Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s attempts to disown statements attributed to him during the Gukurahundi massacres have opened a new frontier for critics of one of President Robert Mugabe’s likely successors.
BY NQOBANI NDLOVU/RICHARD CHIDZA
Mnangagwa has over the years avoided responding directly to allegations that he was one of the key architects of the killings of civilians by Five Brigade in Midlands and Matabeleland soon after independence.
But Mnangagwa last week came out guns blazing after former Education minister David Coltart used statements attributed to him by State-controlled media in the 1980s, in his recently released book, The Struggle Continues: 50 Years of Tyranny in Zimbabwe.
Mnangagwa was quoted in the 1980s apparently justifying the killings by the army. The Midlands strongman last week threatened to sue over the alleged “fabricated” statements.
However, the move has backfired, with Coltart getting support from even unlikely sources such as Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo, who retorted that: “denialism is not the best way to deal with things done or said during Gukurahundi, period: Their record is public”.
Former war veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda said it would be a “massive error” if Mnangagwa took the matter to court since the information was in the public domain.
“I have not read Coltart’s book,” Sibanda said.
“What I know for certain is that Coltart was, during the period of Gukurahundi, a human rights lawyer representing Zapu leaders, including Sidney Malunga.
“But I must say it will be ill-advised for Vice-President Mnangagwa to take this matter to court.
“It will set a bad precedence that could see a lot of people being taken to court.
“It will be a massive error for him to take the issue of defending the Fifth Brigade to court.”
Sibanda, a former Zipra combatant, said a court case would open a can of worms because the book only revealed what was already in the public domain.
“That issue represents a danger to the unity of our country. It will hurt Mugabe and will hurt [Defence minister Sydney] Sekeramayi,” he said.
“Mnangagwa I know was an activist in Mugabe’s government as minister responsible for intelligence.
“We are aware of the things that were said at that time. We are aware of what was said at Maboleni, at the very first meeting.
“We know who addressed it. We have affidavits because some people have come forward to tell us what happened as well, they regret it,” Sibanda added.
“Without arrogating myself the position of Mugabe’s legal practitioner or representing Mnangagwa, I think it will be a mistake for them to take this matter to court. It will be a big mistake.”
Mugabe says he deployed the Fifth Brigade in the Midlands and Matabeleland to fight a handful of dissidents but critics say the real reason the North Korean trained soldiers were sent to the region was to crush Joshua Nkomo’s Zapu.
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) is one of the few organisations that conducted research into the killings and concluded that at least 20 000, mainly Zapu supporters, were massacred.
Coltart in his book cited statements contained in a 1983 Chronicle newspaper article where Mnangagwa is alleged to have uttered statements likening dissidents to “cockroaches and bugs.”
Mnangagwa was in The Chronicle report quoted defending Gukurahundi, saying the “government had to bring DDT [a deadly pesticide] to get rid of bandits”.
Human rights groups said the fact that Mnangagwa who was linked to the Gukurahundi disturbances, doubles as Justice minister that oversees the mandate of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC), was enough for him to step aside to allow the commission to do its work unhindered, and in a fair manner.
“The noble thing for him is to resign. Coltart’s book and Mnangagwa’s denials buttress our concern that he is not credible to serve as minister of Justice that also drafts laws, including the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Bill, that dictates the operations of the peace and reconciliation commission,” said pastor Anglistone Sibanda, executive director of faith-based Shalom Trust.
“He must resign to pave way for justice…. With him and other ‘Gukurahundists’, there can never be justice.
“The president and Zanu PF should act to bring closure to the issue by removing him from the Justice ministry.”
Sibanda is also the chairperson for the peace building and security committee at Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.
Dumisani Nkomo, the executive director of Habbakuk Trust, weighed in, saying Mnangagwa’s denials were hypocritical as “he should have sued then when the report was first published in 1983”.
“There is a conflict of interest here since Mnangagwa will be judge and jury in a case where he is being investigated for his involvement,” Nkomo said.
“As long as he is there, it will be difficult to investigate such issues, it will be difficult to summon the perpetrators.
“Mnangagwa and others implicated should step aside to allow due processes to take place. That is one way of dealing with the issue of conflict of interest.”
The NPRC Bill sections 10(1) and 11(1) gives the minister power to assign current serving civil servants to work as secretariat for the NPRC.
The Bill compels the commission to be accountable to the minister, yet Section 235 of the Constitution is clear that the commission is accountable to Parliament.
The NPRC is one of the five independent commissions established by Chapter 12 of the Constitution, but is the only one with a time frame of 10 years from the date that the Constitution was adopted in 2013.
Mbuso Fuzwayo, the co-ordinator of Ibhetshu Likazulu, said Mnangagwa should either clear his name or resign.
“There are two things we expect him to do, go to court and clear his name, or take responsibility and resign because as the justice minister, it will be difficult for the victims to get justice because of his dual positions that are very strategic to national healing,” he said.
“As long as he does not dispute what Coltart is saying, and does not go to court, he is not fit to be a vice-president
“He must resign for the truth and justice commission to perform its duty properly.”
Mugabe has never apologised for the Gukurahundi massacres, save for describing the period as a “moment of madness.”