HARARE – Civil rights activists yesterday accused Norton independent MP Temba Mliswa of denying the scope of the Gukurahundi genocide after the voluble legislator said Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa was not to blame for the killing of 20 000 civilians in the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces.
They said Mliswa must acknowledge that slayings took place, and minimise the ethnic dimension of the tragedy and the fact that leaders such as Mnangagwa systematically planned the mass killing of the civilians when the national army’s Fifth Brigade unit crushed dissent by so-called “dissidents”, disgruntled former guerrillas and supporters of the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo’s then opposition Zapu, killing thousands.
Mnangagwa, who at the time of the atrocities was State Security minister, has often been linked to the massacres which President Robert Mugabe has described as “a moment of madness.”
Citizens including war veterans have also raised concerns over the manner in which the whole saga was handled, which has failed to bring closure to the dark moments.
But speaking to the Daily News yesterday, Mliswa who claims the Midlands godfather is his cousin, claimed the nonagenarian and the then Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi were largely responsible.
“It is all because of Mugabe’s fault because he was the commander-in-chief.
“In military circles they operate on the basis of orders so whatever they do, they will be carrying out their boss’ orders and in this case, Mugabe is their boss, so he is the one who is answerable,” Mliswa said.
He argued that Mnangagwa was neither the commander-in-chief of the armed forces nor was he the Defence minister.
“Where does Mnangagwa come in on Gukurahundi when he was State Security minister? Is it the CIOs who committed the atrocities in Matabeleland and Midlands? Is it not the army when Sekeramayi was minister?
“We need to bring this issue to closure before the key people who were involved are all gone. Already we have lost Solomon Mujuru who was the defence forces commander, so who is going to be accountable if we let this until Mugabe is also gone?
“We will end up pointing fingers at innocent people but if Zimbabweans are really keen on taking Mnangagwa to task, they should rather ask him to explain the looting of diamonds from Chiadzwa by the army when he was Defence minister, not this Gukurahundi issue. Leave him out.”
He also blamed senior Zapu officials, including the late Vice President John Nkomo and his successor Phelekezela Mphoko for not being proactive in demanding that Gukurahundi perpetrators be brought to book.
“VPs from Zapu including Mphoko and Landa Nkomo are equally to blame because they are not keen on ensuring that justice prevails yet they are the ones who lead the organ of National Healing and Reconciliation,” he said.
On his part, Mnangagwa has denied playing a leading role in one of the country’s saddest moments in history, accusing rivals keen on blocking his presidential ambitions of waging a campaign to assassinate his character.
Like Mliswa, while speaking in an interview with United Kingdom-based magazine New Statesman late last year, Mnangagwa seemed to pass the buck on Mugabe, Sekeramayi and army commanders for the massacres.
“How do I become the enforcer during Gukurahundi? We had the president, the minister of Defence, commander of the army and I was none of that. My own enemies attack me left and right and that is what you are buying,” he told the UK magazine.
Mliswa’s sentiments did not go down well with Bulawayo-based politicians and human rights activists who said that the perception of the Norton MP helps exonerate perpetrators of the civil conflict who clearly committed atrocities.
They maintained the disturbances were a well-choreographed project by Zanu officials to annihilate the Ndebele tribe, with Mnangagwa as one of the chief architects.
Newly-formed opposition Alliance for National Salvation (Ansa) interim leader Moses Mzila-Ndlovu dismissed Mliswa’s sentiments as “childish”, insisting that Mnangagwa’s fingerprints were all over Gukurahundi.
“What Mliswa is saying is just but puerile, hollow, divisive and destructive.
“If Mnangagwa was not involved in Gukurahundi, then he can as well say there was never any Gukurahundi, but we know that he is the fountain of knowledge in terms of the ideology behind the whole act and why that idea was eventually transformed into action,” Ndlovu said.
The former National Healing minister said the ongoing blame-game in Zanu PF provided an opportunity for all forces demanding Gukurahundi justice to push for the punishment of perpetrators.
Ibetsu Likazulu secretary-general Mbuso Fuzwayo said Mliswa’s assertions were unfortunate, arguing that being Mnangagwa’s relative, the controversial legislator has no moral standing to determine who was responsible for the atrocities.
“The facts on the ground are clear and Temba cannot single-handedly change Zimbabwe’s tainted history using his shallow eloquence.
“We the people of Matabeleland cannot be told what happened in our land by a political prostitute like Temba when we know Mnangagwa is the face of Gukurahundi, although he is second to Mugabe in terms of the roles they played followed by Perrance Shiri in that order,” Fuzwayo fumed.
He insisted that Gukurahundi was a Zanu project and “all who were there are guilty by association” until “they are one-by-one proven innocent by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”
A recent book by former Education minister David Coltart also reveals the extent of Mnangagwa’s involvement and alleged hate speech that allegedly fanned the atrocities.
War veterans secretary-general Victor Matemadanda recently said the Gukurahundi issue is far from over, contrary to many Zanu PF members that it is a closed chapter.