War veteran Douglas Mahiya
Douglas Mahiya, information secretary of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) was detained on 27 August 2016 over a statement the association issued attacking President Robert Mugabe's rule REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

The trial of five Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans' Association (ZNLWVA) executive members accused of undermining the authority of President Robert Mugabe starts today (22 November).

In a landmark move on 21 July, the ZNLWVA, which has 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. The association, which blames Mugabe for the poor economy, said its members would not longer support the president in elections in 2018.

Following the association's break up from Mugabe, four top veterans of Zimbabwe's liberation war were expelled from the ruling Zanu-PF party. Prosecutor Audrey Chogumaira last month announced that investigations into the matter were complete and confirmed their trial would start on 22 November.

The accused are the association's secretary-general Victor Matemadanda, ZNLWVA spokesman Douglas Mahiya, the association's political commissar Francis Nhando, chairman deputy Headman Moyo, and Hoyini Samuel Bhila, the association's Harare chapter deputy chair.

Chogumaira alleged that between April 2016 and July 2016 the five men acted in connivance with other high ranking members and authored the shock condemnation document in which they described him as "dictatorial" and manipulative.

The prosecutor claimed that the veterans, who explained why they would no longer support the president's political campaigns, published the "defamatory" statement knowing could undermine Mugabe's authority or insult him, in contravention of the section 33 of the Criminal Code.

The trial is expected to continue tomorrow. It will then be adjourned to 28 November and continue until 30 November.

Mugabe, who is the world's oldest head of state and has been widely criticised for his country's human rights record, has indicated that he will represent Zanu-PF at the next general elections scheduled for 2018. But a number of Zimbabwe's veteran politicians, including some from his own party, have already thrown their hats in the ring.