Mugabe has since the turn of the millennium relied on war veterans to ward of any challenge from the opposition.
The war veterans have embarked on a series of violent campaigns to keep Zanu PF afloat, especially after the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which almost dislodged the ruling party in 2000 and 2008.
However, infighting in Zanu PF fuelled by disagreements over Mugabe’s succession has left war veterans at loggerheads with young leaders, including First Lady Grace Mugabe.
Grace used her rallies that preceded the Zanu PF annual conference held in Victoria Falls last weekend, to attack a group of war veterans she accused of causing trouble in the party.
The former fighters are linked to Vice-President Emmerson Mna- ngagwa who is keen to take over as president after Mugabe’s depature.
Mugabe used the Zanu PF conference to call the war veterans to order, saying the fact that they participated in the liberation war did not make them special.
The 91-year-old leader also had no kind words for the army, police and intelligence, saying they should stop meddling in Zanu PF affairs.
MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu said Mugabe’s attacks against war veterans did not come as a surprise as it had become clear that he was only interested in preserving his power.
“Robert Mugabe is just being true to his nature; as Machiavellian as he can be,” Gutu said.
“When it suits him, he will use the war veterans to pursue his goal of being a life president and when it doesn’t suit him, he will trash and trivialise the same war veterans.
“For Mugabe, political power defines his DNA. Everything else is secondary.”
The former Justice deputy minister said Mugabe had always feigned his love for the war veterans.
“Fundamentally and deep down his heart, he has never really liked and/or respected war veterans,” Gutu said.
“He has only been keen on using and abusing them when it is convenient for his political designs, particularly when he let the war veterans loose as he began his violent land reform programme in February 2000
“This is why you will find that the majority of genuine war veterans are living in abject poverty and squalor.
“Genuine war veterans are not respected by Mugabe. He is more comfortable surrounding himself with corrupt political opportunists and later day ‘revolutionaries’.”
Gutu’s sentiments were echoed by People’s Democratic Party (PDP) spokesperson Jacob Mafume, who said Mugabe had no respect for the former fighters.
“It would appear that the only war veteran Mugabe is comfortable with is the clown type, a yesman, uneducated with no ambition but a tool to use with no ideology,” he said.
Mafume said the president could also be trying to elbow out war veterans from the succession race.
“It would then suggest that he believes war veterans are not in his plans to succeed him,” he said.
“Mugabe himself is not a war veteran, but a nationalist.
“He probably does not understand why having been in the war should be a requirement to succeed him. He has another successor in mind who is not a war veteran,” Mafume said.
“War veterans must remember they humiliated Mugabe at the National Heroes Acre during [Chenjerai] Hunzvi’s time while demanding compensation.
“Mugabe does not forgive or forget and surely as the sun rises, he will get his revenge if it’s the last thing he will do”.
War veterans have publicly quarreled with Zanu PF commissar Saviour Kasukuwere, who is believed to be a key member of the Generation-40 that backs the First Lady.
The former fighters claimed Kasukuwere disrespects them and had demanded that Mugabe must remove him from the post in favour of a war veteran.
Their leader Christopher Mutswangwa now faces expulsion from Zanu PF after Mashonaland West passed a vote of no confidence on him saying he had insulted the first family.
Mutsvangwa’s predecessor Jabulani Sibanda was fired last year after he accused Grace of engineering a bedroom coup after the First Lady had engineered the ouster of former Vice-President Joice Mujuru.
Mugabe’s love and hate relationship with war veterans began in 1997 when he succumbed to protests by the former fighters to pay them unbudgeted for pensions.
When his power came under threat in 2000, however, he unleashed war veterans to invade white-owned commercial farms after accusing their owners of sponsoring the opposition.
The former fighters eventually became a cog in Zanu PF’s election machinery as they intimidated people, especially in rural areas, into voting for Mugabe.
But the expulsion of Mujuru and several other Zanu PF stalwarts for allegedly plotting against Mugabe left the former fighters divided and diminished their influence in the ruling party.