By Trevor Grundy
FIFTY years ago he was a deeply Christian young man and black nationalist working round-the-clock on a multi-racial farm that was famous in liberation c
ircles, and beyond, and hated by Rhodesia’s white minority government.
He became a living legend among liberal Christians by helping to make Cold Comfort Farm into a first class agricultural training ground and a psychological liberation centre that was an early staging post on the long march from colonial oppression in Rhodesia to majority rule in Zimbabwe.
“A man of high integrity and Christian character,” said Guy Clutton-Brock, the Welsh-born champion of black freedom who became Zimbabwe’s first and only official white hero when President Robert Mugabe buried his ashes at Harare’s Heroes Acre in 1996.
“He never feared to speak his mind and he was always a sensitive leader, a man of vision, an optimist with a profound belief in his fellow man regardless of race, colour, creed.”
The man of whom Clutton-Brock spoke so highly now holds high rank in the government of President Mugabe. As minister of national security and head of the secret police, Didymus Mutasa is one of the most feared and ruthless men in Zimbabwe, second in power only to Mugabe.
Mutasa, praised by the devout Clutton-Brock as a Christian of integrity, sensitivity, vision and love for all his fellow men, achieved international notoriety in 2002 when he was asked how he felt about three serious problems confronting Zimbabwe.
The first question concerned the fear in that year that severe drought might result in the death of half of Zimbabwe’s 12 million population, many of them supporters of the then confident opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The second concerned the thousands of Zimbabweans who die each week from Aids. And the third related to the mass exodus from the country of skilled blacks and whites.
Mutasa replied: “We would be better off with only six million people, with our own (ruling party) people who supported the liberation struggle. We don’t want all these extra people.”
Thus spoke the man who had once been a byword as the kind face of the new society to come and who was described by Diana Mitchell in her book Nationalist Leaders in Zimbabwe as “an essentially gentle and infinitely reasonable man”.
British overseas development minister at the time, Clare Short, said: “To welcome the death of nearly half the people in a country is unforgivable. No one should forgive him (Mutasa).”
And leading Danish academic development expert Amanda Hammar commented: “Mutasa’s infamously stated desire to discard surplus populations has resonance with historic precedents such as National Socialism in Germany and its translation into routinised governmental annihilation.”
It is little wonder that many Zimbabweans ask how the man their history presented as a near-saint is now at the centre of a web of state violence and alleged corruption. Who, they wonder, is the real Didymus Noel Edwin Mutasa?
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, Mutasa was the close friend of the Anglican lay missionary Clutton-Brock, hated with his wife Molly by the white farming community as “communist troublemakers”. They worked together at Cold Comfort Farm, a multi-racial cooperative where farming skills were learned and political ideas discussed endlessly.
A young black intellectual, Robert Mugabe, also became a close friend of Clutton-Brock, who was expelled from Rhodesia in 1971 for his criticism of the country’s de facto racial apartheid. Hundreds of Africans, including Mutasa, wept at the airport as he left.
Supporters said of Clutton-Brock that his only offence was to turn “yes men slaves” into independent human beings. When he died, Mugabe attended the memorial service at the Church of St Martin’s in the Field in London and was given Clutton-Brock’s ashes to be taken to Harare. With Mutasa by his side, Mugabe supervised the burial of the ashes at the North Korean-built Heroes Acre. Clutton-Brock is the only white person to have been buried there.
Mutasa was born in the eastern Zimbabwe town of Rusape in July 1935, the sixth child of a devout Christian couple.
In her 1982 book, Diana Mitchell, now living in Britain, said Mutasa suffered as a young man because he was appalled by the unfairness of Rhodesia’s land ownership system. “He attempted to evade the worst effects of the Land Apportionment Act and African landlessness by starting up the Cold Comfort Farm Society with the patronage of white landowners,” she wrote.
Mitchell, a campaigner for Rhodesia’s short-lived multiracial Centre Party, said Mutasa was a beacon of hope half a century ago when he, Clutton-Brock, Michael and Eileen Haddon, white liberals who donated their land for the creation of Cold Comfort Farm, and two renowned blacks nationalists, James Chikerema and George Nyandoro, worked together to improve African farming methods and then form the African National Congress. The ANC campaigned for an extension of the franchise, but was banned within two years of its birth.
Mitchell said that in those days Mutasa was “a man of gentle demeanor, distinguished and fine-chiselled in appearance” who sank his own money into Cold Comfort Farm after receiving a “golden handshake” when he quit his job as a civil servant.
While working in partnership with Clutton-Brock to teach black people modern agricultural techniques on small-scale farm units around Cold Comfort Farm, Mutasa also became deeply involved with the World Council of Churches. His cleverness at fund-raising was recognised by various of the emerging post-ANC nationalist parties.
In 1970, as racial tension grew and as the war against white rule began, the Cold Comfort Farm Society was disbanded by the white government. Mutasa was arrested and held for two years in solitary confinement at Chinhoyi Prison before being transferred to Salisbury Remand Prison where he rubbed shoulders with Mugabe and the fiery nationalist Edgar Tekere.
After his release, Mutasa studied in the central England city of Birmingham on a British Council scholarship and in 1976 joined Mugabe and Tekere as a member of the Zanu liberation forces based in Mozambique.
He returned home shortly before Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980 to organise the February elections, which saw Mugabe come to power and Mutasa’s appointment as speaker in the new black-dominated parliament.
Though most Zanu ideologues will no longer admit it, Zionism greatly influenced the nationalist movement during the 1960s and 1970s and Israel provided the exiled Zanu with some funding.
