The Zimbabwe Republic Police on Thursday used baton sticks and teargas to disperse war veterans, who had gathered near the Zanu PF headquarters and the City Sports Center, to express their solidarity with under fire Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa being accused by some members of the ruling party of allegedly trying to topple President Mugabe.
Police blocked the war veterans’ indaba, which was initially supposed to be held at the Zanu PF headquarters and then shifted to the City Sports Center after ruling party officials stopped them from entering the party premises.
The livid members of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association later grouped at an open space near the Harare Agricultural Show before the police descended on them with baton sticks and teargas.
Some of the war veterans were reportedly injured in the running battles with the police. Police declined to comment on the issue.
Karen Nehanda, one of the war vets who spoke to Studio 7 said, she was shocked by the heavy handedness of the police.
“So when you say down with them (war veterans) who are you? Are you (former Rhodesian prime minister Ian) Smith, are you (former U.S President George) Bush? Who are you? Why are you saying down with us? Don't let this hooligans (Zanu PF political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere) treat us like this. Look at what he has done for us. Sjamboks, teargas when we just came to talk about our country. No we can't have this.”
She said the war veterans had only gathered to discuss issues affecting them and find out why some Zanu PF members were denouncing them.
Nehanda said the brutal attack by the police and the blocking of their rally resembled the days of the colonial Ian Douglas Smith regime when police used to stop black people from holding meetings.
“I cannot describe what happened today. It brings us memories of the days when Smith wouldn't let our nationalists meet and organise or strategise. People ended up going to Mozambique and Zambia because they weren’t allowed to have free meetings, to have freedom of speech and discuss things for the construction of their country. What makes them stop us from meeting? We feel like we are still in the Smith government or some American government.”
Another war veteran, Agnes Siyakurima, also expressed shock at the police action.
“We fought for this country. We are people and we do not know how they feel and even how the world feels when it hears that we were simply beaten for desiring to have a meeting.”
The war veterans complained that the police had told them that they were not able to provide manpower to monitor their meeting resulting in them being stopped from holding their intended meeting.
War Veterans Minister Christopher Mutsvangwa, who was recently given a vote of no confidence by another war vet group for allegedly supporting beleaguered Vice President Mnangagwa, convened a press conference in Harare soon after the running battles with the police and expressed displeasure over the way the police are treating the group.
“I am addressing you with a heavy heart which stems from the events of this morning that the ZRP found itself resorting to heavy handedness violence against selected representatives of our association.”
He said they want to engage the patron of the war veterans President Mugabe on what is going on in the ruling party.
“This is a monstrosity bordering on what we saw today … to see war vets being beaten by the police. We want audience with our patron so that we understand where the compasses have gone wrong in the organs of the party but there are rights that also have been transgressed.
“Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are now abused so naturally we will also go to the courts. We thought the government and the party will be fair with us but it did not happen so we will go to the other arm of government which is the courts.”
The war veterans are allegedly supporting Mnangagwa, who is allegedly leading a faction of the party that wants him to succeed the president, while a rival group calling itself Generation 40 is backing First Lady Grace Mugabe for the presidential post.
Mr. Mugabe, the world’s oldest president, turns 92 this weekend.
He has been in power since Zimbabwe attained independence from British rule in 1980.
The deputy secretary of Zanu-PF's youth league, Kudzai Chipanga, threw doubt on the gathering of war veterans outside his party's headquarters Thursday, saying they were not 'true' veterans who had fought in Zimbabwe's liberation war.