LEADERS of Zimbabwean war veterans have boycotted a speech by President Robert Mugabe to honour fighters of the country’s independence war, widening a rift with Africa’s oldest leader.
The veterans, who boycotted Monday’s speech, have called on Mugabe to step down.
The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) last month denounced Mugabe, 92, as a divisive ruler, in a jolting rebuke underlining mounting anger over economic woes.
The ZNLWVA executive was absent from National Heroes Day celebrations in the capital to honour living and dead fighters of the 1970s liberation war against white minority rule.
This is the first time leaders of the group have failed to attend the celebrations since ZNLWVA was formed in 1990.
The group has anchored Mugabe’s election campaigns since 2000, when the first major opposition to the president emerged with the formation in 1999 of the main opposition party Movement For Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai.
ZNLWVA secretary general Victor Matemadanda said his group had boycotted Monday’s event because it had lost its meaning.
“We said as an executive we have no reason to attend because it (National Heroes Day) is not intended to achieve the true goal to honour the war veterans,” Matemadanda told Reuters.
“We said because we are being persecuted continuously, there is no reason why we should go there. In fact if you go there, you will never know what they will think, maybe they will think of arresting us or other comrades who have not been arrested.”