Harare - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe may be “facing his Waterloo” after his most loyal supporters, the veterans of the liberation war, abandoned him.
A growing number of other war veterans have joined the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans' Association in calling Mugabe, 92, a “dictator”, demanding he quit and vowing not to support him in the next elections in 2018 if he does not.
The association also criticised the government's recent attacks against peaceful protesters who spoke out about the economy and against the police via social media and conducted a stayaway three weeks ago.
Mugabe was facing “an endgame of tragic dimensions”, Zimbabwe weekly, The Independent, editor Dumisani Muleya said on Friday. “If the war veterans join forces with the national resistance movement driven by civic groups and backed by churches and opposition parties, Mugabe, already on the ropes and hanging onto power by [his] fingernails, could soon face his Waterloo.”
Growing protest against the government has been fuelled by a dire economic crisis, including a lack of cash, even to pay soldiers on time. They are usually the first to be paid.
On Saturday the governing Zanu-PF struck back at the war veterans, calling them “treasonous” and “traitorous.”
Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is also a war veteran, delivered a more muted response. “If they are true war veterans, the president is their commander-in-chief and they must be loyal and committed. I don't think those who say such things are loyal or genuine war veterans.”
Mnangagwa is tipped to succeed Mugabe and has the support of many veterans.
War veterans leader Chris Mutsvangwa was fired from the cabinet post he held on behalf of veterans in March and was then expelled from Zanu-PF for opposing Mugabe's wife Grace, who appears to have ambitions to succeed him when he dies.
New war veterans minister Tshinga Dube suggested on Saturday that the ex-fighters elect a new leader to replace Mutsvangwa. But another senior veteran Francis Nhando responded by saying the association fully backed Mutsvangwa.
“He [Mugabe] should announce his retirement date. It will be very difficult to campaign for him in 2018 because we are no longer working together,” he said.
Former vice president Joice Mujuru, herself a veteran of the liberation war, said over the weekend: “I want to tell war veterans not to be scared with threats that your farms will be repossessed and your pensions freezed. That won't happen,” she told a rally about 100km southeast of Harare, which she addressed as leader of her new political party Zimbabwe First.
Mujuru, a life-long member of Zanu-PF, was stripped of her position and expelled from the party in late 2014 after she declared her interest in succeeding Mugabe. The attack on her was led by Grace Mugabe's supporters.
Another war veteran Rugare Gumbo, a former Zanu-PF spokesman also expelled from Zanu-PF in 2014 and now a supporter of Mujuru's party, said on Sunday: “The statement was issued by genuine war veterans. They were in Mozambique. We knew them there. They fought in the war, and the situation in Zimbabwe now is very poor. So many are suffering. The criticism was correct. You will see more and more of them criticising Mugabe.”
Mugabe has repeatedly depended on war veterans for political support at several key moments, particularly after the launch of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999.
After it became clear the MDC was rapidly gaining support, it was war veterans who led the the invasion of thousands of white-owned farms, not least because the MDC received considerable support, both financial and logistical, from white farmers and their enormous work force.
Many veterans awarded themselves farms after that.
Some also helped Mugabe and Zanu-PF by co-ordinating attacks against MDC supporters during elections. They also helped prevent the MDC holding rallies in Zanu PF's rural strongholds.
Veteran Zimbabwean political analyst Brian Raftopoulos, head of the Platform for Concerned Citizens, said after Mutsvangwa was sacked - and even before the war veterans association abandoned him: “Yes, finally this seems to be the end of the road for Mugabe, and I can't see him standing for re-election in 2018. He will be gone before then.
“People on the streets and groups are telling me, and I can see with my own eyes, that there is almost no respect left for Mugabe and a lot less fear of him as well. “
“The money problem is too huge for him [Mugabe] to survive as there is a complete loss of livelihoods and the government has no control over the currency they use, the US dollar. No flourish of nationalist rhetoric will work for Mugabe any more.”
Mugabe had no international standing any longer in a world in which Zimbabwe no longer played any role, he added.