HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Veterans of Zimbabwe’s independence war made a significant break with President Robert Mugabe for the first time Thursday, calling him dictatorial, manipulative and egocentric.
The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association has been a pillar of support for the 92-year-old leader for decades, but it released a statement criticizing the man it had long been quick to defend. The veterans are known for unleashing violence on those opposing the government.
The surprise revolt by Mugabe’s aging corps of loyalists comes after nationwide anti-government protests organized via social media. Many in Zimbabwe are frustrated by a rapidly deteriorating economy and alleged corruption.
“We note, with concern, shock and dismay, the systematic entrenchment of dictatorial tendencies, personified by the president and his cohorts, which have slowly devoured the values of the liberation struggle,” the statement said after an association meeting Thursday.
The group said it will no longer support Mugabe’s political campaigns, accusing him of abandoning it for the youth league of the ruling party ZANU-PF.
Mugabe, who has been in power for 36 years, has recently turned toward the youth league for political support, including two rallies attended by tens of thousands of people.
Earlier this week, the president responded to the recent anti-government protests, telling critics to leave Zimbabwe if they are unhappy with conditions at home.