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Making Mugabe: the Gukurahundi massacres.


HISTORY IS LITTERED with events that clearly show Robert Mugabe was always a dictator, mind, body and soul.

Since assuming the captaincy of the Zimbabwean ship in April 1980, he never tolerated opposition to his rule in whatever form. Political scientists contend he set sail well but somehow lost the compass midway, hence the current sinking ship.

Events however, tell a different story.

That Mugabe was at one time the darling of the international community is not in doubt. A well-pronounced reconciliation policy, advances in education, health and the provision of social services enabled him to mask his intolerance of internal opposition and deferred for sometime the unmasking of his true colours.

Four months after democratically taking power in 1980, Robert Mugabe then Prime Minister, signed an agreement with the North Korean government led by President Kim II Sung, providing for the Koreans to train a brigade in the Zimbabwean army to in Mugabe’s words, “combat malcontents.”

While the rest of the world including the legendary Reggae musical prophet, Bob Marley, euphorically gloated over Zimbabwe’s hard-won independence the incumbent ‘statesman’ was already planning how to crush the opposition. Despite the existence of a police force and army that could easily contain any civil unrest, 106 Koreans arrived in August 1981 pursuant to the August 1980 agreement to train what would become the infamous Fifth Brigade.

Wearing red berets to distinguish from the regular army the brigade drawn from 3500 ex-ZANLA troops butchered more than 20,000 people living in the southern parts of Zimbabwe believed to be opposition supporters. Mugabe christened the new brigade, ‘Gukurahundi’ which, loosely translated, means ‘the rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains’. The opposition ZAPU led by the late nationalist Dr Joshua Nkomo had won a sizeable number of seats in the new parliament and clearly fitted the description of ‘chaff’ as it stood between him and total domination.

A state of emergency in place since 1965 way before independence was maintained by Mugabe for a decade until July 1990, an ominous sign that nothing was changing except the colour of the new ruler’s skin. The Gukurahundi era began to define the role of particular organisations in the maintenance of Mugabe’s smartly disguised but brutal ‘life presidency’.

These were Youth Brigades, Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), Police Internal Security Intelligence Unit (PISI), Police Support Unit (PSU), Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and the army. Most if not all these organisations relied heavily on archaic and abhorent colonial legislation to subvert justice. Up to now these organisations continue to play an intergral role in keeping Mugabe in power using the same legislation now spruced up by hired ‘Professors’ with seemingly dignified titles but rudely oppressive anyhow ie Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Broadcasting Act which grants the state broadcaster an embarrassingly naked monopoly over the airwaves.

In the run up to the 1985 elections the ZANU PF Youth Brigades, ideologically modelled on the Chinese Red Guard…carried out mob beatings, burnt homes and murdered innocent civilians

In the run up to the 1985 elections the ZANU PF Youth Brigades, ideologically modelled on the Chinese Red Guard, rampaged through the country meting out violence to mainly Ndebele speakers who were presumed to be supporters of Nkomo’s ZAPU. They carried out mob beatings, burnt homes and murdered innocent civilians while responding to Mugabe’s chilling calling, ‘go and uproot the weeds from your gardens.’ Nothing has changed. Youth brigades now being officially produced from the Border Gezi training camps under the guise of a ‘national service drive’ are doing the same to MDC supporters across the country.

The Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) was used to facilitate the ‘disappearance’ of people deemed a threat to ‘state security’. Sydney Malunga the oppositions Chief Whip in parliament at the time, famous as an outspoken legislator, was arrested in 1986 on charges of assisting the ‘dissidents’ before the treason charges were dropped. He died in a suspicious accident when his car collided with a ‘black dog’ (underground jargon for army truck). Christopher Giwa a former University of Zimbabwe student leader who had embarrassed Mugabe during a Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit (CHOGM) in Harare by organising a demonstration, died when his small Nissan Pulsar vehicle collided with another black dog.

The deaths of Rashiwe Guzha, Captain Nleya, Mthandazo Ndema Ngwenya, Samson Benard Paweni and many others remain shrouded in mystery and suspicion. Now that Zimbabwe has a vibrant, diligent and brave independent press this ‘disappearing’ function of the CIO has been whittled down and confined to sophisticated assignments.

