Saturday, November 19, 2016

Zimbabwe Minister Dube: ‘Onus On Us to Solve War Vets’ Problems’
November 19, 2016
Interview with Tichaona Zindoga
Zimbabwe Herald

The contentious issue of war veterans and their relationship with the ruling party and Government has once again bobbed to the surface. Promisingly, dialogue is underway and this week the former fighters met with the responsible Minister, Retired Colonel Tshinga Dube (TD), his Permanent Secretary, Walter Tapfumaneyi, as well as Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi, who is also zanu-pf secretary for war veterans’ affairs. Issues under discussion are expansive, but Rtd Col Dube tells The Herald’s Political Editor Tichaona Zindoga (TZ) that common ground is possible. But he also warns a strident anti-war vets clique within the party that “pride comes before a fall”. Read on . . .

TZ: This week you held what was described as a crunch meeting with war veterans in Harare. Can you give us the context in which you were holding the meeting and what came of it?

TD: The truth is the war veterans led by Cde (Christopher) Mutsvangwa actually proposed the meeting through the party headquarters, they wanted to meet us. When my secretary told me that he had been approached by an officer at Zanu-PF Headquarters to say he had discussions with Cde Mutsvangwa, that we should meet and brainstorm on various issues affecting our relations, I was delighted because as you know, we are doing everything we can to unite war veterans.

We are clear that Mutsvangwa, in spite of the problems that he has had, still commands a lot of respect from the constituency of war veterans. It would help us to understand where we can get along, where we differ if at all, and after all we are all war veterans and have the same DNA, there is no reason why we can’t talk when we have issues to settle.

So we were very happy. At first we thought we would make it a bigger meeting involving even some service chiefs and so forth as we usually do. But with the advice of our Secretary for War Veterans in the Politburo, he said we must start it small and thus have talks about talks.

We thus decided to keep it smaller. We got a delegation from the War Veterans Association and members of our ministry and a few members from the party headquarters, in the Commissariat department, who work under the War Veterans desk, that is under Cde Sekeremayi. This is how the meeting started.

TZ: What were the main issues that you discussed?

TD: As I said, it was a brainstorming meeting to find out where we agree and where we don’t agree and this is exactly what we did. In most cases we found that there were few areas of difference.

Sometimes these areas are exaggerated by the Press or by distortion by people who completely exaggerate and sensationalise certain issues. We had a very cordial meeting. Of course, it cannot be 100 percent because there are still views that we cannot say we agree with completely. But as a whole, I must say the meeting was almost 80 percent productive.

TZ: It is emerging now that the war veteran question has moved from a mere welfare issue to a political issue. What is your comment on that?

TD: War veterans are in actual fact politicians themselves. You see, when we were out in the bush, we were taught so much politics. Politics was our breakfast, it was our lunch and our supper.

That is why commissars had so much work to do. Because someone who handles a gun without politics in him is like a mercenary. But we were not mercenaries because we were not paid. We were fighting a political war.

You must understand war veterans are politicians. They went to fight because they had a cause and it was all driven by political goals. So it is nothing new at all. We do make mistakes sometimes as politicians to think that war veterans are people you can use sometimes for your own end politically.

That is a very big mistake to make with them. They watch you, they understand what you are trying to do with them and when they react, you think they are undisciplined. But do you realise that they are very politically mature like all other politicians who are here?

Sometimes they are even more mature than some of the politicians. A man who is able to sacrifice his own life for a political cause means he has a conviction.

TZ: Related to that, some would say Zanu-PF now is being held to ransom by war vets. What is your comment?

TD: That is not true. You see, they are not given enough room to express their aspirations. When we were in the bush together, cadres and political leaders, we were one and the same people driven by political aspirations.

But now the situation has changed. There is a big gap between us and the war veterans. We used to share the same trenches and foxholes, now some of us are moving in fine 4x4s and having big mansions, our children going to very good schools. But the war veterans still struggle, some of them even think they were better off in the bush than they are now.

So those are some of the differences that affect our relations. We are not saying that all people must live equal lives. That is a utopia to think all people can be the same. Even those people like Robert Owen who tried these theories found that it was not possible. That is why communism failed because you can’t have people live exactly the same lives.

But there must be some basic satisfaction for everybody. Everyone must have enough to eat, a roof over his head, and most of the basic things of life such as medical treatment when you are not well, schools for children, which the Government is trying very hard to do.

If all these issues are taken care of, you will find that our relations will be much better.

TZ: But as it stands now, and we give the example of Norton, some war veterans came out celebrating the loss of Zanu-PF. Does that not worry you as Government and party that the state of alienation has grown to a big?

TD: It just shows anger. It is anger and nothing more. It doesn’t mean those who celebrated are no more Zanu-PF. But they have a grievance against the party, they feel like they were abandoned by the party.

The little that we are doing, yes we are trying very hard, is not enough. Look, it happened when some of the war veterans had been expelled from the party. They feel that the party has not treated them fairly. So some of them are going to the courts of law now.

