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Gukurahundi genocide brigade was deployed on this day 41 years ago

by Staff reporter
20 Jan 2024 at 16:40hrs | Views
Today in history:
On this day 41 years ago and three years after Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain, the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA)'s Fifth Brigade was deployed in Matabeleland North on 20 January 1983, starting in Lupane, before invading nearby Tsholotsho, Nkayi and other surrounding districts.

Soon after that the North Korean-trained military unit, which was purged of all ex-Zipras before deployment, rampaged through the region within three months, aggressively intimidating, harassing, beating, attacking, slaughtering, raping, maiming and torturing thousands of innocent civilians.

Their cruelty was far worse than what even colonial security forces had ever meted out on black people in Rhodesia and other different countries in the region, except the Germany-engineered genocide in Namibia in 1904.

Alarmed and shocked by the barbarism and cruelty - in the name of politics - of the Zanu regime, the late Mike Auret and courageous Catholic clergymen confronted the latw former president Robert Mugabe,a  Jesuit himself, over the wave of killings sweeping across the south-western region, that is Matabeleland and later Midlands, like a tsunami.

Auret, as chairman of the Catholic Commisson for Justice and Peace (CCJP), was accompanied to the 16 March 1983 meeting at State House in Harare by outspoken bishops Ersnt Karlen, Patrick Mutume and Helmut Reckter.

It was the second time that the bishops were meeting Mugabe over the massacres after they had delivered a report to him on 4 November 1982 during the Matabeleland military lockdown, a precursor to Gukurahundi massacres.

Mugabe had initially responded, with the paranoia and fear he always exhibited at time, saying his government was "new and vulnerable", and faced an existential threat from Zapu and Zipra, which had been integrated into the army after demobilisation.

Zipra, which was well-trained and equipped by the Soviets, had earlier planned Zero Hour to invade Salisbury under Ian Smith and that always reminded Mugabe of what Zipra could do, especially after its exploits in the battlefield.

Then there was the Rhodesians (Operation Quartz) as well as the apartheid South African regime, that he ironically later ended up collaborating with against Zapu/Zpira, on top of his mind.

Mugabe adopted brinksmanship with apartheid; he denounced it when it suited him and collaborated with it against the ANC/Zapu alliance when it was also politically expedient.

Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) guerrillas were expelled (first from Zezani Camp in Beitbridge on the banks on Mzingwane River back to Zambia) and hounded in Zimbabwe as Mugabe took a cowardly or strategic approach to avoid direct confrontation with apartheid leaders, PW Botha and later FW De Klerk.

While Zipra commanders like the late Dumiso Dabengwa and MK former guerrillas spoke about that, some ANC leaders like former president Thabo Mbeki have tried to rewrite history to lionise Mugabe in the name of revolutionary fraternity.

After the expulsion of some MK guerrillas back to Zambia, their main base, the ANC representive and commander in Zimbabwe Joe Gqabi was killed by apartheid agents in Avondale in Harare amid suspicions of collaboration by Mugabe's intelligence services.

Just before that, he had been under surveillance by Mugabe's intelligence services, not for his protection but to make sure MK did not have bases, operate  and fight from Zimbabwe. Gqabi had also survived an earlier assassination attempt.

According to Auret, Mugabe then perused through the dossier of Gukurahundi killings, while current President Emmerson Mnangagwa, then State Security minister, and Sydney  Sekeramayi, then assistant Defence minister (Mugabe was in charge of Defence), other senior Zanu leaders like Enos Nkala, Nathan Shamuyarira, Herbert Ushewokunze, Morris Nyagumbo, and Simbi Mubako, spearheading the campaign, sat silent and grim-faced in the tense meeting.

After joining Zanu, Callistus Ndlovu from Zapu and Mark Dube, who was Zanla, and another Zapu defector John Mbedzi became notorious agitators.

Nkala and others, assisted by Nyagumbo, then Zanu commissar, as well as the likes of Dzingai Mutumbuka became a menace in Matabeleland.

Karlen was very straight with Mugabe in the meeting: your security forces are killing people on a massive scale and have committed grisly atrocities.

Because Mugabe's pretext for deploying the Fifth Brigade was to fight the "dissidents" (a reference to ex-Zipra fighters who had deserted infighting in the army), Karlen asked him: "Why is the army killing civilians, not going after the dissidents?"

Mugabe said his government was determined and would not retreat from hunting down dissidents, a line that he was to repeat many times, especially when dissidents killed people as well.

Dissidents also committed attacks and killings, although they were relatively isolated.

Most of their activities were acts of criminality for survival and sporadic armed attacks.

