WAR veterans and other members of the public will soon be able to express their opinions on the Veterans of the Liberation Struggle Bill, which is currently at First Reading Stage in the National Assembly amid erosion of the current gratuities of ex-freedom fighters by inflation.

Next week, the Levy Mayihlome (Umzingwane MP Zanu PF)-led Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Home Affairs will gather views during public hearings on the Bill.

ZPRA Veterans Association says it has already begun mobilising its members and other war veterans to attend the meetings.

The committee will be at Bulawayo’s Entumbane Hall on January 29 from 9am to 12 noon and will proceed to Nketa Hall from 2pm to 4pm.

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ZPRA Veterans Association secretary-general Petros Sibanda on Monday said they will hold a meeting on January 26 to look into the draft before the hearings.

“On the welfare issue, we want it to be clear whether we fall under the Welfare or Defence ministry. At the moment, it is not clear and the Bill must clearly state the position. On the composition of the board of the veterans, it must be clear as to who will be chairing and it must be chaired on a rotational basis by both the Zpra and Zanla and this must be included in the Bill,” he said.

“Zpra and Zanla must be apolitical, because it is clear that some of the war veterans end up being used by politicians. Yes, individuals are independent to belong to any party but organisations must be independent to avoid being used as political tools. The Bill must clearly state this.”

Sibanda said the liberation war hero status must be given to someone when he or she is still alive, adding that housing and land issues and development in the allocated area must be included in the Bill.

If passed, the Bill has economic implications as there have been suggestions that war veterans want pensions that are equivalent to those of retired army majors, as well as gratuities that will be paid to war collaborators.

The Bill seeks to compensate war collaborators (mujibhas and chimbwindos) who participated in the liberation struggle and defines them as “any person who had at least attained the age of 16 years by December 31, 1979, and who in the period between 1975 and February 29, 1980 consistently and persistently was closely linked with the operations of the liberation war fighters through different activities”.