Once considered some of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s strongest supporters, war veterans have joined a growing chorus of people speaking out against the long-serving president.
In a statement released on Thursday (21.07.2016), the Zimbabwe Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) described the 92-year-old president as a dictator and announced that they would no longer support his rule.
"[Mugabe's] leadership has presided over unbridled corruption and downright mismanagement of the economy, leading to national economic ruin for which the effects are now felt throughout the land," the veterans said in the statement, issued after a seven-hour meeting of its leaders.
The veterans fought alongside Mugabe during the country's war for independence (in 1980) and continually supported the president during previous campaigns, sometimes violently.
"We note, with concern, shock and dismay, the systematic entrenchment of dictatorial tendencies, personified by the President and his cohorts, which have slowly devoured the values of the liberation struggle," the statement continued .
Mugabe is the head of the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF) party, which he has led since independence in 1980. He rose to power as the leader of a rebel group which fought in a guerilla war against white minority rule of then Rhodesia. He has been the president of Zimababwe since 1987.
Protests and counter-protests
The release of the statement by the war veterans comes after weeks of organized protests against the ruling party in Zimbabwe. Some of the protests were spontaneous while others were planned using social media.
Pastor Evan Mawarire took to social media this year to complain about the economic situation in Zimababwe. His posts led to a campaign under the hashtag #ThisFlag asking Zimbabweans to take pictures of themselves wearing the country's flag in a sign of protest against corruption, injustice and poverty in the country.
The #ThisFlag campaign took off and the pastor used its popularity to protest the government by asking people to "shut down" the country by staying home for one day. The protests led to Mawarire being briefly detained before the case was thrown out by the court. Mawarire has stated that he is considering future actions to continue to put pressure on the Mugabe government.
A demonstration in support of President Mugabe and ZANU-PF by the party's youth wing was also held this week. Unlike previous demonstrations which were violently suppressed by the police and security forces, this protest was guarded and protected by the police.
"The youths may provide him with the muscle he needs right now, but they don't command any meaningful political stock," political analyst Gabriel Shumba, chairman of the South Africa-based Zimbabwe Exiles Forum, told the AFP.
Such events tend to attract many young men although the majority of Zimbabwean youth remain unemployed. According to some estimates by independent economists, up to 80 percent of Zimbabweans are unemployed. The government puts the figure at 11 percent, arguing that most people are employed in the informal sector. Recent graduates are planning a demonstration against Mugabe next week after he failed to deliver on his promise last year to create two million jobs.
Is change coming?
Over the past couple of months, the number of protests against the President Mugabe and his government has been increasing. The absense of the war veterans from this week's march in support of the ruling party and their subsequent statement denouncing Mugabe has raised the question of whether support for the long-serving president is falling to levels which could lead to political change in the country.
"The people of Zimbabwe are not taking the situation into their own hands in registering their displeasure with the government," said Alexander Rusero, a political analyst in Harare. "We also have a government that is clueless in terms of what to do to alleviate the poverty or to calm the disgruntlement that has gripped the citizens of Zimbabwe."
Many of the protests are in response to the failing economic situation in the country. Once the breadbasket of Africa, Zimbabwe is in crisis as the country's economy deals with hyperinflation and a currency shortage. Most civil servants are yet to be paid for June or July and even the country's military has not been paid on schedule this month.
"This is really uncharted water for Zimbabwe," said Wilf Mbanga, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper The Zimbabwean which is published outside of the country. "So many people are prepared to confront the government and they all now agree that this government must go."
But Mbanga was cautious in predicting whether the latest protests would lead to political change in Zimbabwe.
"Mugabe has a very strong army which is solidly behind him but this month they have not been paid," he said. "Will they now be prepared to fight for a government that is failing to pay them?"