The dissidents later became an eclectic mix and motley group of discontents of ex-Zipras who had deserted the army fearing for their Iives, apartheid surrogate force Super-Zapu (which had nothing to do with Zapu/Zipra - it was led by Tafara Nkomo (Jack Moyo was his nom de guerre) and Kaizer Makhurane) and remnants of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia auxiliaries.

Super-Zapu was the brainchild of apartheid Pretoria's Directorate of Special Tasks - later under Directorate of Covert Collections - run as Operation Mute.

This department also handled the Rhodesian-created  Renamo affairs in Mozambique and trained Supa-Zapu at Entabeni, its headquarters at Southpansberg, 80km outside Musina just across the border from Beitbridge.

Apartheid also ran Operation Drama to destabilise Zimbabwe and prevent it from assisting the ANC/MK.

Mugabe and his regime claimed these groups wanted to overthrow his government.

He had also accused Joshua Nkomo, Zapu and ex-Zipra, as well as members of Rhodesian forces and MPs, of plotting a coup against him, a charge he was to later standardise into a political template in later years to justify crackdown on the opposition.

Some senior Rhodesian commanders and security officers had remained working under Mugabe.

It is significant that later other main opposition leaders in Zimbabwe during Mugabe's time were also accused of treason and other charges similar to those faced by senior Zapu leaders.

Nkomo, who became Mugabe's sworn enemy before their reconciliation in 1987, and other senior Zapu leaders like Welshman Mabhena, Sydney Malunga, Edward Ndlovu, Njini Ntuta, and Naison Khutshwekhaya Ndlovu, among others, were either arrested or hounded, while senior ex-Zipra commanders, most of whom had tenaciously fought the liberation struggle, were also picked up and detained, tortured and brutalised.

These included former Zipra commanders such as Dabengwa and Lookout Masuku, among others. Masuku died in detention on a Parirenyatwa Hospital bed in Harare as a result of that.

Nkomo survived a midnight assassination attack on his Pelandaba home in Bulawayo (he was not there as he had been tipped by sympathetic security agents, mainly by an ex-Zipra cadre in the army at 1 Brigade Clive Mkandla, that they wanted to kill him that night) before fleeing to Botswana, and later London.

Karlen, sitting next to Auret in the meeting, said to Mugabe:
"If anybody is going to attack, rape, and then kill your mother, sister or your daughter, you would have to be a good Christian not to seek revenge against them in future."

Basically, Karlen was warning Mugabe of the potential dire consequences of the killings and the vicious circle it might create.

Mutume concluded the meeting, saying the bishops would release a statement making their position on the massacres categorically clear, to which Mugabe reacted: "You can go ahead!".

Shortly afterwards, the bishops released an Easter Statement which took a similar editorial line as the Catholic-run Moto Magazine of 5 March 1983, condemning "brutality and atrocities" by the army and its "maiming and killing of hundreds and hundreds of innocent people who are neither dissidents nor collaborators".

Mugabe and his officials had always vowed to deal with "dissidents" and their "collaborators" which in the fullness of time came to mean every Zapu supporter and Ndebele-speaking person in general, which is genocidal language.

"There is clear, incontrovertible evidence that wanton atrocities and brutalities had been, and are still being, perpetrated by the army," the bishops told Mugabe.

"The facts clearly show a systematic reign of terror characterised by widespread killings, woundings, beatings, burnings, rapings and brutalisations.

"Many homes and fields have been burnt, people are starving not because of drought, but because food supplies have been deliberately cut off and restricted."

The bishops then demanded a commission of inquiry into the massacres.

Under pressure, Mugabe appointed the Chihambakwe Commisson of Inquiry, but refused to release the final  report, as he had done with the Dumbutshena Report on the Entumbane clashes between Zipra and Zanla in 1980/81.

The untiring and persistent bishops again wrote to Mugabe and ceremonial State President Canaan Banana on 5 April 1983 and presented yet another report to him the following day.

Auret, who later joined the main opposition MDC and became an MP in a bid to stop Mugabe in the new millennium before his death in 2020, then said the dossier had evidence of further detentions, attacks and killings, including a statement by a priest at Minda Mission who had seen 22 people being killed.

It was similar to another statement where a priest in Lupane saw 52 people being massacred.

Overall, over 20 000 people were killed mostly at the Nazi-style concentration camp in Kezi, Bhalagwe, were even serving national army officers like ex-Zipra cadre, Captain Khumalo, from 1 Brigade in Bulawayo, which was under current Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, was killed and thrown down disused mine shafts.

While Mugabe was the architect, Mnangagwa is accused of being the enforcer. He is currently trying to resolve the issue.

More than 70 chiefs from Matabeleland will soon go on a government-funded outreach programme to gather information and evidence in a bid to bring closure on the matter.

