Motlanthe commission: Too little, too late

MDC Alliance leaders appeared before the Kgalema Motlanthe-led commission of inquiry into the August 1 killings and the presentation by Tendai Biti and Nelson Chamisa left the commissioners in awe.

guest column: Wilton Machimbira

Biti illuminated the history of State-sponsored violence in Zimbabwe with breath-taking precision and even went on to unpack circumstances surrounding the death of Herbert Chitepo. The presentations by the duo were not only thunderous but insightful.

One of the errors of commission of the present day government is State-sponsored violence. State-sponsored violence happens when the State and its institutions abet and aid violence. State sponsored violence is when the State incites chaos and pursues vindictive politics of which vindictive politics is retrogressive and counter-productive. State-sponsored violence is when the government which has a sole prerogative over the use of legitimate violence descends on the masses with heavy- handedness. State-sponsored violence is when government institutions are accessories to structural violence.

The present day State-sponsored violence can be attributed to colonial legacy. It can also be viewed as a product of paranoia by government. When the government is conscious of the fact that it is bereft of “the consent of the governed” it has every reason to be paranoid. What happened on August 1 when protesters took to the streets, the disapproportionate use of force by the army against protesters is abundantly clear that the government knew that it had no “consent of the governed”.

In political philosophy, the phrase consent of the governed refers to the idea that a government’s legitimacy and moral right to use State power is only justified and lawful when consented to by the people or society over which that political power is exercised. Furthermore, Article 21 of the United Nation‘s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights emphatically states that “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government”.

When a government imposes its authority on the people without their consent, the ripple-effects will be on the wall for all and sundry.

The present day nation of Zimbabwe came into being as result of fierce fighting and armed confrontation involving the Zipra and Zanla combatants against the Smith regime. The young people of the day should not fall prey to propaganda which insinuates that an “armed and protracted liberation struggle alone gave birth to Zimbabwe” as if to water down the Lancaster House negotiations which finally brought the liberation struggle to an end. It is the negotiation and painful sacrifices that actually gave birth to the Zimbabwean nation-state. It now appears as if for the Zimbabwean government to achieve its aims and objectives, violence has to be a means to an end. Conquest and subjugation are primordial and anachronistic means of State formation and cohesion.

In the context of violence as a colonial legacy, it has to be appreciated that the Zimbabwean liberation war history is incomplete without the mention of the assassination of Chitepo. Questions still linger in the present day on what exactly happened to Chitepo and other illustrious sons of the soil who died under unclear circumstances. The history of Zimbabwe is replete with cases of illustrious political luminaries who died under unclear circumstances.

Before delving deeper into what actually happened to Chitepo, the young people of the day have a mammoth task of researching the liberation history of Zimbabwe, the tragedy of the day is that the liberation history is now being distorted to suit the selfish agendas of the holier than thou nationalists who now have a regrettable penchant of revisionism.

Revisionism is now being done to glorify and magnify certain individuals and in the same vein trivialising the role played by other actors in the liberation struggle.
Young people are being made to believe that there were main actors in the liberation struggle. That’s revisionism. The colonial nationalist escapades by gallant sons and daughters are now being personalised by rogue elements and this inadvertently breeds a culture of entitlement.


At this juncture, the young people of the day need to have an appreciation of what the Nhari rebellion was, its causes, course and consequences. The Nhari rebellion has been suggested to be a prelude to the assassination of Chitepo in Zambia. The rebellion occurred in November 1974 amidst the liberation war, the cassus belli being the profligacy, extravagance and lavish lifestyle of the Zanla leaders, which was contrary to Maoist dictates, Thomas Nhari was the brains behind the ill-fated rebellion.

Another school of thought posit that Ken Flower, the head of the Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organisation sponsored the rebellion. It is alleged that the aftermmath of the Nhari rebellion fuelled mistrust and subsequently acrimonious relations between Chitepo and Josiah Magamba Tongogara for they differed on manner of handling the rebels.

After the rebellion, a disciplinary committee to try the rebels was set up comprising Chitepo as chair, Kumbirai Kangai and Rugare Gumbo. Tongogara was suspicious of Chitepo, whom he considered to be sympathising with the rebels. The trials took place in the first week of February 1975. The trial was tape recorded. Evidence was presented of the killings that the Nhari group had done. John Mataure was accused of supporting and aiding the rebels. Chitepo then condemned the rebels actions and gave punishments, mainly demotion in military rank and that they be handed over to Mozambique for further punishment.

