Africa, Headlines

ZIMBABWE-POLITICS: War Veterans Take to the Streets Again

Lewis Machipisa

HARARE, Oct 17 1997 (IPS) - Scores of former freedom fighters who have failed to register for compensation, took to the streets Friday demanding an extension of the process. They were also protesting against the manner in which the exercise had been conducted.

The vetting exercise started on Sep. 22 and ended this week. But according to John Gwitira, deputy national chairman of the War Veterans Association, more than 2,000 ex-combatants in Harare Province alone, are still to be registered for compensation under the scandal-ridden War Victims Compensation Act.

“Not a single ex-combatant will be left out. That’s a definite thing, because that’s what we fought for,” Gwitira assured the former fighters who fear being left out in the cold.

Chairman of the Zimbabwe National War Veterans Association Chenjerai Hunzvi last week said “at most, the exercise would be extended by only a week. If at all.”

“This is a ploy to sideline us,” said one fighter. According to the War Victims Compensation Act, all liberation war veterans who took part in the liberation war between 1962 and 1980 will be compensated for their roles.

Among those who demonstrated Friday were those that never crossed the border, but did their military training in Zimbabwe.

“It’s not our fault that we did not cross the border. The fact is we fought alongside the comrades from Mozambique and Zambia. But somehow the people who were doing the vetting were dismissing those who trained in Zimbabwe. To them only those who went outside the borders for military training are the only bonafide ex- combatants,” said one of the protesting war veterans.

“I went to register but I was told that no one knew the base where I had been trained, so I did not succeed. So are they now saying the war was only fought by those people who crossed the border?” asked another.

Gwitira admitted that getting registration for those fighters who trained in Zimbabwe could prove difficult and could take some time.

“But we are working on it. Every comrade who fought should be compensated no matter whether they trained in Zimbabwe or where ever,” Gwitira told the restless crowd.

It is not only in Harare where there is controversy over the registration exercise.

“The problem is across the country. There are some who are still to come for registration. Some are sick, some are outside the country. Every bonafide ex-combatant has to be registered. It doesn’t mean that because we have stopped registering, those ex- combatants not registered, have lost it. They have not been disqualified,” said Gwitira.

In all, some 70,000 ex-combatants were expected to have been registered, but only about 40,000 have so far been signed up. About 4,000 applicants claiming to be ex-combatants were rejected.

“The real fighters probably are not aware of it in the rural areas. We should not put a time element for the registration. Are we saying if a true ex-combatant comes next week or next year, we will not register him or her as an ex-combatant?” asked one veteran who said he was trained in Mozambique in 1977.

To pay the estimated 70,000 ex-combatants, the government needs to raise about 3.5 billion Zimbabwe dollars for gratuities and 150 million Zimbabwe dollars monthly, starting in January 1998.

Since Zimbabwe attained majority rule in 1980, the government had done little to address the plight of ex-combatants, many of whom have been living in abject poverty.

It was only after massive demonstrations throughout the country, spiced with threats by ex-combatants to take up arms, that President Robert Mugabe announced two months ago that each former fighter would be paid a lump sum of about 4,000 U.S. dollars (50,000 Zimbabwe dollars) and a monthly pension of 166.6 U.S. dollars (2,000 Zimbabwe dollars.)

But the disbursements have been marred in controversy. Allegations of the misuse of the War Victims Compensation Fund came to light a few months ago, after 45 million U.S. dollars had been paid out in eight months, leading the government to suspend further payments in March, a move which led to nationwide demonstrations. Some of the beneficiaries, the ex-combatants alleged, never set foot in the bush.

The list of those who benefitted from the Fund reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ in Zimbabwe. Senior government and party officials have been summoned to appear before a commission set up by President Mugabe to investigate the abuse of the Fund.

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