Mnangagwa and his henchmen want the issue resolved without truth, justice and personal criminal responsibility.

The killings were so grisly and tiring.

Fifth Brigade soldiers got tired of slaughtering people in the Matabeleland killing fields.

One incident illustrates this.

Bizarrely, the late former ZNA commander under Mnangagwa,  Edzai Chimonyo (who used the Chanyuka surname, Chiwenga was Dominic Chinenge), ended up protesting that his forces had become "tired like Zombies" in the Matabeleland killing fields.

The Bulawayo-based 1 Brigade, then under Chiwenga, provided logistics for the Fifth Brigade and worked closely with the late former army commander  General Solomon Mujuru, CIO and police to impleement the plan.

But it was Chiwenga's deputy Derrick Flint Magama and the late Armstrong Gunda who were most vicious at 1 Brigade; Magama hunted down and killed outspoken Zapu MP Njini Ntuta in Nyamandlovu who had on many occasions told Mugabe that "you are running a murderous regime".

Magama's relatives deny this, but witnesses and researchers arw clear on his involvement.

Ntuta, Malunga, Ruth Chinamano and Edward Ndlovu were the most vocal Zapu MPs who protested about Gukurahundi all the time.

Of course, Nkomo led the protests even though he was a target for assassination.

Prior to that, the clergymen had also condemned the state media, led by The Herald, The Chronicle and ZBC, of either not reporting, ignoring or campaigning for the killings. Their stories and editorials of those media platforms were shocking.

If not denying or minimising the murders, they recklessly and brazenly campaigned for the killings.

That's one of the biggest tragedies of Zimbabwean journalism, as tragic as the Gukurahundi itself.

Some journalists did not only ignore, but also beat the war drums for the massacres, Rwandan-style.

Only the Moto magazine and a few foreign correspondents exposed the massacres, leading to deportation of some of the journalists.

Donald Trelford, the late former editor of the Observer who died aged 85 last year, led the exposure of the killings.

Mugabe's friend Tiny Rowland, who had business interests through Lonrho in Zimbabwe, threatened to fire Telford for exposing the atrocities.

These events had been preceded by fierce public attacks on the government by Father John Gough, a Catholic priest who had in 1975 assisted Mugabe and Edgar Tekere to escape Rhodesia into Mozambique in 1975 to join the liberation struggle outside after their release from jail in 1974.

Mugabe and Nkomo, among other nationalists, were jailed for 10 years by the Smith regime.

In a sermon on 2 April 1983, Gough had accused the government of waging a "campaign of genocide" against the Ndebele people during which horrible atrocities were being committed "including ripping apart pregnant women's wombs, killing their fetuses, throwing babies into hot water and shooting adults in the heads after burying them up to their neck levels in the sand".

The stories were reported in the international media, particularly the Sunday Times and UK Guardian (my favourite Fleet Street newspaper), which was a thorn in the flesh for Mugabe.

Its correspondent in Zimbabwe Nick Worrall was brave and forthright in his reportage of the genocide (like Telford), and of course he had to be deported. Peter Godwin and several others also did a great job, but sadly not many local black journalists.

They neglected or failed to cover the biggest story in independent Zimbabwe, a missed opportunity for them.

That Mugabe and Zanu leaders had decided to kill and commit ethnic cleansing to impose a one-party state and also build an ethnocentric project was no longer in doubt as it had earlier been secretly revealed to Zapu official Cephas Msipa by Edison Zvobgo, a senior Zanu leader, after the party's decisive Central Committee meeting in Harare on 31 December 1982.

Zvobgo secretly told Msipa after the meeting: "The decision was simply that let's massacre Ndebeles".

This was just two weeks before Gukurahundi started formally - which was today in history in 1983.

The trigger was Nkomo's refusal in a tense meeting with Mugabe in mid-January 1983 to accept a formal proposal for a one-party state.

Even the discovery of the arms caches saga in 1982, which was used as a pretext for the militray lockdown, came after a volatile meeting on 5 February 1982 between Nkomo and Mugabe in which the former had rejected the one-party state proposal.

Mujuru, Perence Shiri, Vitalis Zvinavashe, Chiwenga and others had met in Bulawayo on 19 January 1983 to oversee the Gukurahundi deployment, as Mugabe left the country for a trip to India for a Non-Aligned Movement conference, like he had done before on other critical junctures apparently to create plausible deniability, including on the arms caches and arrests that followed.

At the beginning of the initial military lockdown in 1982, Mujuru was away in Romania for training and Josiah Tungamirai was in charge.