Between 1980 and 1990, Mutasa maintained his reputation as a fair man, full of charm and integrity as parliamentary speaker.
A major transformation was apparent by 2000 when Mugabe, furious that white commercial farmers had funded the opposition MDC, incited his supporters to invade farms and drive off their owners, triggering a catastrophic and continuing economic collapse.
In that same year, Mutasa was appointed Anti-Corruption minister. He stayed in the job for three years watching and doing little as a wave of alleged corruption swept higher and higher through government and the top reaches of the judiciary, defence forces, police and civil service.
Once profitable commercial farms confiscated from whites were among the main prizes taken by the new elite. Mutasa appropriated one of these farms in eastern Zimbabwe for himself and independent newspapers documented extensively how he and other ministers looted other farms of billions of Zimbabwe dollars worth of expensive equipment for resale or use on their own properties.
In May 2004, this once “kind and gentle” man kicked opposition MP Roy Bennett in parliament after Bennett was involved in a scuffle with Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa.
Bennett, who was loved by his black constituents in the Eastern Highlands town of Chimanimani in much the same way as Clutton-Brock had been loved half a century earlier, had seen workers on his coffee estate killed and raped by soldiers and by supporters of Mugabe’s ruling party.
He therefore became incensed when Chinamasa called his forebears “thieves and murderers” and rushed across the floor of the house and knocked the minister to the ground. The Zanu PF-dominated parliament sentenced Bennett to 15 months imprisonment in prison, where he lost 27 kilogrammes in weight before his eventual release.
Mutasa went unpunished for his counter-assault and less than a year later he became the second most powerful man in the land when Mugabe appointed him Minister of National Security and Land Affairs, positions that made him chief of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and gave him responsibility for the country’s controversial, chaotic and violent land reform programme.
In May 2005, in one of the earliest exercises of his new powers, Mutasa launched Operation Murambatsvina, in which soldiers, police and government militias used extreme violence to destroy the homes of hundreds of thousands of poor people on the outer edges of the country’s towns and cities.
Mutasa presented Murambatsvina as a regeneration and renewal scheme to “clean up” urban areas. But most people who lost their homes were opposition supporters, and nearly a year-and-a-half later virtually nothing has been done to provide new homes for the estimated 700 000 to a million people who watched their houses being bulldozed, sledgehammered and set ablaze.
Anna Tibaijuka, the special envoy of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, lambasted Mutasa’s operation as inhuman and a breach of national and international human rights laws.
Emboldened by the “success” of Murambatsvina, Mutasa, with the power of the much-feared and ubiquitous CIO as his weapon, began threatening to “physically eliminate” government opponents. To this end, he was accused by the remaining independent press in Zimbabwe of slapping a police officer in his home constituency of Rusape and of assaulting a man who dared to challenge his nomination as the Zanu candidate for Rusape.
When Walter Marwizi, a reporter for the independent weekly Standard, investigated alleged corruption in the national security minister’s home province, Manicaland, Mutasa threatened the journalist: “I will deal with you ruthlessly if you don’t tell me your source (of the corruption story). Make no mistake. I am sending my operatives and they will do a clean job.”
Quietly, in recent weeks, Mutasa has relaunched Operation Murambatsvina, with yet more humble homes being torn down in urban suburbs by powerful organs of state.
Mutasa, who had once worked with Clutton-Brock, the Haddons and other devout white liberal Christians, to carve out an island of tolerance in a sea of bigotry and small-mindedness, regularly describes the handful of remaining white farmers as “filth” and recently vowed: “I will rid the country of remaining whites.”
But when venting his ire he does not discriminate racially. Nobel Peace Prize winner and South African national icon, Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, accused the Zimbabwe government of “making a mockery of African democracy”. The CIO chief spat back: “Tutu is a puppet of the West, a vassal of imperialism and a lost soul.”
Mutasa dismissed as another lost soul the Zimbabwean most widely tipped to succeed Tutu as a Nobel Peace Prize winner — Pius Ncube, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, who has said the greatest service Mugabe can perform for his country is to let “the Lord take him away”.
When Archbishop Ncube protested against the government for neglecting families who were starving to death in and around Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, Mutasa replied: “A heathen man who lies through his teeth …The cleric has a psychological disease and needs to have his head examined because he is a liar.”
Mutasa’s most recent exploit was to launch his CIO and other security services against the country’s trade union leaders as they prepared to demonstrate on the streets in September this year for living wages and proper anti-retroviral drug support for the millions of Zimbabweans facing death from Aids.
National trades union chief Wellington Chibebe and his top lieutenants sustained broken limbs when they were assaulted, without being charged, in a notorious police station and torture centre on the outskirts of Harare.
Terence Ranger, Emeritus Professor of History at Oxford, a close friend of both Clutton-Brock and Mutasa in Rhodesia in the 1950s and 1960s, recently appeared as an expert witness in a British appeal court hearing by an exiled Zimbabwean seeking not to be returned forcibly to his country. Professor Ranger, arguing against deportation, described Mutasa as “a ruthless and acquisitive politician who is notorious for using violence against political opponents”.
Which all leaves open the question whether the spirit of Mutasa’s old friend Guy Clutton-Brock rests easy any longer in Heroes Acre.
* Author and broadcaster Trevor Grundy lived and worked as a foreign correspondent in Zimbabwe for Time magazine, Deutsche Welle Radio and The Scotsman from 1976 to 1996. — IWPR.