Vets Bill needs to expand in scope

21 Jun, 2020 - 00:06 0 Views

The Sunday Mail

Lincoln Towindo

A SHOCKING incident took place in Harare sometime in February 2016, signifying a kick in the teeth on our moral fabric as Zimbabweans.

This was during a time of significant upheaval in Zanu PF.

Veterans of the Second Chimurenga under the auspices of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) had gathered near City Sports Centre for a national indaba to discuss their welfare and the goings-on in the ruling party.

Police moved in to block the indaba, which initially was set to be held at Zanu PF Headquarters but was shifted after some party officials stopped them from entering the party premises.

What followed was a ghastly scene of confrontation between the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and the war veterans.

Police soon deployed water tankers and all manner of crowd dispersal techniques, including tear smoke and batons to chase the war veterans.

Scores were injured in the ensuing melee, in scenes that some described as reminiscent of the running battles between the colonial police force and agitators for freedom.

Zimbabweans were left in a deep state of shock upon witnessing the State turning its guns on founders of the nation.

This incident served to perpetuate the notion of State-led neglect, mistreatment and disregard for the veterans of the Second Chimurenga.

In one fell swoop, the State had transgressed against sections 3(1) (i), 3(2) (i) (iv), 23 and 84 of the Constitution which provide for respect and the rights of all veterans of the liberations struggle.

Addressing a Press conference in the aftermath of the incident, ZNLWVA chair Ambassador Chris Mutsvangwa had no kind words for the State.

“I am addressing you with a heavy heart, which stems from events of this morning that the ZRP found itself resorting to heavy-handed violence against selected representatives of our association,” said Amb Mutsvangwa.

“This is a monstrosity . . . to see war vets being beaten by the police. We want an audience with our patron so that we understand where the compasses have gone wrong in the organs of the party but there are rights that also have been transgressed.”

Enter the New Dispensation

Fast forward to May 2018, the war veterans were back at the City Sports Centre — the same scene of the grim episode two years prior.

President Mnangagwa had convened a national meeting with war veterans, to interface on their challenges. Acknowledging the war veterans’ historic and well-documented grievances, the President undertook to take them head-on.

“Government has already made a decision to increase allowances and pensions for all veterans to cushion you to your daily needs. My Government will support you in all your endeavours,” he said.

It was not long before the Veterans of the Liberation Struggle Bill was gazetted.

“The old dispensation failed to address your concerns, hence the new dispensation under the leadership of President Mnangagwa is working tirelessly to improve the livelihoods of the veterans,” said Defence and War Veterans Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri at an interactive meeting with the war veterans provincial leadership, in unveiling the Bill earlier this year.

The Bill passed the second reading stage in the National Assembly last week.

It elicited animated debate over the welfare of war veterans from Parliamentarians across the political divide, albeit in the spirit of safeguarding the institution of war veterans.

What was clear from the debate is that in its current form, the Bill may need to be expanded in scope to cover other areas of prodigious importance.

Among other provisions, the Bill in its current form provides for the establishment of a Veterans of the Liberation Struggle Board whose role includes addressing issues relating to rights, benefits and
the general welfare of veterans of the liberation struggle.

It provides for the creation of a vetting section in the Defence Ministry and the requisite vetting procedure.

Crucially, the Bill explicitly provides for entitlements such as pensions, basic health care, education support and funeral assistance among other benefits for veterans of the liberation struggle.

War veterans, once the law is passed, will be entitled to at least 20 percent of all land gazetted for appropriation by the State.

A Veterans of the Liberation Struggle Fund to provide for loans and grants will also be established.

These provisions illustrate how much thought and wide consultations were deployed into the drafting of the Bill, seeing that it addresses, comprehensively, much of the principal welfare grievances.

However, the Bill does very little in providing for the preservation of the institution of war veterans, for posterity.

It focuses largely on providing for the welfare of war veterans, which, admittedly, is a consequence of the tough economic environment.

Not much thought went into the fulfilment of Section 23 of the Constitution which provides for “State-led according of due respect, honour and recognition to veterans of the liberation struggle”.

Giving respect, honour and recognition surely goes beyond just providing for basic welfare needs of war vets.

Recognition and honour must include preservation of their honour through State-led actions such as documentation of the exploits of these brave women and men.

Admittedly, documentation of individual stories of our heroes has been negligible, 40 years after independence. In most cases, the stories we read are products of the vanquished.

To illustrate the importance of documenting and preserving war efforts, most jurisdictions have set up war memorials and museums. Why is the Bill silent on such a noble undertaking?

Contributing to the Bill’s second reading debate last week, Concilia Chinanzvavana (proportional representation), was forthright about the importance of preserving history.

“If we may at least have recognition for them. Maybe a roll of honour or a war veterans museum where we will have all the names of those on the roll of honour for those who went to war just listed,” she said.

Other legislators also called for medals just like the ones chiefs have.

It is common cause that some veterans of the liberation war suffer from ailments that include PTSD owing to their exposure to war while they were very young. Is it not prudent that the Bill also speaks to the need for mental rehabilitation and treatment for those in need?

In other countries, war veterans are entitled to tax breaks, life insurance and home loans.

The Bill needs to comprehensively provide for the welfare of our heroes and also the preservation of their memory.

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