HARARE – Angry about their continued political and economic marginalisation in independent Zimbabwe, ex-war detainees and collaborators are taking a leaf out of the ongoing agitation by restless war veterans for more democracy dividends, demanding their own meeting with President Robert Mugabe.
Respected Zanu PF elder and patron of war-time detainees, Cephas Msipa, told the Daily News yesterday that it was unacceptable that tens of thousands of ex-detainees and war collaborators — commonly referred to as mujibas and chimbwidos — continued to live in squalor, while many had died paupers, in a country that was rich in natural resources.
He also bemoaned the fact that Zanu PF and government efforts aimed at assisting people who had played a part in the liberation struggle were mostly focused on vocal ex-combatants, to the exclusion of other war-time participants.
Msipa’s comments followed the recent meeting that an under pressure Mugabe had with war veterans in
Harare, which was promptly followed by the release of an unbudgeted $6 million for the upkeep of the former freedom fighters and their families.
Frustratingly for ex-detainees and war collaborators, the meeting was a decidedly no-go area for them — a development that Msipa described as both “unfortunate and grossly unfair”.
He said the government, as well as some Zimbabweans, had seemingly forgotten the fact that many war veterans had been inspired to join the struggle by ex-detainees and war collaborators, and yet only the ex-combatants were getting the benefits of the struggle and independence — while others had to make do with hard-to-get, miserly and erratic allowances.
“I am the patron of war detainees and I have for a long time now been talking to the ministry (of War Veterans and Detainees) about the welfare of our people, which is sad. However, officials from the ministry now assure me that they will look into the problems that I have raised.
“It must be remembered that is us who inspired the liberation struggle. It is us who were at the forefront,” the retired Msipa, who once accommodated Mugabe in his Highfield home during the early days of the struggle, said.
“I heard that Saviour Kasukuwere (minister of Local Government) is going to give housing stands to youths, and I hope he will also extend that to us too. Most of the people concerned are old and don’t have houses of their own, and they have families just like everyone else and are struggling,” he added.
Former Zanu PF bigwig and now senior official of Zimbabwe People First, Kudakwashe Bhasikiti — who was one of a few war collaborators who managed to climb up the political ladder after independence — also told the Daily News that it was “unfortunate that people are suffering when they risked their lives” during the struggle.
“I have an issue with the war veterans who operate as mercenaries. War collaborators, who are by far in the majority, are wallowing in deep poverty yet they are the ones who arguably played the greatest role to achieve freedom in Zimbabwe,” he said.
Zimbabwe Liberation War Collaborators’ Association (Ziliwaco) chairperson, Pupurayi Togarepi — who is a sitting Zanu PF politburo member — also said members of his organisation were getting “agitated” because of the seeming inertia in dealing with their welfare.
“As Ziliwaco, we have been expecting help for some time now, and waiting is always difficult. While as leadership we are not panicking yet, the membership is now worried.
“They are expecting something, for example, that government should come up with benefits such as free healthcare and school fees for our children,” Togarepi told the Daily News yesterday.
In the meantime, observers say only opportunists were seemingly enjoying the fruits of independence, while struggle stalwarts such as the late Edgar Tekere, the former secretary general of Zanu PF, had died beggars after having been abandoned by their party.
A Zanu PF stalwart who requested anonymity said the story of the late Clement Muchachi, who died a pauper and had been photographed as his family was taking him to hospital in a donkey-drawn scotch-cart, still haunted him.
“Muchachi, who came from the Midlands, was destitute when he died after he was dumped and forsaken by the party. Similarly, Tekere — who was a founding father of our party — died a poor, broken man, having also been discarded by the party.
“Another liberation war icon, Andrew Muntanga, was only remembered in death after having been abandoned by the party and having lived a sorry life in Binga, while his family struggled with hospital bills. No wonder, his son Dominic had no kind words for Zanu PF at his burial,” the bigwig said.
Dominic, who is now living in Namibia, did not only chronicle his father’s exploits and suffering before and after Zimbabwe’s independence in April 1980, he also spotlighted the dire life that people in his community have.
“The Tonga people have not drunk from the cup of prosperity of independence. We have the Kariba Dam, but the Tongas have no clean water and no electricity. Zimbabwe has rejected the Tonga people and the Tonga language,” he said.