War veterans meeting with Robert Mugabe
Workers prepare the red carpet ahead of a meeting between President Mugabe and the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association in Harare JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images

Veterans of Zimbabwe's liberation war have withdrawn their support for President Robert Mugabe, just weeks after they criticised the leader for snubbing them after the cancellation of a series of meetings to iron out their differences.

Referring to the Mgagao Declaration – a 1975 document which elevated Mugabe to the leadership of the Zanu party, after it passed a vote of no confidence in then leader Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole – the veterans said the 92-year-old leader had only been chosen to lead the war as the secretary-general until independence, which came in 1980.

Manyadza: 'Mugabe has failed Zimbabwe'

On Tuesday, some of the 32 veterans who had signed the declaration said the ageing Mugabe was never "elected... only selected to lead in the struggle". At a press conference in the capital Harare, the group's spokesman Bernard Manyadza, who was head of military instructors, said the decision means that Mugabe cannot be Zanu-PF's candidate in the 2018 elections.

"Mugabe has failed this country and he is no longer able to hold national duties. It is us war veterans who put him in power in 1975 through the Mgagao Document which removed Ndabaningi Sithole," Manyadza said, according to New Zimbabwe.

"War veterans participated democratically in the struggle and Mugabe was not elected, but was only selected to lead in the struggle. We, the war veterans who agreed to the authorship of the Mgagao Document and appended our signatures to it, now withdraw the mandate we gave to Robert Mugabe to be the leader of the struggle."

War veterans in Zimbabwe
People applaud during a meeting with Mugabe and the War Veterans Association   Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty

7 April meeting: Disgruntled war veterans

This announcement comes a week after the make-or-break meeting between Mugabe and 10,000 restless war veterans, called to address the former fighters' welfare concerns – such as monthly pensions, school fees, medical support, funeral cover and business loans.

Mugabe, who is also patron of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), described the meeting with the five warring factions within the ex-freedom fighters as a frank engagement following weeks of turbulence, which threatens to split Zanu-PF.

In the lead-up to the 7 April gathering, however, Mugabe accused opponents of trying to topple him from power, and he was alleged to have barred those veterans not aligned to Zanu-PF from attending the crunch meeting. Manyadza said the leader had blocked genuine former fighters from attending, saying only allowing "pseudo-war veterans" and "green bombers".

"Genuine" former fighters, such as Margaret Dongo MP, were barred from the meeting because they were "deemed to be openly opposed to Robert Mugabe's continued misrule", Manyadza said. "Mugabe legitimised attendance by some pseudo-war veterans and 'green bombers' and these illegitimate attendees are Zanu-PF sycophants and bootlickers who can be best described as charlatans and opportunists."

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe
Mugabe at the meeting with the War Veterans Association Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty Images

Bitter power struggle within Zanu-PF

The malaise comes during a bitter political battle within Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF, which has seen two rival factions, called the G40 and Team Lacoste, fight for control of the party. The First Lady Grace Mugabe leads the G40, which is opposed to Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa's faction Team Lacoste, which is backed by the war veterans.

In February, Zimbabwean police fired teargas and used a water cannon to disperse hundreds of ex-fighters who had planned to march on Zanu-PF's headquarters to protest against the first lady . Although she has said she has no ambitions to run for the top seat, commentators believe she is a leading candidate to succeed her husband.

There are currently 34,000 living war veterans in Zimbabwe.