A lot of people who hero worship Mugabe because “he took land from white farmers to give to black Zimbabweans” do not even know half of what they are talking about. Do they even know the real beneficiaries of Zimbabwe’s land redistribution which did not include even a single one of the fifty thousand war veterans? I bet most of them don’t.

By Nkopane Mathibeli

“Our votes must go together with our guns. After all, any vote we shall have shall have been the product of the gun. The gun which produces the vote should remain its security officer – its guarantor. The people’s votes and the people’s guns are always inseparable twins” – Robert Mugabe, 1976

The beginning of a long journey Mugabe spoke these words three years before the beginning of the Lancaster House negotiations held in Britain from 10 September to 15 December. It was on the basis of the agreement reached that Zimbabwe held its first democratic elections on the 14th February 1980.

When Mugabe spoke these words, he was a commander of Zimbabwe African National Union’s (ZANU) military wing, ZANLA. In that context, this was the language befitting of the dynamics of the times – Zimbabwe’s armed liberation war.

The war began on the 28th April 1966 and officially ended on the 21st December 1979, as per the cease fire agreement signed as part of the Lancaster house Agreement. After all the electoral processes were complete, Mugabe emerged victorious.

Importantly, his ZANU had entered into an electoral pact with Joshua Nkomo’s Patriotic Front thereby giving birth to ZANU-PF.

Out of all the eighty (80) parliamentary seats, only sixty (60) were contested while twenty were reserved for whites. Together, Mugabe and Nkomo won fifty-seven (57). Mugabe’s ZANU got thirty-seven (37) while Nkomo’s Patriotic Front got twenty (20).

The remaining three seats were acquired by Bishop Abel Muzorewa’s United African National Council.

Due to his reputation as a ruthless Marxist-Leninist gangster, white Zimbabweans panicked as attested by the momentary slump at the national stock exchange.

Uncertainty reigned supreme but Mugabe calmed them down by saying: “I wish to assure you that there can never be any return to the state of armed conflict which existed before our commitment to peace and the democratic process of election under the Lancaster House Agreement.”

He also made a commitment to bring whites into the administration after the formation of government, and he did.

Among them were Ken Flowers who headed the Rhodesian Criminal Intelligence Organisation which had on numerous occasions organised but failed to assassinate Mugabe.

Mugabe made him his intelligence advisor. Others included David Smith and Dennis Norman. Both were appointed as ministers.


If there is one thing that makes Mugabe look like a villain in the eyes of most people particularly those who do not and have not lived in Zimbabwe, it is the aftermath of the land invasions.

But before we look at the invasions, let us first look at the rot over which Mugabe presided.
It would however be remiss not to acknowledge that Mugabe did remarkably well for his people, i.e. before all else was reversed, particularly with regard to health and education.

That notwithstanding, the rot unfortunately hangs heavily over the good he did.

I will select only a few prominent examples.

As a result of Mugabe’s commendable reconciliatory gesture of including whites in the administration, from 1981 to 1986, a white man named Norman Reynolds was government’s Chief Economist.

The best manifestation of Norman’s brilliance and Mugabe’s obsession with power came when Norman proposed a brilliant rural development plan of reorganising villages into trust companies.

After applying their mind to it, a national conference for all the fifty-five district councils was called and all adopted it. When it got to cabinet, Mugabe rejected it because: “it was not in the party’s best interest, no one would vote for ZANU-PF again.”

If this does not sum his obsession with power, nothing else will.

The twenty-year period before the land invasions is replete with instances showing that he had resolved to retain power by all means necessary including either turning a blind eye or breaking every law in the book to allow the self-enrichment of those who were guaranteed to stop any form on internal revolt against his excesses.

A prominent example in this regard is the Willowgate scandal (1988) where ministers, senior civil servants including army chiefs and businessmen were found guilty of breaching government price controls in pursuit of self-enrichment.

Due to a shortage of cars then, they schemed to buy-up cars at a state owned factory to sell them at very inflated prices.

Out of the twenty-seven culprits, only one minister (Fred Shava) got a nine months’ sentence. A day later, Mugabe gave him a presidential pardon.

A paradise of impunity was inaugurated and from then, the thieves were obliged to protect the despot who in turn immunised them from prosecution.

Thugs and hooligans who intimidated, crippled or killed his political opponents were among prime beneficiaries of this immunity.

A good example is that in which post the 1990 elections, a ZANU-PF youth leader and a senior CIO officer who were convicted for the attempted murder of a candidate of ZANU-PF’s opponent (ZUM) were also given a presidential pardon by Mugabe.

Their victim, Patrick Kombayi remained a cripple for life.
As Mugabe allowed the crooked self-enrichment of his Lieutenants while trying to make opposition politics an extinct sport in Zimbabwe, he had completely forgotten about his other comrades, the foot soldiers of the armed liberation war, the War veterans.

The element of the war veterans is very important because it is the intercourse of their neglect, Mugabe’s waning star and their demand for recognition that the land invasions and the final destruction of the once great Zimbabwe eventually happened.


A lot of people who hero worship Mugabe because “he took land from white farmers to give to black Zimbabweans” do not even know half of what they are talking about.

Do they even know the real beneficiaries of Zimbabwe’s land redistribution which did not include even a single one of the fifty thousand war veterans? I bet most of them don’t.

The long and short of it is that besides the commendable effort of having resettled a little over fifty thousand families on 6.5 million acres of formerly white owned land, the rest of the resettlement initiative is a project gone awry because Mugabe used it to enrich the guarantors of his invincibility.

These included ministers, MPs, senior civil servants, police/defence officials and those who managed parastatals.

Prominent names among these beneficiaries are Perence Shiri who commanded 5Brigade responsible for the atrocities of Gukuruhandi and Augustine Chihuri who was the commissioner of police.

The corruption within this noble initiative got so bad that Britain, which had from independence contributed almost £45 million pulled out. What good was there when those who needed the land weren’t getting it?

Part of the victims of this gluttony were the war veterans. However, what angered them more was the unashamed pillage of the War Victims Compensation Fund by the same politically connected people who unduly benefited from land redistribution.

The War Veterans, through their association, became a great force of civil disobedience from July 1997 after being denied an audience by Mugabe for months.

They embarrassed him too many times until he agreed to meet with them in August which is when he got their two demands.

Firstly, they demanded a resumption of payments from the compensation fund; $2,000 per month including a $50,000 gratuity. Secondly, they demanded to be given land or else they would forcefully occupy white owned farms.

They gave him two deadlines. The first one was that three months from their meeting, i.e. December 1997, they expected war veterans in desperate need of settlement to have been given land.

The second deadline was that by June 1998, all the remaining war veterans should have been given land.

Empty promises followed but nothing substantial happened hence from the 26th February 2000, the land invasions began.

It is therefore important to acknowledge that Mugabe did not allow white owned land to be invaded because he was a Pan Africanist who wanted to rectify a historical injustice.

He did so because he wanted to appease the war veterans so as to eliminate them as a threat to his weakened political power, nothing more, nothing less. NW

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