Wilfred Mhanda calls for accountability

Zimbabwean war veteran Wilfred Mhanda, head of the Zimbabwe Liberators’ Platform, visited Johannesburg last week to share his ­concerns about the need to reform the country’s security sector. Mhanda, who presented a paper at the “Zimbabwe in Transition” seminar, organised by the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe. He spoke to the Mail & Guardian.

When did Zimbabwe’s dream go sour?
I was under no illusions from the very beginning.
There was no acceptance of divergent views. [President Robert] Mugabe and Zanu-PF have not changed. They don’t want to be challenged. That’s who they are. Hardly two years into independence, horrendous atrocities were committed, so the signs were always there.

Did you agree with the way Zimbabwe’s land reform process was carried out?
There’s no doubt that there was a need for equitable land redistribution, but there was no reason to do it the way we did. It could have been done honourably and in terms of the law. The beneficiaries are the Zanu-PF elite themselves. We still need genuine land reform to benefit all Zimbabweans.

How do you feel about the Movement for Democratic Change?
I am not a daydreamer. The MDC has actually dampened people’s expectations. It helped raise awareness about the excesses of Zanu-PF, but now there are factions and divisions within the party. Zanu-PF’s culture of intolerance has been brought into the MDC.

What can be done to solve Zimbabwe’s problems?
We need to change the law that gives President Mugabe power over the military. Now Mugabe appoints as he pleases. He is the commander-in-chief, so what do you expect them to do? You get journalists who say the generals are in charge, but it’s not true. What we need is institutional reform, so that the [security sector] becomes accountable.

Will there be some kind of “Arab awakening” in Zimbabwe?
Zimbabwe is different from those countries. The people of Zimbabwe need to find a solution to their problems, but not necessarily in the same way as in North Africa.

What should the role of the Southern African Development Community be in Zimbabwe?
Unlike the MDC I don’t push the whole responsibility onto President Jacob Zuma and the SADC. I believe Zimbabweans have to do their bit also. But there is a chaotic situation up there, so they [SADC] should not pretend there’s no crisis, like President Thabo Mbeki did. There are more than three million Zimbabweans in South Africa. Some are former CIO [intelligence officers] or police. They know how to handle arms. They educate others in crime. They won’t accept jobs as waiters.

Do you have parliamentary ambitions?
I don’t have any such ambitions, because I don’t have to be in Parliament to make a contribution. I can speak now.

But you stood as a candidate with Simba Makoni in the 2008 election. Why?
It was not a political formation and we had valid reasons to contest the election at that time. It was an opportunity to show the people of Zimbabwe that things could be done differently. It depolarised the political landscape.

What’s your vision for Zimbabwe?
It’s the opposite of the kind of society Mugabe and Zanu-PF are creating. I want freedom and democracy so that people can join political parties of their choice without any violence. If you advocate change you have to transform yourself first. But nationalists like Robert Mugabe are resistant to transformation. There is so much intolerance. When anyone is critical of the government he or she is said to be funded by the British. It’s insulting to people’s intelligence. If I was funded by the British I would surely be a rich man.

Do you have any regrets about your role in the struggle?
I have no regrets at all. I remain committed to fight for the same ideals that made me join the struggle: democracy, social justice and respect for human dignity. My only regret is that the people of Zimbabwe did not get the freedom and democracy we fought for.

Who is Wilfred Mhanda?

Wilfred Mhanda (61) was a high-ranking commander in the Zimbabwe People’s Army during the country’s liberation struggle. He became politically aware as a young boy while at a mission school in Zvishavane. Many of his teachers were harassed by the white minority government for pro-democracy activities and his mentor was former liberal prime minister, Garfield Todd, who was then under house arrest.

Mhanda studied science at the University of Rhodesia, but spent most of his time recruiting students to the armed struggle. He was forced to flee to Botswana in 1971 and later went to China for military training. He returned to Rhodesia as a guerrilla in the mid-70s.

But the liberation forces were bitterly fragmented and Mhanda fell foul of Robert Mugabe, who accused him of plotting rebellion. Mhanda was sent to a Mozambican jail, with 650 other fighters, an experience that he described as “dreadful to recall”.

He was eventually released in 1980 as part of the Lancaster House deal, brokered by Britain, which led to Zimbabwe’s independence. Mhanda’s troubles were not yet over, however. Following independence he narrowly avoided another prison term and, for several years, was “blacklisted” when he tried to seek employment. In 2000 he formed the Zimbabwe Liberators’ Platform, a group of ex-combatants opposed to Zanu-PF’s farm invasions.

Known for the wrong reasons

This is an edited extract from Wilfred Mhanda’s presentation at the “Zimbabwe in Transition” seminar, organised by the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe in Johannesburg on June 8: “Zimbabwe’s former liberation fighters have become a household name for all the wrong reasons.

“Zanu-PF had become so unpopular [that it could not win] any free and fair election against the vibrant opposition presented by the MDC. Hence the need to enlist rogue war veterans, youth militia and security forces to embark on a scorched earth policy.

“The overwhelming majority of former fighters were never card-carrying members of Zanu or Zapu. All that was required of them was the commitment to fight for the liberation of their country.

“During the war we prided ourselves on self-reliance. We believed in liberation through our [own] efforts, not by subcontracting the struggle. “We should strive to be successful farmers and entrepreneurs through hard work. Not through expropriation, entitlement and preferential hand-outs ahead of the common people.”

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