“Armed Struggle” and the “War Veteran”

via: http://www.solidaritypeacetrust.org/1063/the-role-of-war-veterans/

via: http://www.solidaritypeacetrust.org/1063/the-role-of-war-veterans/

While the majority of east, west, and northern Africa attained their independence by the ballot during the early 1960s, the countries of southern Africa were forced to armed struggle to gain majority representation. Zimbabwe (then, Rhodesia) was one of the last on the continent to do so. Being a ‘settler-colony’, the white-managed Ian Smith regime sought to keep the country under permanent white rule. They declared Rhodesia independent from the United Kingdom, who at the time, were granting self-rule to their other colonial holdings. Smith refused to allow wider ballot access, believing that the masses of people, black or white, were not all competent enough to vote. Political parties such as ZANU and ZAPU were formed, though they were quickly banned and their leaders imprisoned. Holding on to his principle of a ‘qualified vote’, Smith forced black Zimbabweans to radicalize, in order to obtain political equality.

Matebele, followers of ZAPU (ZIPRA) and Shona followers of ZANU (ZANLA) took up arms under militant wings of the political parties. They conducted guerilla warfare from the bush, hiding and training across the border in neighboring countries that had already obtained their independence. The widest population in the country, by in large supported the ZANU effort led by Mugabe, who advocated a form of socialism via armed struggle. [1] This would bring independence by 1980, but not before all manner of atrocities were committed on all sides, including plane bombings of Air Rhodesia and the mass murder of Matebele ZAPU supporters by ZANU militants shortly after. Throughout the past 30 years, Mugabe and the ZANU-PF party line have attested that it was the war veterans’ effort which has brought the country’s freedom and independence. The war veterans are seen by the people as liberating Zimbabwe from white colonial rule and providing the hope of land and self-determination to the Zimbabwean people.

Since independence, ZANU-PF has made attempts to honor its war veterans with payouts and monthly pensions, a ceremonial burial ground, and the promise of land. The myth of the ‘liberating war veteran’ (and capitulating to them) is the source of Mugabe’s power, as well as his and Zimbabwe’s primary weakness. In 1997, war veterans numbering in the thousands demonstrated and rioted before confronting Mugabe personally, with the demand of higher pensions and farm land. That November, the increased pensions were granted, and the Finance ministry printed millions of dollars to accommodate the unbudgeted spending. The payments devalued the Zim Dollar by ½ in one day, with analysts labeling it ‘Black Friday’. Mugabe, unable to offer land legally, but to a few through his patronage system, told the war veterans that they would still have to fight to claim land of their own.  This led to reign of terror by many war vets against white farmers, and the first stage of the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy. [2]

While the image of the War Vets became tarnished internationally for their tactics, and detrimental effect on the economy, their reputation still carries much weight in the mainstream (state-controlled) Zimbabwean news outlets and with the average ZANU-PF supporter. The war veterans are covered with kid-gloves, despite their exacerbation of Zimbabwe’s ruination and their role as ZANU-PF political enforcers, prior to elections. Stories of the government’s failure to implement their demands dominate the Zim press, and since the initial payouts, War Vets are still demanding between 21% and 30% of seats in Parliament and ministry to cater specifically to their needs. In 2012, they sought retroactive pay of $18,000 (US), which they claim was an unfulfilled promise of the 1997 agreement. While they rightly deserve a ministry to address their issues, and representation within government, they have done so by, literally, holding Mugabe and the white farmers who still remain hostage to their demands.[3]

The pension demand has increased to $20,000 individually, nearly $1 billion in concessions, and has now come to include a share in the new Zimbabwean diamond trade. [4] The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), headed by the Jabulani Sibanda and the Joseph Chinotimba, both well-known commanders of farm invasions, denounce any change in tactic, as well as any attempt at reorganization. It is speculated that during the initial dole, ZNLWVA leaders raided the funds of the veterans account. “Those who are calling for either a new body or association are sick in the head. There is not going to be any other organisation because there is only one organisation that represents all the war veterans – that is the ZNLWVA,” declared the self-described ZANU-PF loyalist Chinotimba. A strategy employed by the veterans now includes weak attempts at accessing the diamond revenue to “cure cancer” and demands for the needs of the children of veterans. Since the 2013 election Chinotimba has received a ministry position in the Zimbabwe parliament, advocating these positions.[5]

Other superficial attempts from the ZANU-PF government to keep the favor of the War Vets, outside of regular tales of graft and corruption, include the ceremonial ‘Heroes’ Day’. “The memory of the anti-colonial war as the revolutionary founding event is conveyed and sustained most powerfully in ceremonies held on Heroes Day, and re-presented at the state funeral of each newly proclaimed hero.” Heroes’ Acre has been the home of such ceremonies, which occur with greater frequency with time. The memorial complex was built on land which was originally intended for a new Rhodesian Parliament House. It contains murals depicting the history of the anti-colonial struggle from 1960 to 1980, and as “a place of pilgrimage, designed to arouse national consciousness, forge national unity and identity.” It is regularly featured in the media during frequent state burials. It is also often mentioned for the lack of progress towards a planned museum at the site, and misappropriated funds to that end.[6]

Heroes’ Acre, as presented by Mugabe and other loyalists is intended to be a national monument which tells the Zimbabwean independence story. The monument doesn’t address what has become of the country post-independence, and it is near impossible to tell whether this country was liberated by the War Vets or terrorized by them. As with the countries land issue, the dole has not been equitable, and has rested on ethnic lines and political loyalty. Cars, cash, contracts, and cabinet positions come as a result of services rendered to Mugabe and ZANU-PF. To those who disagree with the party rhetoric, the monument is an example of the corruption of their ethics to the detriment of their country; a regularly looted investment coffer, pillaged by those entrusted to keep it, and a symbol with the purported claim of unity, regularly denounced for its disunity.



[1] Mhanda, W. ‘The Role of War Veterans in Zimbabwe’s Political and Economic Processes’. 13 May, 2011. Solidarity Peace Trust

2 Ibid.

3 “War vets demands outrageous.”.News Day. 20 February, 2013.

4 Zvauya, C. $1 billion for war veterans in Zimbabwe. Nehanda Radio. 19 February, 2013.

5 Manyukwe, C. What to make of Joseph Chinotimba. Nehanda Radio. 31 October, 2013.

6 Fisher, J. L. Pioneers, settlers, aliens, exiles the decolonisation of white identity in Zimbabwe. Canberra, 2010.

[1] Mhanda, W. ‘The Role of War Veterans in Zimbabwe’s Political and Economic Processes’, 13 May, 2011. Solidarity Peace Trust

[2] Ibid.

[3] “War vets demands outrageous.”.News Day. 20 February, 2013.

[4] Zvauya, C. $1 billion for war veterans in Zimbabwe. Nehanda Radio. 19 February, 2013.

[5] Manyukwe, C. What to make of Joseph Chinotimba. Nehanda Radio. 31 October, 2013.

[6] Fisher, J. L. Pioneers, settlers, aliens, exiles the decolonisation of white identity in Zimbabwe. Canberra, 2010.

Daniel Ernest Malo – Undergraduate, University of Connecticut; Social Sciences ‘14

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