By NQOBANI NDLOVU
FORMER Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (Zipra) combatants have denied that some of their colleagues were dissidents who were deployed to topple then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe’s government after independence.
The former Zipra combatants told Southern Eye that Gukurahundi was “not a surprise” because Zanu and its military wing, the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army’s (Zanla), were openly hostile to their Patriotic Front comrades even before independence.
Zipra Veterans Association spokesperson Retired Colonel Baster Magwizi said Zapu and its military command structure never deployed any dissidents or fought against Mugabe’s government.
The dissidents were proxy elements of Mugabe’s government to justify a “relentless effort to decimate Zapu leadership and the Zipra forces”, Magwizi alleged.
“You will appreciate that there were no dissidents before Gukurahundi in the sense as they were known. Their (government) agenda was to wipe out Zapu and its supporters and Zipra, of course.”
“So the 1980s scenario came as no surprise to us because there was a standing agenda of Zanu working with the West to destroy Zapu because Zapu was considered a communist movement and Zipra, community-led forces.”
Mugabe deployed the North Korea-trained Fifth Brigade to lead a crackdown against alleged dissident activities in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces in the early 1980s, resulting in mass killings of over 20 000 people under an operation that was called Gukurahundi.
A former aide of the late Zapu leader and Vice-President, Joshua Nkomo (pictured), Freddy Mtandah, told Southern Eye: “The integration of former fighters into the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) ended in 1981. Freedom fighters were demobilised and disarmed, left assembly points for their homes before the 1981 Christmas. Towards the end of 1980, government started using former Rhodesian soldiers as special forces.
“The Rhodesian African Rifles regiment was used during the (Entumbane Uprising of 1981, often called Entumbane 2) against Zipra. It was not a secret that Zipra had weapons. We had a regular army, which was not integrated. The weapons were moved from Zambia by train in 1981 and kept at Gwaai River assembly point.
“The camp was deliberately closed by government. We had to move the weapons to our farms. It was not secret catches as alleged. It was not a secret that Zipra was associated with MK (Umkhonto weSizwe) of the ANC (African National Congress). There were more than 350 MK fighters at Gwaai.
“The special forces, the former Rhodesian military intelligence, recruited a former Zipra battalion commander to create unit, which acted as Zipra dissidents. Just like Selous Scouts.”
Mtandah said Dumiso Dabengwa was at the time working at the Joint High Command and had been integrated into the ZNA.
“So I had to tell Joshua Nkomo about this development. Nkomo met Mugabe in the morning of February 5, 1980. I had to give Nkomo a piece of paper to remind him to ask Mugabe about army presence at Zipra farms (because) government was aware of the weapons which had not been surrendered as there was no policy for disarmament, but Mugabe brushed off the matter,” he said.
“That afternoon, I accompanied Nkomo to Bulawayo. On the plane with us was (President Emmerson) Mnangagwa and (then Lands and Resettlement minister Sydney) Sekeramayi, who then went on to parade the arms.
Like others who had been recruited, the former Zipra battalion commander joined CIO [Central Intelligence Organisation] and was deployed as a diplomat. He died years ago.”
Sekeramayi had been sent to Matebeleland representing Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander General Solomon Mujuru.
Mugabe as Prime Minister was also the Defence Minister at the time.
Mtandah added: “Others who died later are national heroes buried at the (National) Heroes’ Acre.
Apart from those on government payroll, there were no Zipra dissidents who fought against the Zimbabwe government.
“It was all a fabrication. The fear of these gallant Zipra combatants caused Gukurahundi. None of these comrades fired a single shot against fellow Zanla comrades or the new ZNA. When they were demobilised, they left unarmed to their rural areas just before Christmas in 1982.”
Sekeramayi has previously claimed that the deployment of the Fifth Brigade was necessary to put down armed rebellion from Zipra dissidents, a charge Zipra vehemently denies.
“At independence, they (Zanu and Zanla) captured the State and all its logistics, infrastructure and systems and waged a relentless effort to destroy Zapu and Zipra … This is when the stories of Zapu 2000 started coming out so that could link Zapu somehow with the dissidents, but this smear campaign failed because Zapu did not have ex-combatants who were under the authority of Zipra who were deployed as dissidents,” Magwizi added.
“It did not have. Actually, among the Zipra commanders, generals like Madala Khumalo went out of their way to comb the combatants, to look out for the ex-combatants, who had remained in the bush and were refusing to come to the assembly points because then, they were suspecting that things were not level enough, but (Zipra) executed a mission to bring into the assembly points every ex-combatant who was Zipra.
“So those who remained outside were no longer Zipra. We did not have them on our books as having been given a mission to go and fight the new government. So Zapu had no dissidents.”
Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba recently claimed that Gukurahundi was an armed conflict between the State and alleged dissidents, a claim that elicited angry reactions as the Gukurahundi issue refuses to die down.
Magwizi claimed dissidents were proxy elements of ex-Zanla cadres and State spies working in collaboration with then South African apartheid government.
The South African apartheid government was opposed to Zapu’s relationship with Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), the military wing of the now ruling African National Congress party.
Mugabe’s government also opposed the MK operating from Zimbabwe in its fight against the SA white minority government.
“SA was complicit in Gukurahundi because the Bureau of State Security and the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) of Zimbabwe were co-operating at this level, and we know for certain that they were sponsoring these operations through the groups of Kent Flower and other double agents. This we know from intelligence sources,” Magwizi said.
Declassified documents have also exposed how the foreign governments aided the Mugabe-led regime during Gukurahundi.
“Those who found themselves in the arms of the dissidents formations were not Zipra. They were Zipra impersonators. All these were machinations of trying to smear the Zapu leadership and its Zipra forces as enemies of the new State.
“In 1980, all the liberation forces fell under government control. All ex-combatants fell under government control, so Zapu no longer had Zipra under its command, just as good as Zanla was not supposed to be under the leadership of Zanu, but under the government.”