Ex-combatants taken for a ride:

By:Ben T Semwayo

BEN SEMWAYOIn any country, war veterans are people held in high regard because they are the few who selflessly laid down their lives for the benefit of the many. Their task does not end with the winning of the war they fought, but continues in many forms for as long as they live. They are an inspiration to younger generations, who must take their place in facing the challenges that the country is facing during their own time. The former fighters set both the pace and the standards for posterity, and any failure on their part will unfortunately set a bad precedent that will get replicated over and over again in vicious circles, generation after generation, which inevitably results in the failure of the country to extricate itself from any undesirable situation it finds itself in. Needless to say, an inter-generational cycle of failure does not auger well for the country.

The legacy of war veterans should be a feeling of profound indebtedness by the public, towards the former fighters, a sense of extraordinary service to the nation that they offered. The public should continue to look to them as the people who came to their aid in their hour of need, and for that reason the presence of these gallant men and women should evoke a sense of security in the minds of the public, who should be made to see that the same people who fought for them, still care for them and are still relevant in their lives. Although they would not be expected to do what soldiers do in peace times, such as building bridges, repairing buildings and saving lives during natural disasters, duties for which they are paid, they can still play crucial social roles that that earn them the continued respect of the public. The best of the war veterans are those who interact with members of the public in a respectful, non-aggressive way, with a good sense of humour, often regaling people with hilarious stories that leave them in stitches. They have integrated well back into the society and they make no attempt to be feared or to impose themselves on the people. They are approachable, and they are a useful resource for history teachers, who ask them to be guest speakers who address school children about what it was like to fight in the war.

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In many countries war veterans are well-looked after, with special benefits that they are entitled to. Unfortunately the Zimbabwean war-veterans are a far cry from the description above. They are unemployed, poor, emaciated, hungry and angry. This sad state of affairs has come about because they have been given a raw deal by the government many of their comrades lost their lives to put in place. They have been given empty promises and have been turned against the people they fought so bravely to emancipate. As a result of their insatiable appetite for wealth, Mugabe and his cronies have turned to the war veterans at every election, and have used them to beat the people into submission, sparing no method, including torture, rape and murder. They have allowed themselves to be used and have been promised the earth, only to be forgotten after Mugabe has fraudulently retained his position as rogue president. For too long they have been used to protect the ill-gotten riches of the ruling elite of Zimbabwe.
The war veterans have been largely complacent, remaining true to the unwritten pact between them and Zanu-PF, that they have a union sealed in blood and must therefore stick together. They have religiously honored their part of the pact, but the ruling clique, intoxicated with power and wealth, has all but forgotten that it has comrades who have yet to taste the fruits of their labour and sacrifices. They became disgruntled but at first no-one could voice their concerns for fear of reprisals. Even war veterans have fear in their hearts, the fear of ruffling Mugabe’s feathers, for no-one does such an abominable thing and gets away with it. With the passage of time some raised their heads above the parapet and mustered the courage to speak out and the obvious happened: they were either mauled and hauled over the coals or made to vanish, resulting in the war veterans being consigned to their rightful place where they know who the master is.

At subsequent elections war veterans have threatened not to campaign for Zanu-PF because of the continued neglect they suffered, only to be outfoxed and sent terrorising people the length and breath of land. Now we read press reports that the war veterans in Manicaland have vowed not to campaign for Zanu-PF, but to defect to their most dreaded rivals and the largest party, MDC-T. It will be interesting to see whether they will actually carry out their threat this time around. For all we know, they have a long history of merely using this as a threat and toeing the line at the slightest rebuke from the master. The time has come for them to realise that Zanu-PF has not done anything for them for the past twenty years, and will not do anything for tem now. When such things happen it is certainly time to try something new. The should defect to MDC en masse.

What the war veterans seem not to understand is the fact that they will get a much better deal with the MDC-T in charge. The reason is plain to see. The party that has wrecked the economy is utterly incapable of increasing the economic output of the country, and with the economy in doldrums there is no way they can avail funds to keep the nation happy, war veterans included. The same goes for members of the army and the police: they may clamor for wage increases, but if the government is bankrupt and is channeling public cash into personal accounts there is no way it can cough up enough money to keep everyone happy, because it simply does not have the means and is clueless about how to revamp the economy. MDC-T’s well-documented performance in the GNU attests to the fact that it can be relied on to deliver infinitely better than Zanu-PF.

Morgan Tsvangirai has repeatedly assured the war veterans that once in charge, he will make sure that they get the recognition and benefits they deserve, but this has fallen on deaf ears. Whether it is because of fear or the desire not to be seen as having sold out, the war veterans have, at least for now, decided to stick with the sinking ship. What they need to remember is that a non-ex-combatant who can put something in your stomach is better than a comrade who begrudges you both food and your very livelihood. Having said that, the war veterans should have realistic expectations of the kinds of benefits they are to receive, and should not expect pies in the sky.

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