HARARE – MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has assured war veterans that their welfare will be well catered for under a national policy his administration will adopt if he wins next year’s presidential elections.
Speaking during an exclusive interview with the Daily News at the weekend, the veteran opposition politician said if he were to be elected president, his government would come up with a war veterans’ policy “that will articulate the recognition of their contribution to the liberation of this country not based on who they serve.
“We want a social welfare programme that will look at their health and other needs. That is what is being done throughout the world where they have a special provision that speaks to the welfare needs of the war veterans,” Tsvangirai said.
War veterans — who have been associated with violent campaigns against opposition supporters as they propped up President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF in previous elections — have called on Zimbabweans to regard them as part of the solution to the national crisis rather than the problem.
“The war vets have got concerns, they have been marginalised by Zanu PF in the main, they are looking for opportunities for convergence and I think any alliance that we are going to build cannot exclude the ingredient of the war veterans, and I know what their concerns are,” Tsvangirai said.
Mugabe and his brawling ruling party have been working hard to heal the widening rift between them and the former freedom fighters, who stunningly ended their long relationship with the nonagenarian after they released a damning communiqué on him and Zanu PF in July last year.
Since then, Mugabe and Zanu PF have been dangling gifts to the war vets, including cash, land and vehicles, in a bid to strengthen the ruling party ahead of the eagerly-anticipated 2018 polls — after initial thuggish methods failed to coerce the disgruntled ex-combatants into line.
Tsvangirai accused Mugabe of ill-treating war veterans after “using” them as fodder in his power retention games since independence from Britain in 1980.
“Perhaps Mugabe has seen their numbers dwindling and no longer needs them as a force to keep him in power. I talk to the war veterans, especially the leadership, and I have always told them that the first thing that they should have understood is that they came from the people and we cannot divorce ourselves from them.
“The people are demanding their rights now and war vets should support them not undermine them, which had been characteristic of them when they were being used by Zanu PF.
“I have gory stories of people who were beaten up and tortured by the war veterans but I have said to them, ‘let us close that chapter now and go back to the ideals of the liberation struggle. Let us take the country towards a new direction where real freedom is enjoyed’.”
Tsvangirai revealed that when he met the leadership of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) following their fallout with Mugabe and Zanu PF over succession last year, the former freedom fighters had expressed fears that the MDC leader would reverse the land reform programme if he became president.
Tsvangirai assured them that the land redistribution structure and the process itself were theoretically and practically irreversible as it is provided for in the country’s Constitution.
Tsvangirai said he explained that he would not tamper with Mugabe’s land reforms which have led to about 5 000 white farmers being evicted from their land by Zanu PF supporters and war veterans over the past 16 years, often violently. More than a dozen farmers have been killed.
“They (war veterans) have always told me that they are worried that Tsvangirai is going to reverse the land reform programme but far from it, we are actually going to enhance it, we are going to enhance productivity and self-reliance and empowerment on those that have got land,” Tsvangirai said.
“After all, it’s a constitutional position. We can’t reverse the land reform programme. But we can make it a worthwhile land reform by making sure that people have access to finance. You cannot run an effective agrarian programme without finance.
“How do you do that? In fact it is a negation on the part of Zanu PF that you find people who have been resettled but have not been given any support and that they actually need food aid.
“How does that happen? We want to give title deeds so that farmers can access loans and be productive.”