Omi­nous echo of Zim­babwe in the mut­ter­ings of war vets

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

A FAVOURITE par­lour game of the white com­mu­nity is to draw gloomy analo­gies be­tween Zim­babwe and South Africa.

Th­ese prog­nos­ti­ca­tions of dis­as­ter high­light sup­posed sim­i­lar­i­ties – which in re­al­ity are largely spu­ri­ous – in land re­form, in pres­i­den­tial mega­lo­ma­nia and in en­demic in­com­pe­tence.

How­ever, there is one shared pat­tern that should frighten the hell out of every­one, but has cu­ri­ously drawn lit­tle pub­lic re­ac­tion. It is the malev­o­lent and bur­geon­ing in­flu­ence of the lib­er­a­tion war vet­er­ans.

The col­lapse of Zim­babwe can be traced di­rectly to the war vets as­sert­ing them­selves and de­mand­ing the spoils of victory they felt had been de­nied them. It was the crip­pling pay­ment of mas­sive ben­e­fits to war vets that sent the econ­omy into the down­ward spi­ral that ul­ti­mately ru­ined the coun­try.

The war vets be­came the ham­mer of Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe, used to blud­geon the op­po­si­tion into sub­mis­sion and, within Zanu-PF, to in­tim­i­date any who might con­tem­plate break­ing ranks to chal­lenge the old dic­ta­tor.

The vets are the fly­ing col­umns sent to in­vade and pil­lage white farms, and to rape and mur­der vil­lagers sup­port­ing the Move­ment for Demo­cratic Change.

It can­not be as­sumed that the def­er­ence be­ing shown to South Africa’s lib­er­a­tion war vets by Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma pro­ceeds from sim­i­larly ques­tion­able mo­tives, since his hold on power is, af­ter all, se­cure.

It might be that Zuma places them cen­tre stage for no other rea­son than, un­like his pre­de­ces­sor, he is a war vet him­self, and this is an act of nos­tal­gic com­rade­ship.

Or it might be a con­scious at­tempt by Zuma to avoid a lo­cal re­run of the Zim­bab­wean sce­nario. Ar­guably, that view is sup­ported by Zuma’s pre­emp­tive and sym­bolic cre­ation of a new De­fence and Mil­i­tary Vet­er­ans min­istry, with vet pen­sion, health and em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits to be dra­mat­i­cally im­proved.

It is nev­er­the­less dif­fi­cult to see how pla­cat­ing dis­grun­tled for­mer sol­diers, even out of the most be­nign of mo­tives, is go­ing to work un­less Zuma makes it clear that po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence by them will not be tol­er­ated. Need­less to say, the in­ef­fa­bly ac­com­mo­dat­ing Zuma has not done this.

Em­bold­ened, the war vets are mov­ing on to the po­lit­i­cal play­ing field, be­hav­ing in ways that would not be tol­er­ated in most democ­ra­cies. When ANC stal­wart Kader As­mal late last year dared crit­i­cise the new gov­ern­ment, Kebby Maphat­soe, head of the uMkhonto we­Sizwe Vet­er­ans As­so­ci­a­tion (MKVA), “ad­vised” the for­mer cab­i­net min­is­ter “to go to the near­est ceme­tery and die”.

In re­sponse to pub­lic out­rage, ANC sec­re­tary-gen­eral Gwede Man­tashe is­sued an am­bigu­ous state­ment in which he leant over back­wards to avoid of­fend­ing the MKVA and omi­nously warned As­mal that while dif­fer­ing opin­ions would al­ways be tol­er­ated in the ANC, “in tak­ing on is­sues, self-de­struc­tion can bleed you to death”.

An em­bold­ened MKVA now feels free to add its tup­pence­worth on all kinds of po­lit­i­cal mat­ters re­mote from its no­tional re­mit. Re­cently it came out in sup­port of the em­bat­tled new head of the SA Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion, warn­ing against the “face­less… dis­grun­tled… op­por- tunis­tic counter-rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies” who are un­der­min­ing the state.

The lan­guage of the MKVA is not dis­sim­i­lar to the rant­ings of the ANC Youth League. And like the ANCYL, it as­pires to a role in the gov­er­nance of the coun­try that is not pro­vided for in the na­tion’s con­sti­tu­tion nor, for that mat­ter, in the con­sti­tu­tion of the ANC.

Zuma now has two self-ap­pointed bat­tal­ions of pro­tec­tors flank­ing him, the ANCYL and MKVA. Both ex­press a de­sire for the oblit­er­a­tion of their op­po­nents. And while one might laugh off ANCYL threats of “killing for Zuma” as child­ish hy­per­bole, the MKVA has soldierly cre­den­tials that make its po­lit­i­cal rum­blings far more omi­nous.

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