They also don’t feel very good. Maybe if you were in the same position, you wouldn’t either. So these are some of the grievances that they have. And when you have a grievance, you don’t think properly, you are motivated by the grievance.

I don’t think if all things were equal they would be happy when Zanu-PF lost an election because they would feel it’s them who have lost the election. But now they think it`s them who have lost an election not us.

TZ: We have elections about a year-and-a-half away. Does this not spell something very dangerous for the ruling party?

TD: That is why some of us feel that we must do everything to make sure we iron out our differences. There are people who are too proud to think of that. They believe that as Zanu-PF, we are invincible.

But there can be a possibility that we are beaten in elections. Not because we haven’t done enough, but because we become too content with our performance. This happened in South Africa recently when ANC was thought of as an invincible party, but you can see they lost all the big cities in South Africa. Why? Their loss came from the same attitude that we have.

I believe that instead of spending time chasing each other from the party or throwing each other out of the party, we should be mobilising people into the party. Why do people believe that we are a puritan party? People who cannot make mistakes?

I don’t think there is anyone who is infallible in the party. If someone has done wrong, he has to be either punished in a way or strongly spoken to and we move ahead. When we talk of the bush, people think everything was rosy, no. At times things got so bad to the point that some people had to open fire against their own comrades, but we had to find solutions to these issues. This is what many people don’t understand.

TZ: And Zanu-PF has a conference in December. Is the dislocation within the war veteran movement not likely to result in chaos?

TD: The onus is on us, if we want to solve the problem with war veterans, there is no problem. We can do it in one week and everything will be over. But there are people within the party who do not want the war veterans, they do not want them at all.

Even in the last meeting we had three days ago, it was clear that there are members of the party who would rather have war veterans completely out, they remain themselves. Then it becomes difficult for us to put them together. We are fighting a losing war as long as that attitude remains.

We are saying, if we want to unite the war veterans so that they unite with the party, let’s all work towards the same goal. But, I am almost certain that a lot of people are not happy. Even for the meeting that we held a day before yesterday, there are some people who are complaining bitterly who believe that we are selling out.

Some of them even talk of a coup which was being plotted, but we have everything recorded. If you want to listen you can, every word that was said in that meeting was recorded. We were not planning any evil. In actual fact we want these comrades to come together so that we can be back and be strong again.

TZ: Obviously there is the issue that war vets are split and you as a Minister have been accused of siding with one faction. How does the unity come about when you are seen to choose sides?

TD: We have never sided with any faction, the war veterans on their own formed an association, the war veterans’ association. In Masvingo, they went there to move out Jabulani Sibanda who was a former chairman and they chose Cde Mutsvangwa.

Some of the people in the executive are some of those who have decided to form a splinter group. What we have said to them is, you haven’t had any other congress since Masvingo, so anyone who wants to depose a present leader must go back to the congress and depose him there. Properly follow your constitution.

Then next time we hear there is a new chairperson, like Mandi Chimene. We asked, who elected you? When were you elected? They have no answers and some of those people who said they are the executive, we asked them “Who elected you?”.

I can’t jump up one morning and say I am the chairman, you are the deputy chairman or you are secretary on my own. There must be a body of people who elect people. It must be a constitutional body.

But at the same time we have said, if you want to form your own association, go ahead. You draw your own constitution, register your association. You are allowed by the law of Zimbabwe. We are Zanu-PF, I can`t say I am moving from Zanu-PF and I am forming my own splinter group of Zanu-PF.

It is not allowed, they can even take me to court and I will never win that case. But if I say I am leaving Zanu-PF, I am forming my own party whatever I call it, give it a name. It’s allowed by law to do so.

So, this is why those people you call splinter groups are people who still want to call themselves members of the association when they have formed splinter groups. We are saying if you are forming a splinter group, call yourself by any other name then we recognise you as a splinter group.

TZ: You mentioned at the beginning of our conversation that this week’s talks were talks about talks. What is now the roadmap regarding Government and Zanu-PF interacting with war veterans?

TD: I think you read the press statement we made after the meeting. I cannot call it a communiqué, that was a press statement where we all agreed that the association and Ministry officials that we all agree that the war veterans say they will be loyal to the Zanu-PF leadership. That is a step forward because what has been peddled in most of these newspapers was that war veterans don`t want to hear about Zanu-PF.

TZ: But they also put in a caveat that they are not prepared to work with a particular faction that they named, how then are you going to interact as a party?

TD: That is what we are aiming now. We moved, as I have said, we agreed almost 80 percent. We have to move and also convince some people in the party that pride goes before a fall. If they are too proud to accept the war veterans back, we may pay a price for it.

But, if we can find a common ground then we will be alright. There is an old Russian saying, that I like which says, “A thousand friends are too few, one enemy is one too many”.

It is quite strong when you look at it properly because if we lose one war veteran who is angry against the party, he can cause a lot of havoc and yet a million youths may not do very much to save the party if it gets into trouble. They are just there as numbers but we don’t need anyone who is working against us, this is our main aim.

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