Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe
President Robert Mugabe is desperate for money to fund Zimbabwe's budgetJekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty Images

The shock condemnation of President Robert Mugabe by Zimbabwean war veterans, who had previously supported the leader for decades, is a "serious blow to the embattled dictator", according to analysts.

In a landmark move on Thursday (21 July 2016), the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), which supported the long-serving leader since he came to power in 1980 and was known for responding violently to those who oppose his government, released a statement explaining why it was withdrawing its backing for him.

In its communique, the ZNLWVA, on whose support Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party was built, described the 92-year-old leader as dictatorial and manipulative.

Following the announcement, Charles Laurie, head of country risk at Verisk Maplecroft, which provides country and political risk analysis, said that by withdrawing support for Mugabe, the veterans of the 1970s Liberation War "have dealt a serious blow to the embattled dictator".

According to the analyst, the party has been propped up by the war veterans for 36 years as they hold key leadership positions in the security services and ZANU-PF hierarchy.

"War veterans are the heart and soul of ZANU-PF, and have been the party's loyal footsoldiers. Their venerated social standing and authentic nationalist credentials have rallied political support for the ruling party in one election after another since 1980," Laurie explained.

War veterans in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwean war veterans sing revolutionary songs at a meeting at the ruling Zanu-PF on 7 April 2016Reuters

The ZNLWVA's backlash is not entirely a shock, the head of country risk said, highlighting the contrasting lifestyles of the veterans "who toil away in relentless poverty" and Mugabe's infamous lavish style.

While the veterans have repeatedly asked Mugabe to address their welfare concerns – such as monthly pensions, school fees, medical support, funeral cover and business loans – the president's $800,000 (£559,600) birthday celebration in January 2016 sparked outrage.

"It is no surprise that their patience has expired as ordinary Zimbabweans struggle to survive in the weakening economy," he explained.

Because the 92-year-old leader was seen as nationalist leader who gained independence for Zimbabwe and sovereignty for his people, the veteran's break is expected to have deep impacts on Mugabe's political career.

Indeed, Laurie said, the president would "struggle to shake off accusations that he is simply a wealthy, self-serving and out of touch dictator who has presided over the disastrous breakdown of Zimbabwe".

Highlighting the fact that it remains unclear whether a large majority of the nation's 10,000 former liberation war fighters actually backed the ZNLWVA statement, Laurie questioned whether "the loose alliances of veterans will remain steadfast in resisting Mugabe's threats and inducements to rejoin his cause".