Ominous echo of Zimbabwe in the mutterings of war vets
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.