- Political pawns or active agents?
Firstly, I want to congratulate all those involved in the publication of this journal on the occasion of its 75th issue forthcoming. I have been asked to comment on Mucha Musemwa’s paper (1995). It is nearly 20 years now since this paper was first published in this revered journal. Then I was just over ten years of age, perhaps far from imagining what sort of trade I would pursue in life.
The article addresses a critical question that has vexed post-1980 Zimbabwe. It discusses not only Zimbabwe’s liberators but also (though in a subtle way) the fate of Zimbabwe’s liberation. Written 13 years after 1980 the year of the supposed independence, the paper represents the growing disillusionment and an awakening from the liberation euphoria that characterised the time hence the title, ‘ambiguities of democracy’. Counterposed to the sorry state that Zimbabwe is today, such a title would qualify for a euphemism. A title for this day is most probably to read ‘failed democracy/independence’. John Saul’s (2007) article ‘The strange death of liberated southern Africa’, in a way reflects this disenchantment with what has become of ‘liberated Zimbabwe’. In particular the paper discusses in detail challenges that characterised demobilisation and reintegration of the former fighters. From the Musemwa paper one is convinced that the postcolonial state failed to adequately deal with the plight of ex-fighters. Written on the eve of South Africa’s transition from apartheid, the paper concludes with an attempt to draw lessons for South Africa.
The reflection paper presented today (in this issue) by the same writer traces what appears to be a love and hate relationship between Zimbabwe’s dominant party ZANU-PF politicians and the ex-fighters. It shows how Zimbabwe’s dominant party ZANU-PF has ‘recaptured’ the war veterans at the hour of great need – this, purportedly after alienating itself from them [End Page 132] through failure to address their plight as shown in the original paper. The veterans now play a central role in ZANU-PF’s political and economic reproduction by waging violent campaigns against ZANU-PF’s opponents. From this, the author concludes that the former fighters have been mere ‘pawns’ in ZANU-PF’s power retention scheme. It is here that I want to argue that such a conclusion would be too simplistic. Instead, ZANU-PF and war veterans’ relationship is more nuanced and needs to be located within the ZANU-military nexus that emerged from the latter years of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, particularly the enforcement of a civilian leadership in the form of ZANU upon the hitherto quasi-autonomous bush fighters.
In sum, my argument can be summed up thus: the agitation of war veterans must be viewed within the context of the general failure of liberation politics to deliver better lives. Within this general context war veterans can be viewed as an active special interest group that has fought to position itself within the state power complex to advance unique group interests. A distinction needs to be made between the political or elite war veterans and the generality of the public. The historical relationship between the political and the military is critical in understanding the ZANU-PF-war veterans relationship. On the whole, defining who a war veteran is within Zimbabwe’s current politics has become problematic, ZANU-PF’s politics of legitimation has altered what could otherwise be a plain and traditional definition of an ex-fighter. In this regard, perhaps Mucha’s reference to ordinary (perhaps versus ‘elite’) ex-combatants could have been explored further. This paper not only critiques Musemwa’s article but further discusses some of the issues raised therein.
After going through Musemwa’s piece I could not help but recall a 24th January 2011 news report in Zimbabwe’s private owned daily newspaper, Newsday:
Riot police drove out scores of war veterans who had invaded cottages at Lake Chivero claiming ownership of the properties in the name of indigenisation. A truckload of police in riot gear arrived at Lake Chivero in the afternoon and moved swiftly to restore order. When NewsDay arrived at one...