Harare – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is promising to give more land to the country's former freedom fighters, telling those who have not yet benefitted from his land programme to "indicate" which farms they prefer, ahead of next year's elections.
War collaborators, former political detainees and restrictees are also set to benefit.
Critics are adamant the Zanu-PF strong-man faces his most defining moment next year, as his party is ravaged by factionalism over uncertainty on who will succeed him.
Zimbabwe polls are tentatively due in July 2018 but information obtained by News24 suggests Mugabe is already “oiling” his election campaign machinations amid concerns by the opposition the nonagenarian intends “stealing” yet another vote, as he seeks a fifth term at the helm of the republic.
In seeking to curry favour with the grumbling veterans of the country's war of liberation from colonial Britain, Mugabe's ministry in charge of the freedom fighters has written a notice alerting them he is addressing their grievances - top among them parceling out farms at provinces of their choice for those who have not benefitted from his controversial land redistribution programme.
Mugabe, who turned 93 last month, met the veterans last year amid complaints some of their lot failed to benefit from his controversial land reforms. They also complained they were being discriminated against in the allocation of residential and commercial plots.
"During their epic meetings with His Excellency the President, veterans generally complained of being dispossessed of their allocated lands, be they agricultural, urban or peri-urban, under various unjustifiable pretexts," reads part of the notice to the veterans dispatched on 11 March 2017 by Tshinga Dube, the Minster responsible for war veterans.
"Some have initiated housing co-operatives which are seriously under attack from various cunning land barons. Due to the above circumstances, the veterans of the liberation struggle have pleaded with His Excellency to intervene at the highest level to stop the Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlements or any other authorities involved in these dastardly activities from countenancing or approving such dispossession and displacements," said the notice, calling on the veterans to approach the ministry for redress.
The veterans who had been offered farms but failed to settle on the properties are required to name the farms, and bring copies of offer letters. Those threatened off the land or issued with withdrawal notices or court action or if court action is under way, must submit supporting documents to that effect. These stated requirements, officials say, would aid Mugabe to reverse such actions or ensure they get the farms.
"Veterans of the liberation struggle who have not yet been allocated are urged to submit their names, indicating their provinces," added Dube in the notice to the veterans.
But critics say these are election sweetners as Mugabe moves to placate the veterans who have been his mainstay in power since the advent of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) ahead of polls.
Opposition politician and human rights lawyer David Coltart believes Mugabe maybe “activating” the war veterans ahead of the crunch polls in which he is likely to face a grand opposition coalition. Coltart says, however, that another possibility is that Mugabe is trying to head off Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa's threat by ingratiating himself with war veterans.
"One of Mugabe's biggest headaches as he moves towards the 2018 elections is that the majority of war veterans no longer support his candidacy. He is desperate to rectify that - hence this advertisement," says Coltart.
Political analyst Rick Mukonza concurs, adding that Mugabe knows he has the odds stuck against him in the upcoming 2018 elections.
"He knows the economic situation of the country continues to deteriorate and there is no solution in sight. Substantially, therefore, he has nothing to campaign with, the indigenisation and land redistribution mantra has passed its sell-by date and people want food on the table. Mugabe has lost some important and key allies such as the war vets, add to that the splits within Zanu-PF. As if that is not enough, there is the prospective coalition between Tsvangirai, Mujuru and others. All these militate against his victory in 2018," said Mukonza.
In wooing the war vets and war collaborators with promises and addressing their greviances, he is bringing back an important part of the machinery that has kept him in power for all these years.
Critics note the war vets are particularly important in that they have significant influence in the military, police and intelligence, a province that Mugabe doesn’t want to be tempered with.
Mukonza adds that the war veterans also have strong connections in the rural base, which is Mugabe's stronghold. More importantly for him, they can be easily used as tools for violence when the need arises, he says.
"It would, therefore, not be a farfetched idea that Mugabe may be thinking of employing violence towards the 2018 elections. In fact violence is always part of Mugabe's power retention strategy, either as the main or backup strategy."
But Reason Wafawarova, a Zanu-PF sympathiser who trained the militant youth brigades, argues the war veterans have genuine grievances.
Mugabe's politics of patronage
"The timing could simply be a tactic by those pushing for the benefits to put them forward at a time they can hardly be brushed aside or ignored. What better time to arm twist the executive than during an election eve era," he says.
Reward Mushayabasa, another political analyst points out that Mugabe's politics of patronage is the reason why Zimbabwe is in a mess, economical and political.
"The cornerstone of Mugabe's dictatorship is a system of patronage. He uses it when he sees it fit to perpetuate his rule," says Mushayabasa.
"We saw it happening with the war veterans' $50 000 pay offs in the 1990s when Mugabe found himself under siege. Each time his grip on power is threatened, he uses the 'carrot' to seduce his impressionable supporters. Now he knows that the endgame is nigh," he says.