans of the Liberation Struggle Act, those who were successfully vetted, 144 200 are deemed to be provisionally successful until their names are published in the Government Gazette for 30 days.”
Muchinguri said if there were no representations days against their accreditation after 30, those registered would be deemed accredited.
Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association chairperson Christopher Mutsvangwa did not respond to questions from NewsDay yesterday saying he was in a meeting.
Last year, some war veterans were arrested after protesting in the Africa Unity Square in Harare over poor living conditions and gratuities.
Despite that the 2022 national budget did not provide for war veterans’ gratuities, the ex-combatants are assured of compensation as the country heads towards the 2023 elections.
Political commentator Farai Gwenhure said the ruling party was going back to its default setting of dishing out trinkets to war veterans in exchange for retaining power.
“When Zanu-PF starts to talk about the welfare of war veterans, know that it has been cornered. The war veterans have been the mainstay of the ruling party,” he said. “It is sad that the war veterans continue to be used and abused by a few people who want to retain power at all costs.”