Michael Wines has an article about Zimbabwe in today’s New York Times that is a pretty good analysis of how Mugabe stays in power. He maybe overstates the extent to which portions of the ruling party want to boot the old man out in order to accomplish reform. I’m afraid that some of them probably just want their turn at the trough.
But the one thing that he says that drove me absolutely nuts is, “Mr. Mugabe long ago won the loyalty of a powerful force â€” the guerrillas who fought in Zimbabweâ€™s liberation struggle in the 1970s â€” by granting them huge pension bonuses and, in 2000, allowing them to seize the nationâ€™s best farmland from white commercial farmers. Since then, the veterans have become a rogue force in Zimbabwean politics, staging raids on the homes of opponents and beating and intimidating them, according to human rights groups and critics of the government.”
This is almost as pernicious a myth as the idea that Mugabe’s actions since 1998 have been motivated by genuine populist anger at white farmers.
Oh, yes, it’s true that there were gangs of men used by the state to seize farmland and rough up opponents. But for the most part, they’re not actually veterans of the liberation war. Chinjerai “Hitler” Hunzvi, who led these irregulars for a while before his death, did not fight in the war, but instead spent those years in Eastern Europe. A lot of the “war veterans” who participated in farm seizures and now intimidate or beat opponents of the government were too young to have fought in the war.
One analogy I can think of to the “war veterans” that clarifies what they really are is the Nazi S.A. or “brownshirts”. Not terribly organized, composed of young to middle-aged men who were previously in highly marginalized or excluded economic and social circumstances, a kind of lumpen militia–and ultimately just as disposable as the S.A. was to the Nazis.