The death of Insiza MDC member of parliament George Joe Ndlovu who is alleged to have eaten a poisoned apple at a function in Masvingo is another reminder snakes will always be snakes. He had a blackout while driving and had an accident. The job was finished off in hospital. Evidence is mounting that Mugabe worried about retributions when he leaves the scene wants to fiddle the with the constitution but can only gain a two thirds majority by eliminating MDC parliamentarians and rigging the resulting by-elections.

Another tragic addition to this long list of examples is the suspicious death of Learnmore Jongwe the oppositions former spokesman and legislator in remand prison awaiting trial for allegedly stabbing his wife to death in a domestic dispute. At the time of his arrest government went out of its way to spread the falsehood that the former student leader and lawyer wanted to commit suicide soon after the incident as an advance pretext for denying him bail using a compromised judiciary. Speculation is also rife they offered him an ‘information for freedom’ deal which he rudely turned down.It is now clear his being kept in custody was to fulfil the grand plan of reducing MDC legislators by hook or crook. This sad era in the history of Zimbabwe showed Mugabe’s perchant for rewarding evil.

Mugabe’s other henchman through this period included Emmerson Mnangagwa, one of his closest aides…

The commander of the Fifth Brigade, Colonel Perence Shiri at the time, who presided over the atrocities later described as ‘a moment of madness’ by Mugabe himself is now Air Marshall Shiri, the supreme head of Zimbabwe’s Airforce. Mugabe’s other henchmen through this period, the current Speaker of Parliament, Emmerson Mnangagwa and Defence Minister, Sydney Sekeramayi are his closest aides and have survived numerous reshuffles by Mugabe. The two are currently being touted as the leading contenders to the Zimbabwean throne. Zanu PF’s current tactic of whimsically arresting opposition leaders on charges ranging from inciting violence, murder and treason without ever securing a conviction can also be traced to this period in history.

In 1982 Dumiso Dabengwa (ZIPRA’s Intelligence Supremo), Lookout Masuku (Army General) and four others faced treason charges which were later quashed by the Supreme Court for lack of credible evidence. Mugabe accused Dabengwa of writing a letter to Michail Gorbachev (former USSR president) asking for assistance in toppling Mugabe. The Soviets however denied this. Inspite of the Supreme Court order Dabengwa and Masuku were redetained and spent four years in custody without trial courtesy of Mugabe’s often abused ’emergency regulations’. Masuku died in suspicious circumstances a few weeks after his release and Dabengwa was rewarded with a cabinet post in a unified government much later. Masuku was belatedly declared a national hero only after intense lobbying found a guilty Mugabe eager to appease the Matabeleland region he had abused for a long time.

The late Dr Joshua Nkomo and Rev Ndabaningi Sithole, father figures in Zimbabwean nationalism, both faced charges of trying to kill Mugabe despite evidence to the opposite. MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai faced similar charges before being acquitted. ZANU PF has perfected the art of manufacturing events in order to justify any excesses they may commit. the discovery of arms caches in February of 1982 which soured the intergration of ZIPRA and ZANLA forces into one army had all the makings of a manufactured event coming fresh after the Entumbane Uprising in which the two sides fought each other for two days. Evidence clearly showed government had planted the arms to gain a pretext for unleashing the Fifth Brigade.

The kidnapping and murder, in 1982 of six foreign tourists was also suspicious as it allowed the regime to effect past colonial immunity laws that protected members of the security forces from prosecution if they committed any crimes. Similarly the murder of Bulawayo War Veteran leader Cain Nkala had all the makings of an inside job as it allowed Mugabe the much needed chance and consequent mileage to brand the MDC a violent party, when his death was of no material benefit to the opposition at all.

If the world is surprised at Mugabe’s behaviour it is because it failed to understand his intolerance from the word go. Mugabe is as predictable as the rising sun and none know this more than those who have borne the brunt of his brute. The saying, history repeats itself because we are not paying attention the first time is given credence by the story of Mugabe more the leader of a band of crooks than of a country.

Lance Guma is the Managing Editor of Nehanda Radio and Nehanda TV, an online project that publishes news, views and interviews for Zimbabweans at home and abroad. He holds a Master’s Degree in Media Studies from the University of West London. He is also a former student leader at the Harare Polytechnic where he trained as a broadcast journalist from 1994-96. An adapted version of this report was first published in 2008 in NewZimbabwe, a UK-based news magazine.

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