Apart from most senior military commanders, brutal former Rhodesian soldiers like Lionel Dyck and Moses Pongweni were also deeply involved as they had proved to be ruthless during the war, which was ironic, but then the Rhodesians had earlier helped Mugabe to stop Zipra when it tried to invade Bulawayo in 1980.

That was subsequent to the Gwayi military standoff.

Prior to that Matabeleland had been under a military lockdown and curfew since July 1982 after the now mysterious disappearance of six Western tourists, a mystery that was never resolved as to who actually killed them and why.

Mugabe had accused the dissidents, while Nkomo blamed government "pseudos". Zapu insisted that Zanu was framing it to justify the political crackdown which later morphed into genocide.

Zvobgo's warning to Msipa was later confirmed by a top Fifth Brigade commander who told his victims in Tsholotsho that: "We'll kill you - all of you Ndebeles".

Besides, Mugabe, who had denounced the bishops after their unrelenting pressure as "sanctimonious prelates" and "foreign agents", had also indicated in one of their meetings that Ndebeles were resisting his rule because they don't want to be ruled by a Shona leader; claiming "they believe Nkomo is ordained to rule" but we will "reorient" them.

Up until his death, Mugabe (his last interview after the coup was on 15 March 2018) still believed Gukurahundi was largely because of Zapu, Zipra and Ndebeles who refused to submit to his rule.

Mugabe in the 1980s accused Ndebeles of tribal resistance to his rule, while Nkomo accused Mugabe of a tribal vengeance.

In his last interview at his Blue Roof mansion in Harare on 15 March 2018, Mugabe also blamed Mnangagwa and the army for the killings.

Mugabe refused to take responsibility.

Journalists had asked him if he regretted the killings. He blamed everyone he could, except himself.

The Gukurahundi campaign was in five phases: first the face-off stage leading to Entumbane battles in 1980/81, the lockdown in 1982, the mass killings in Matabeleland North, murders amid a scorched earth policy down in Matabeleland South in 1983, the urban warfare against Zapu, which after the 1985 election eventually forced Nkomo to surrender, saying he wanted to stop the bloodshed, and finally negotiations which culminated in the 1987 Unity Accord.

Prior to Gukurahundi official deployment, there were clashes between Zanla and Zipra in Entumbane in 1980 and 1981, a continuation of political hostilities from the 1960s and during the struggle; themselves a reincarnation of ancient tribal hatreds between Shonas and Ndebeles.

The historical event of Ndebeles migrating to Zimbabwe from South Africa during the Mfecane (times of trouble) and its implications has remained a moot issue to some in Zimbabwe up to this day.

For instance in 2018, former  Zimbabwe deputy Information minister Energy Mutodi said the Ndebeles were not Zimbabweans, but South Africans living in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe referred to this during his 1980s meetings with the ecclesiastical envoys, including Auret, who was during Gukurahundi period arrested, together with Nicholas Ndebele, then CCJP director, for their opposition to the massacres.

All these events and issues cystallise on the project that Mugabe, who was committed to a one-party state as he also was to violence, tried hard but failed to establish.

Mugabe sought to establish an authoritarian and ethnocentric one-party state in which politically motivated violence and repression, which up to this day remain a scourge of Zimbabwean politics, were certainly some of its most radical manifestations.

The Gukurahundi genocide marks the high water mark of that.

And this partly explains why Zimbabwe is now practically a failed militarised state mired in deep crisis for decades, especially after the 2017 coup.

The seeds of division, violence and failure were sown by Zanu and its leaders soon after independence, and this has now exploded into a serious national crisis and paralysis running for decades.

Yet Mugabe had also succeeded in crushing his opponents and ensuring, at least for a while, a de factor one-party state partly held.

It didn't last long though, as Tekere broke ranks in 1990, formed Zum, and the MDC emerged in 1999, a decade after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the crumbling of the Soviet bloc.

The plan to eliminate Zapu/Zipra or the opposition and "massacre the Ndebele" as the Zanu PF Central Committee had decided was there from day one in order to facilitate the one-party and ethnocentric state, using a political force, Gukurahundi, whose name was the same as the military forces that had killed Zipra cadres at Mgagao and killed the Nhari rebellion Zanla combatants in 1974.

Gukurahundi has always been a code-name for mass killings in Zanu.

At every juncture Mugabe was clear about all this, his narrative and implementation were unmistakable.

It was not a "moment of madness" as he was to later claim in 1999 at Nkomo's funeral at Heroes Acre in Harare. If anything there was some method in his madness.

Auret and others warned of this in the 1980s, but then Mugabe and his supporters didn't listen; and now the results of that madness are there for all to see.

Mnangagwa is left to pick up the pieces and battle to bring closure to the thorny issue.

Source - newshawks