Veterans of Zimbabwe's 1980s war of liberation marched through Harare Wednesday afternoon to express their solidarity with President Robert Mugabe, responding to intensifying domestic and international criticism of his autocratic policies.
Addressing the veterans at the headquarters of his ruling ZANU-PF party, President Mugabe thanked them for their support after castigating Britain for allegedly reneging on its liberation-era promise to bankroll land reform. He vowed to deal sternly with Australian investors in Zimbabwe’s mining sector in response to Canberra’s revocation of the visas of children of ZANU-PF officials studying at Australia schools.
Mugabe, 83, promised that ZANU-PF will win next year’s general election, urging the veterans to get ready for the parliamentary and companion presidential election set for March 2008. The defiant Mr Mugabe scoffed at suggestions by his many critics that he is now a liability to the country, pledging to press on with his mission.
"They used to say they will give me an exit package," he said, referring to discussion of offering him safeguards against prosecution if he'll step down, "(but) here I was born, here I grew up and here I will be buried," he said to rapturous applause.
"I am not going anywhere," Mr. Mugabe added.
Correspondent Thomas Chiripasi of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported from Harare that besides expressing support for Mr. Mugabe the veterans also urged that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to be barred from running for president.
State media including the government-controlled Herald newspaper have denounced Tsvangirai for making his current visit to Australia, which recently toughened targeted sanctions against top ruling party officials, labeling him a Western puppet.
Political analyst Gordon Moyo, head of the Bulawayo Agenda, an opposition activist group, told reporter Brenda Moyo that the call by the veterans to exclude Tsvangirai is a form of intimidation that reflects the government's fear of the opposition.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change took the Zimbabwean police to task for providing an escort and enthusiastically joining the march by the war veterans after having banned more than 100 opposition rallies in the past month alone.
Spokesman Nelson Chamisa of the MDC faction of Morgan Tsvangirai told Blessing Zulu that the war veteran demonstrators are misguided.
Max Mkandla, co-founder and chairman of another veterans group , the Zimbabwe Liberators Peace Initiative, said liberation war veterans must remain apolitical.