Thousands of people took up arms against the Ian Douglas Smith regime in the liberation struggle of the 1970s, which led to a political settlement brokered by Britain that led to a black majority government in 1980.
The future still looks bleak for some of the former fighters, who believe that they have been abandoned by the Zanu PF government, more than 34 years after independence.
Soon after independence, President Robert Mugabe’s party promised to empower more than 30,000 former combatants, who were under the late Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) and Zanu PF’s Zimbabwe National Liberation Army (ZANLA).
But a few years after independence, most of them were demobilized and dumped onto the streets where they toiled with the majority of Zimbabweans – struggling to make ends meet.
Ernest Nyanyiwa, who operated in Mashonaland West under the Chimurenga name "Mutonhodza" during the struggle, says the majority of former freedom fighters are living in abject poverty.
Nyanyiwa says the lives of some ex-combatants with direct links to top ruling Zanu PF party officials have evidently changed. Sadly, he adds, the situation is not the same for most former fighters who are struggling to make ends meet, especially now as the effects of the war continue to take their toll on their health and related issues.
He says some newcomers in the party and not genuine war veterans are benefiting from government programmes though indications are that the war veterans receive pensions of almost $200 a month.
According to Nyanyiwa, the Zanu PF leadership largely ignored the freedom fighters until in the late 1990s when they threatened to take action against their patron, President Mugabe, while under the leadership of the late Chenjerai Hitler Hunzvi.
Their continuing plight pushed the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association to demand pensions and other related benefits from the state.
President Mugabe finally succumbed to the demands of the former fighters, after facing unprecedented humiliation by the leadership of the former fighters. He ordered treasury to shell out lump-sum payments of Z$50,000 (then USD4000) to all the former fighters and agreed to pay them Z$2000 (US$150) monthly pensions and provide health, education and burial services for the former fighters.
GRANTS AND PENSIONS
Critics say the president had his back against the wall when he acceded to the war veterans’ demands in the face of unrelenting and humiliating demonstrations against the government that the police failed to contain. The grants and pensions had not been budgeted for and as a result, threw the fiscus off balance. Soon after the payouts to the veterans, the Zimbabwe dollar crashed on November 13, 1997, losing its value to the American dollar by 73 per cent, thereby eroding the value of the payments and nullifying the intended benefit.
Nyanyiwa says though some liberation fighters were involved in the land reform programme that kicked off in 2000, not many of them benefited from the process as politicians used their power to parcel out land to their children and cronies.
Former Mashonaland West Governor Mudhumeni Chivende’s wife, Rosemary, says the government looks after dead heroes instead of taking care of the country’s living legends.
Chivende, a former liberation fighter, is now bed-ridden and struggling to make ends meet.
“I do not know that these people are thinking about when it comes to people like Chivende. They don’t care about him. They have abandoned him. They will go to the Heroes Acre today (Monday) again but forget about people like Chivende. This is not right,” she says with tears welling from her eyes.
Rosemary says she is not getting any help from the government and the family is now selling cattle to buy medication for the former freedom fighter.
Chivende, who received the seven heroes who perished at the famous Chinhoyi battle from Zambia during the liberation struggle, stresses that he did not even benefit from the government’s car schemes when he left office after serving the government for two year terms.
Hurungwe-based war veteran, Eddison Gwenzi, says former freedom fighters are unhappy with the government's failure to honour its promise to allocate 20 percent of land confiscated from white commercial farmers to ex-combatants.
Another war veteran, Noel Kuzondiwana, who was among 79 plot owners given permits by President Mugabe recently, says land tenure for war vets should be different from ordinary permits.
Kuzondiwana says they should get title deeds for their small farms as compensation for participating in the struggle for independence.
The former fighters think they should be treated differently from the rest of the country, adding they are against the government’s introduction of a land tax, which they are supposed to pay, backdating to the time they were allocated land.
Some Zimbabweans, however, do not agree with the war veterans’ quest to be treated in a special way than the rest of the country’s population, arguing the majority of people played a key role in helping to free the country from white minority rule.
Indications are that there were more than 30,000 freedom fighters at independence but the number has since dwindled to 20,000.