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Monday, 4 June, 2001, 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK
Obituary: War Veterans leader 'Hitler' Hunzvi
Chenjerai 'Hitler' Hunzvi:
Chenjerai 'Hitler' Hunzvi: Was not afraid to use violence
Chenjerai Hunzvi, who state media reported dead on Monday, rose to prominence as head of Zimbabwe's War Veterans Association.

The association spearheaded last year's farm invasions that raised the political temperature in Zimbabwe.

We are fighting an economic war for the liberation of our country

Chenjerai Hunzvi
He was effectively the head of a private army fighting - often literally - for President Robert Mugabe's land reforms.

Most recently he was said to have commanded attacks on about 200 factories and businesses by militants claiming to be acting on behalf of the employees.

Mr Hunzvi's trademarks were violence and inflammatory rhetoric, and that has been useful for President Mugabe.


The war veterans' leader was sometimes referred to as Hitler, the nom-de-guerre he is said to have adopted during the war of liberation that ended with Zimbabwean independence 21 years ago.

However, it is reported that he did not actually fight in the independence war, but spent the years qualifying as a Polish-trained medical practitioner.

Mr Hunvzi compared himself to revolutionary figures like Che Guevara, and to Napolean Bonaparte and even Jesus Christ.

"All revolutions require violence ... No-one can stop the revolution we have started," he once boasted.

President Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe: Backed by Hunzvi

When in prison in 1999 facing fraud charges, the courts repeatedly refused to grant Mr Hunzvi bail, saying there was a high risk that he would intimidate witnesses or abscond. His father and brothers were also arrested. The remaining war veterans' leadership voted to remove him from office.

"They want my head because I fought successfully for the betterment of the ex-combatants," said Mr Hunzvi, referring to his many political enemies.

"Jesus never wanted to be a ruler or a king, but others became jealous of his success and in the end they killed him."

Economic woe

In 1997 Mr Hunzvi led his supporters in a violent campaign to secure pensions from the government in recognition of their contribution to the liberation war.

The war veterans took to the streets and, in an early indication of their contempt for the law, went so far as to stage a rowdy protest inside the High Court.

No-one can stop the revolution, we have started

Mr Hunvzi
In the face of such intimidation, President Mugabe, the Patron of the War Veterans' Association, backed down, granting one-off payments of US $2,500 to the organisation's 50,000 members, as well as monthly pensions of US $100.

In a country where the minimum wage is less than US $30 a month, the payments were greeted with disbelief.

The Zimbabwe dollar crashed, driving up inflation and pushing the economy into a downward spiral from which it has yet to escape.

Mr Hunzvi and his organisation remained on the brink of political oblivion until the government's shock defeat in February last year in a referendum on a proposed new constitution.

Alarmed by the prospect of a similar result in the elections, the ruling party immediately invited the War Veterans to join its campaign strategy team.
farmer behind fence
War veterans led hundreds of squatters onto farms

The invasions of white-owned farms began, with thousands of protesters, many of them unemployed teenagers too young to have fought in the liberation war, organised by the War Veterans leadership.

President Mugabe and the ruling party unleashed Mr Hunzvi and his followers, partly to punish white voters for their perceived role in bringing about the government's defeat in the referendum and partly as a warning to the whole country of the potentially violent consequences of electoral defeat for Zanu-PF.

It was a high-risk strategy that seriously undermined the rule of law.

In the election, Mr Hunzvi himself was voted in as a member of parliament.

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See also:

04 Jun 01 | Africa
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26 Mar 00 | Africa
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