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Thursday, 20 April, 2000, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
Profile: War Veterans' leader 'Hitler' Hunzvi
Chenjerai 'Hitler' Hunzvi:
Chenjerai 'Hitler' Hunzvi: Not afraid to use violence
By BBC News Online's Russell Smith

War veterans' leader Chenjerai Hunzvi has been threatened by the High Court with prison unless he ends the occupations of hundreds of white-owned farms.

But this threat is unlikely to worry the head of the War Veterans Association unduly, for he spent several months last year in prison facing fraud charges.

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

Chenjerai Hunzvi

And he is relishing his current role at the head of what is effectively a private army fighting - often literally - for President Robert Mugabe's land reforms.

Yet his relationship with the president is said to be an uneasy one.

The freedom fighters have received little except broken promises over the years from the government they helped sweep into power.

Mr Hunzvi's trademarks are violence and inflammatory rhetoric, and for the time being this is useful for President Mugabe.

The war veterans' leader is 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 20 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 has 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 has boasted.

Just how long Mr Hunzvi's goals will coincide with President Mugabe's are unclear.

However, he is adept at surviving difficult times.
President Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe: Currently has the full support of the war veterans

When in prison last year, 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

The reason behind the campaign to neutralise Mr Hunzvi can be traced back to 1997, when he 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 in a referendum on a proposed new constitution.

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

And Mr Hunzvi is not afraid of using violence to achieve his goals.

He has told the white farmers they have two options.

"Hand over the land we leave them or stay and see what land we leave them."

President Mugabe and the ruling party have 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 is a high-risk strategy that is seriously undermining the rule of law.

And there is no guarantee that the dog may not return to bite the hand that feeds it.

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See also:

03 Apr 00 | Africa
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Mugabe warns of 'chaos'
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