The recognition given to the late pioneering nationalists Ndabaningi Sithole and James Chikerema as national heroes by President Emmerson Mnangagwa is a political move meant to gain favour from their constituencies and tribal allies, former ZPRA veterans have said.
Sithole and Chikerema were honoured as national heroes by President Mnangagwa during Zimbabwe’s 42nd Heroes Day Commemorations at the National Heroes Acre in Harare on Monday.
Initially, these two were labelled enemies by the former late president Robert Mugabe over resentments that emanated during the liberation struggle, consequently denying them national hero status.
Sithole, a founding chairman of Zanu was expelled leading him to form Zanu-Ndonga while Chikerema founded the Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe (FROLIZI), reportedly a breakaway faction of both ZAPU and Zanu.
Sithole’s Zanu-Ndonga party won one parliamentary seat in the 1990 elections and two parliamentary seats in 1995, with its support, said to be largely from the Ndau populated district of Chipinge where it won its seats.
FROLIZI was dominated by members of the Zezuru clan with reports labelling the movement as a tribal grouping.
It is from this background that former ZPRA cadres dismissed the recognition as a political ploy by Mnangagwa to grow his support base by appealing to allies of both Sithole and Chikerema.
“This is politicking and a gimmick that has been played by the president to recognise in retrospect of time, events and politics including what went through when the leadership of Ndabaningi Sithole and James Chikerema were not recognised officially,” said Buster Magwizi, spokesperson of the ZPRA Veterans Association in an interview with CITE.
“To us, it is a ploy by the current political leaders to try and extend reach to Zanu-Ndoga, which is Manicaland predominately and Ndabaningi Sithole’s home communities.”
Magwizi said there are a number of war veterans who operated during that time, which led to the Mgagao Declaration in November 1975 that laid the foundation for the removal of Sithole as leader of Zanu and Mugabe’s elevation as the new Zanu leader.
“So, this honour is a way of trying to reach, by a detour, towards those who belonged to the Ndabaningi Sithole command element,” said the ZPRA Veterans spokesperson
“Remember there are issues of the Nhari and Badza rebellion that have not been resolved in ZANLA today and these are some of the issues that people in ZANLA would probably want the truth to come out one day so that peace can be built, peace internally and externally.
“If you go back there was a struggle within the struggle, you would realise that there are a number of issues that people out there will need to know about what happened in Mozambique and what happened amongst ZANLA themselves.”
Magwizi claimed a lot of ZANLA cadres who had lost faith in the Mugabe era can be reached now by President Mnangagwa’s politicking to embrace Sithole in retrospect, “whereas he was labelled as an enemy at one time.”
“On James Chikerema, he and George Nyandoro when they fell out of favour amongst ZPRA, which then was the Special Affairs Department, went on to form FROLIZI. Many of the people who joined FROLIZI are still in government today, so by honouring James Chikerema you are also honouring those people who were partnering with him in FROLIZI,” said Magwizi.
“Some of those people have remained silent in government today but because the FROLIZI project did not manifest long, it died a natural death but out of its demise ZANLA was revived as a military organisation. FROLIZI was a transition passage for ZANLA to be where they are. So, this is the extension by which Mnangagwa now approaches Ndabaningi Sithole and James Chikerema as if they were patriots, yes patriots in the sense but at one time or the other were kicked out as if they had sold out the struggle.”
Magwizi stressed that their latest recognition as national heroes was a way of mobilising their communities.
“Now the gimmick of bringing them back closer is a way of mobilising those communities from either the Ndau Manicaland origin and the Zezuru Chikerema origins so that in one stroke, you can have both and support zanu PF,” Magwizi said, claiming that “love of war veterans amongst the executive currently in power right now has dwindled.”
“I don’t think there is good communication between the Head of State and the war veterans even if the president may say things but his follow up on accomplishing or fulfilling his promises is far-fetched and far below.”
Sithole, died from a heart ailment in a U.S. hospital in 2000 while Chikerema died in 2006 in America where he had gone for medical treatment.