A court in Zimbabwe Friday ordered the release of about 40 veterans of the nation’s 1970s independence war, four days after they tried to petition President Emmerson Mnangagwa about their low monthly pension.
Their lawyers accuse the government of infringing on citizens’ right to demonstrate, particularly those who opposed President Mnangagwa’s rule.
War veterans chatted outside the courtroom Friday after Magistrate Barbra Mateko ordered their release on about $40 bail. They were arrested Monday while trying to go to Mnangagwa’s office to ask for a review of their less than $100 monthly pension.
Paidamoyo Saurombe, from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, spoke to VOA after he secured the war veterans’ release on bail.
“It’s not a crime to demonstrate in Zimbabwe, it’s not a crime to petition. It’s actually provided for by the constitution," Saurombe said. "So in anything that has to be done, it has to be done in those ambits of the constitution or in those constitutional provisions. And our clients were following constitutional provisions, so to say they committed a crime it would rather be absurd.”
The veterans are expected to go on trial next month. The offense of “breaching the peace,” which they face, has an option of a fine if they are convicted.
Addressing senior members of the ruling ZANU-PF party Friday in Bindura, about 80 kilometers north of Harare, President Mnangagwa said the war veterans had broken protocol.
“Various initiatives have been implemented to improve the dignity, welfare and economic empowerment of veterans of the liberation struggle and dependence of the heroes," Mnangagwa said. "But I urge the war veterans to use procedures in the party, not outside the party.Their rich ideological grounding should galvanize the principle of patriotism in the hearts and minds of cadres and embolden them in their efforts to ensure that ZANU-PF remains the party of choice which wholeheartedly serves the people.”
At the court, one of the war veterans, who identified himself as Cde Tendai, said he was relieved his colleagues had been granted bail because some of them have chronic conditions.
“We were concerned by their health," Tendai said. "We feared that some of them may have died because most war veterans are stressed by so many things. We were surprised by their arrests. We were not violent, we respect the rule of law and our government. The only issue was: we want to petition since we are getting very little money considering how life is difficult.”
Zimbabwe’s war of liberation from the white minority-led rule of Ian Smith lasted for 16 years, from 1964 to 1980.The government still pays monthly pensions to about 30,000 veterans of the war.