Plot to kill Nkomo revealed

Fresh details have emerged on how the Zanu PF government plotted to kill the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo at his house in Bulawayo, as authorities escalated the Gukurahundi massacres, newly-released documents, seen by NewsDay, reveal

Nkomo survived a mass shooting at his house in Pelandaba, where two of his aides were killed, a clear indication that the government wanted him dead.

By Staff Reporter

A diplomatic despatch from Harare to Pretoria dated March 9, 1983 reveals in intimate detail an attack on Nkomo’s Pelandaba home in Bulawayo.

“(About) last week’s shooting incident at Nkomo’s house,” the previously secret cable reads.

“Local sources say two persons were killed and Nkomo’s driver was in fact shot dead in his bed and had not, as reported by local media, shot at members of ZNA (Zimbabwe National Army) first.

“The incident is regarded as an attempt on Nkomo’s life and he only survived it because he had received information and fled.
“He is currently strictly guarded.”

This corroborates an account in Nkomo’s 1983 autobiography and also dovetails with a recording of then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe’s statements that to kill a snake, you must strike and crush its head, largely believed to be inferring to how to destroy Nkomo and Zapu.

As the Gukurahundi massacres morphed into genocide, the despatches reveal that four Zapu officials were shot at pointblank range in Plumtree by members of the Fifth Brigade.

“Meanwhile, ministers hold rallies in certain parts of Matabeleland in order to incite the population against Zapu and the dissidents,” the South African diplomatic cable continues. In Binga (Maurice) Nyagumbo said the government will possibly ban Zapu. He labelled the party ‘subversive’, saying it is bent upon rejecting the government’s attempts at reconciliation.”

The despatch also reveals that South African authorities learnt that Nkomo had crossed into Botswana through “clandestine” means, an issue that is covered in depth in the late Vice-President’s autobiography, Story of My Life.

In the wake of such attempts on Nkomo’s life, the late Vice-President went into hiding and former Midlands governor Cephas Msipa feared the Zanu PF government would take advantage of the ambiguous situation and kill him.

Msipa took advantage of Mugabe’s absence from the country, to beg the then acting Prime Minister Simon Muzenda to ensure Nkomo’s safety as it was clear that the Zapu leader’s life was in danger.

“Msipa said he was concerned that if Nkomo remained in hiding with a relative or friend in Bulawayo, as has been reported, then the authorities might feel no responsibility for him,” an Australian Foreign Affairs diplomatic despatch dated March 8, 1983 reads.

“Msipa said he thought Muzenda would be sympathetic.

“Msipa had judged Muzenda not to be in accord with the policy being followed in Matabeleland.”

The former Midlands governor then planned to meet – together with other Zapu ministers – Mugabe when he returned from India on March 11, 1983.

Msipa is said to have told Australian diplomats that Mugabe had agreed to have political discussions with him after he returned from India.

“Msipa said that he believed that the Prime Minister (Mugabe) was right behind what was happening in Matabeleland,” the cables say.

The Australian officials noted Msipa’s “understandable concern for Nkomo’s safety”, but were sceptical if this would lead to anything, as they also feared the late Vice-President would be suspicious of any security arrangement provided to him by the government – were Muzenda to offer anything.

At the time, then Zipra commanders Dumiso Dabengwa and Lookout Masuku were on trial for allegedly caching arms, and South African officials feared that if they were sentenced to death – coupled with Nkomo’s absence – this could lead to a significant change in Matabeleland.

“We have just been informed that Nkomo left Zimbabwe in a clandestine manner yesterday,” the despatch reads.

“He is currently in Botswana. This may cause the situation in Matabeleland to change.

“Zapu supporters may be incited into action if Dabengwa and Masuku, whose trial is under way, receive death sentences or even life sentences.”

While the Gukurahundi massacres are widely known, documentary evidence is limited and the government has often dismissed the killings, now classified as genocide, as “disturbances”.

It is often claimed that apartheid South Africa – and recently appointed Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko said the West – was responsible for the dissident menace, but another South African cable from April 5, 1984 reiterates that it would be incredulous to assume Mugabe was not aware of what was happening.

“It is difficult to believe that Mugabe and his key advisers are not aware of implications to send 5 Brigade in, given experience of last year (1983) and they are certainly now aware of what is happening,” reads the despatch.

“It is not clear how far government intends to carry out intended policy, [but] our considered view is policy is not working whether militarily or politically.”

South Africa was particularly worried on whose decision it was to send in the Fifth Brigade to Matabeleland and who had made the decision to starve and beat up the people of the region, although fingers were pointed clearly at the Zanu PF central committee.

However, US diplomatic sources are said to have believed that a smaller group, rather than the Zanu PF central committee, had made the decision and left operations to security forces.

Former army commander, the late Solomon Mujuru and former Zanu secretary-general Edgar Tekere are said to have been directly responsible for atrocities in Matabeleland North, with an overt political agenda.

Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa features in the despatches, although there is no consensus on his role, as the Fifth Brigade had a “weak command structure and reporting, and a chaotic decision-making process”.

On Sunday, Msipa declined comment, saying Gukurahundi was a sensitive matter, which affected many people.
Contacted for comment yesterday, Zanu PF spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo said: Why don’t you ask those mentioned in it? I didn’t read that cable.”


  1. The shameless Mafia that passes for a government has absolutely nothing to fear. Their Goebbels aka Jonathan Moyo, am sure, already has a robust response in their defence which will leave the murderers smelling like roses. He has already told the BBC that Nkomo had forgiven all. Quite how he could have forgiven on behalf of the persecuted who were never consulted and who, to date are refused permission to either commemorate the genocide or to give their loved ones a decent burial is mindboggling.

  2. A robust defence of the Mafia running this country, am sure, has already been written by Goebbels, aka Jonathan Moyo. Soon they will all smell like roses. We have already been told that Nkomo forgave the murderous cabal. Did he forgive on behalf of the persecuted hundreds of thousands who to date are neither allowed to commemorate the genocide nor to bury their dead?

  3. The urge to save humanity is almost always a front for the urge to rule

  4. l guess its easy to blame the this case Tekere and Mujuru will take all the flak.

  5. I think Mugabe’s or ZANU’s decision to send the fifth was a brilliant idea and was well timed. Mugabe had seen Mozambique being brought down to its knees by the Armed Bandits that were a brainchild of Rhodesia and the Apartheid regime of South Africa. So simply because he had learnt from experience he knew right away that JM Nkomo was also being used by the Apartheid regime and disgruntled Rhodesians to destabilize Zimbabwe just a year or two after attaining Independence.
    The Apartheid regime started to renege upon realising that the ZNA was monolithic as compared to the disorganized Armed Forces of Mozambique AFM.

  6. That is why he was so Fast And Furious because he knew everything that was going on geopolitically.

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