President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday said that he would hunt down war veterans who recently criticised his 36-year-rule.
Standing next to his wife, Grace, who has amassed extraordinary political power, Mugabe made his first public appearance on Wednesday since the war veterans said it was time for him to go. He said those who criticised him faced punishment.
The National Liberation War Veterans Association said he should retire, blamed him for the poor economy, and also told him they would not support him in the next elections in 2018.
The group of men who Mugabe lashed out against at the Zanu PF headquarters on Wednesday, are the hard core of the political force which helped deliver him election victories, especially in rural areas, for the past 16 years.
They played a role in some of the violence against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) ahead of the run-off in the 2008 elections after MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the first round. It was the same veterans who persuaded Mugabe to seize white-owned farms in 2000.
But now these veterans are older, and like most Zimbabweans very much poorer, and there was limited cash in the banks and they only received their R3 000 per month pension from time to time.
They were no longer at the centre of power within Zanu-PF and have been replaced by a new generation of younger members, who support Grace Mugabe.
Looking fit and energetic, Mugabe told the large crowd of Zanu-PF supporters and party officials at the party headquarters that he intended to remain in power:
“As long as the party still wants me to serve, if I still have the energy and still have the life, I will continue,” he said.
Mugabe also said the war vets’ association needed a new leadership.
“We have assigned some leaders in the party to investigate the origins of this document and give the names of those distributed it. They will be punished severely,” he said.
Opposition to the government has grown after an unprecedented liquidity crisis hit the economy earlier this year, and civil servants, including the military, are now receiving salaries late.
The latest late payment for June salaries, led to a widely observed national strike on July 6 that gained support from a part-time pastor, Evan Mawarire, who tweeted his #ThisFlag campaign criticising Mugabe and calling for people to stay away from work.
He was then arrested, charged and released the next day. He has now come to live in South Africa with his wife and family. Mugabe again threatened Mawarire on Wednesday.
“Once you begin to get involved with our politics, you are courting real trouble,” Mugabe said.
“We know how to deal with our enemies who have been trying all along to effect regime change.”
Political scientist Eldred Masunungure told reporters in Harare that Mugabe had been damaged by the war veterans’ recent critique: “This is a result of his failure to hand over power. The succession war is driving towards a tipping point,” he said.
A war veteran from the 1970s struggle to end white rule said late Wednesday that Mugabe’s statement was “menacing.” and “worrying”.
There are unconfirmed reports that several veterans were looking for “safe houses,” after Mugabe’s threat against them. They have not reacted yet to Mugabe’s hardline statements against them.
– African News Agency (ANA)