REPORTED BY KALAHAN DENG
Zimbabwean president threatens crackdown on previously supportive veterans’ group after it labels him dictatorial and egocentric.
Long-time loyalists who turned against Robert Mugabe last week will face “severe” punishment, Zimbabwe’s 92-year-old president has said as he vowed to stay in power for “a long time”.
Mugabe made his first public response on Wednesday to a scathing statement by veterans of the country’s 1970’s liberation war, in which they called him dictatorial, manipulative and egocentric.
The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association had long been quick to defend Mugabe, even with violence.
Mugabe has now demanded new leadership for the association, claiming western countries have infiltrated it.
“We have ordered an investigation to identify authors of the statement … The punishment will be severe,” he said to thousands of supporters at the headquarters of his ruling Zanu-PF party in the capital, Harare.
Mugabe insisted he will not step down. “As long as the party still wants me to serve, if I still have the energy and still have the life, I will continue,” he said.
The surprise revolt by Mugabe’s ageing corps of loyalists followed nationwide anti-government protests organised through social media. Many in Zimbabwe are frustrated by the rapidly deteriorating economy, a currency crisis and corruption.
One protest organiser, pastor Evan Mawarire, is now staying in neighbouring South Africa after Mugabe accused him of being sponsored by the west.
The veterans’ criticism has unsettled Mugabe, according to Eldred Masunungure of the University of Zimbabwe’s political science department.
“This is a result of his failure to hand over power. The succession war is driving towards a tipping point,” Masunungure said.
The veterans accuse Mugabe of dumping them for a more youthful group associated with his wife, Grace, whose political power has dramatically increased in the past two years.