Zimbabwe’s costly military adventure in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) two decades ago continues to haunt the country, with a group of retired soldiers now accusing ousted former president Robert Mugabe and top military chiefs of looting rich diamond mines that were allegedly given to Harare by Kinshasa for deploying its troops there.
The controversial deployment of at least 12 000 Zimbabwean soldiers in the DRC by Mugabe in August 1998 — to rescue the regime of the late Congolese president Laurent Kabila from an offensive by Rwanda, Uganda and some rebel groups — massively contributed to the demise of the local economy, whose implosion escalated when the nonagenarian encouraged chaotic land reforms.
In a letter they wrote to the Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda, a copy of which is in the possession of the Daily News, the Congo war vets agitated for compensation from the government for their trauma, as well as the deaths of their colleagues there. And in a stunning claim, they also said they were entitled to the proceeds of the rich diamond pickings from the DRC, which they said ended up in the hands of Mugabe and his cronies, including top military bosses.
“We as soldiers of the Zimbabwe National Army participated in the war of the DRC dubbed Operation Legitimacy and Sovereignty, from 1998 to 2002. However, and although the ZDF had promised to compensate us for defending the sovereignty of the DRC against foreign invasion, 16 years down the line nothing has been met with regards (to this compensation).
“We remain in pain to this day because our cadres and comrades died in the war and never received decent burials, and worse off, these comrades had their families who are even today not cared for, and nothing has been paid by the State to cater for their families’ welfare and upkeep,” the angry ex-soldiers said.
“Since these cadres were breadwinners, their deaths meant a loss of incomes and livelihood in their respective families. We look forward to the new dispensation under … president Mnangagwa coming up with a solution to this anomaly,” they added in their letter to Mudenda.
“The Republic of Zimbabwe was … given diamond mines in DRC, Mbuji Mayi and Kabinda, which did not benefit us and the nation as a whole. These mines were manipulated by the former president … Mugabe and his lieutenants.
“We therefore request you to resolve this anomaly so that the funds which were produced from the mines be accounted for and … be brought to the compensation of those (who) sustained injuries and deaths,” the former soldiers said further.
The ominous letter was copied to Vice President Constantino Chiwenga in his capacity as Defence minister.
Against all advice, Mugabe, deployed the troops to the dense forests of the DRC in 1998, to help prop up Kabila’s government which had come under attack from Uganda and Rwandese soldiers who were working with allied militia groups.
That deployment came on the back of the crash of the Zimbabwe dollar a year earlier, after Mugabe’s equally ill-advised decision to pay a once-off gratuity of Z$50 000 each to war veterans.
This resulted in the further weakening of the Zimbabwe dollar and the national economy, as the government funnelled millions of dollars towards the war.
A subsequent special United Nations Report, focusing on the war, implicated many generals and Mugabe’s allies in the alleged smuggling of millions of dollars of “blood diamonds”.
Mugabe’s 37 years of uninterrupted rule came to an end on November 21 last year, when he resigned moments after Parliament had started damaging proceedings to impeach him.
This followed a military intervention that was code-named Operation Restore Legacy, which saw the nonagenarian and his then influential wife Grace being placed under house arrest.
Several Cabinet ministers linked to Zanu PF’s Generation 40 (G40) faction, which had coalesced around Mugabe and Grace, were also targeted in the operation, which ended just before Christmas — with the military only retreating back to their barracks after five weeks of executing the operation.
The annihilated G40 was, before the military intervention, locked in a bitter war with President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his supporters for control of both Zanu PF and the country.
In recent weeks Mugabe has complained about the manner in which he lost power, as well as the alleged harassment that he is suffering at the hands of the new authorities.
He has also complained bitterly to the African Union that Mnangagwa’s government is allegedly not treating him well — including through the supposed withholding of some of the eye-watering benefits that he was promised when he fell from power.
Apart from that, Mugabe has given his support to the fledgling National Patriotic Front (NPF) party, which this week unveiled members of the defeated G40 as its leaders.
Mugabe fell out with Mnangagwa when he fired the country’s then VP, both from being his deputy in government and from Zanu PF, as the nonagenarian’s long-drawn succession war boiled over late last year.
Mugabe and Mnangagwa had until then shared a very close relationship that dated back to the days of the liberation struggle when the latter was the former’s aide.