Tongogara was not satisfied with the punishment passed and went on to execute the rebels secretly. Such dark colonial episodes seem to be haunting the present day Zimbabwe and it is incumbent on the shoulders of young people to exorcise the ghost of violence and vindictiveness.

Zimbabweans should not expect much from the findings of the Motlanthe-led commission of inquiry. It’s more of Robert Mugabe’s Asante Sana deja vu. The commission will not implicate any ruling Zanu PF party official for sanctioning the killing of innocent protesters. In fact the commission will actually condemn the MDC Alliance for allegedly inciting the protests and exonerate the government from the political upheaval.

From the tone of Police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga and Zimbabwe Defence Forces General Valerio Sibanda, one can tell that this is a blame-shifting charade. No-one from the establishment will be prosecuted, let alone reprimanded. The whole purpose of the commission is a public relations exercise just to give a veneer of humanity on the establishment. It’s all about redeeming the fascist nature of Zanu PF as a political party but it’s too little and too late. The findings will not assuage the people’s anger and attitude towards Zanu PF. The findings are predetermined the raison d’etre being to paper over the cracks. It’s called politics of window-dressing or merely damage control.

Zimbabweans should come to terms with unpalatable reality that the Mnangagwa administration is a perpetuation of Mugabe’s toxic politics. A reformist can only be a reformist if tangible reforms are placed on the table. For now, what we are seeing is a mirage of political reforms.

Those waiting for reforms should actually know they are waiting for Godot. Just like waiting for meaningful findings and recommendations from the Motlanthe-led commission, it’s typical waiting for Godot. Godot will never surface and expecting otherwise will be a manifestation of political amnesia.

Waiting for Godot a play (1952) by Samuel Beckett, originally written in French, is about two men, Vladimir and Estragon, who are waiting for a third, Godot, to arrive. Very little happens, and during their long wait the men talk about their lives. Godot never comes, and the play suggests that life has no meaning and is full of suffering. From the sham elections of July 31 and the aftermath, one can indeed come to terms with Macbeth that life, and in particular the Zimbabwean post-colonial politics, is a tale told by a fool full of noise and fury signifying nothing.

Zimbabweans should know that at one time Mugabe instituted the Sandura Commission to investigate official malfeasance in form of Willowgate Scandal. Mugabe set up an inquiry which was headed by former Judge President Wilson Sandura. Over seven weeks the commission called 72 witnesses, including six Cabinet ministers, two deputy ministers, three members of Parliament, two senior army officers and 40 directors and managers of private companies, generally the buyers of the politicians’ cars. The commission’s court sittings were attended by the public, whose number was so large to accommodate in the courtrooms that they had to take turns.

The commission found that many officials had abused their positions to buy cars and resell them. The then Minister of State Frederick Shava, had bought and sold so many vehicles that the Sandura commission criticised him for “behaving like a car dealer,” because he made about $70 000 in a year. Commendably the Sandura Commission had the temerity to name and shame powerful government officials involved in Willowgate scandal, but regrettably Mugabe went on to grant amnesty to government officials implicated by the Sandura Commission. The move by the President defied the logic of instituting the Sandura Commission in the first place and in this case Mugabe set a very wrong precedent, he set the pace for impunity and it is this wrong precedent set by former Mugabe that is haunting us today as a nation.

The young people of the day should not be denialists. Denialists are not brave enough to shoulder responsibilities. They can’t confront the truth. Denialists want you to believe that snipers were responsible for the shooting of protesters on August the 1. They will never explain how and why the so called snipers collaborated with the police in quelling the protests.

Denialists want you to believe that Holocaust is a myth and that the Rwandan genocide never happened. The 1994 genocide of the Rwandan Tutsi never happened. This is an outrageous allegation at the heart of a book by Edward S Herman and David Peterson, writes Gerald Caplan. Instead the authors claim it was part of an elaborate American conspiracy to “gain a strong military presence in Central Africa, a diminution of its European rivals’ influence, proxy armies to serve its interests, and access to the raw material-rich Democratic Republic of the Congo”.

Such are alarming levels of denialism that have crept in our society. Its sad and disturbing indeed.

Wilton Nyasha Machimbira is a political analyst, human rights defender and director for Developmental Research and Consultancy. For feedback and comments can be contacted on wiltonnyash@gmail.com. He writes in his personal capacity

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1 Comment

  1. Masterpiece!

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