|VICE President Phelekezela Mphoko has declared that President Robert Mugabe had nothing to do with the 1980’s Gukurahundi conflict which, rights groups say, claimed about 20,000 civilian lives in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions.Mugabe was prime minister when his government deployed an army unit specifically trained by North Korea for the purpose to crush “dissidents” linked to then rival Joshua Nkomo in the two regions.
According to the Catholic Commission for Peace and Justice CCJP, the crackdown left about 20,000 civilians’ dead in a conflict that still threatens the country’s stability nearly three decades later.
In an interview with state media at the weekend, Mphoko claims Mugabe, despite being the effective head of the country’s defence forces, had nothing to do with the killings.
“Gukurahundi after the war had nothing to do with Mugabe – nothing! That is a fact,” Mphoko told the Sunday Mail.
He said he was opening up on Gukurahundi because Zimbabweans needed to speak openly about the emotive subject.
But despite advocating openness, Mphoko did not call for the public release of the reports of the Dumbutshena and Chahambakwe commissions into the conflict which were instituted by Mugabe but whose findings and recommendations have never been made public.
Mphoko’s Gukurahundi revisionism comes at a time there appears to be an effort by the administration to change the conflict’s narrative in what, critics suggest, is an attempt to sanitise the images of the country’s two vice presidents.
Mphoko and first vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa appear to be in pole position to lead Zanu PF, and possibly the country, post-Mugabe. Both had key roles in government at the time of Gukurahundi.
Mnangagwa was state security minister between 1980 and 1988 while Mphoko has, lately, struggled to distance himself from allegations he worked for the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) after independence.
In his interview with the Sunday Mail, Mphoko repeats his claim that Gukurahundi was a conspiracy of the West.
“, I have always said the post-Independence Gukurahundi was a conspiracy of the West. This I maintain …People can say what they want, but that was a Western conspiracy,” he said.
According to Mphoko, the attrocities resulted from a plan by the West to stem the spread of communism in the region which saw the US and Britain help establish and finance the rebel Renamo and Unita groups in Mozambique and Angola respectively.
“Because their (West’s) concern was South Africa, they wanted to protect their interests in South Africa from the Mozambican front and the Angolan front that side,” he said.
“Come Zimbabwe becomes independent: South African gets the same threat now. Zimbabwe is independent; the front is open.
“So what do they do? They create – from a myth, from nothing: ‘Ah, Zapu wants to overthrow you (the Zanu Government)’. (This was) in order to justify, to create something.”
Mphoko claims that the fact they were involved explains the West’s silence as thousands were killed in Matabeleland and the Midlands.
“You can never hear the British condemning that – never! They can’t say anything. They never said anything. They never condemned anything because it was their baby.
“They knew what they were doing because they were protecting South Africa. So that point should be emphasised; it is very important.”
On how to deal with anger among those affected by the killings, Mphoko opines: “Our people should be very careful not to be used.
“The Rhodesians, the British have always wanted a war between the Shonas and Ndebele.
“They have always wanted that and this is historical. And up to now, there is so much suspicion between the Shonas and Ndebele because of these things.
“We have lost relatives, I was a victim also. The people who were affected will never forgive you and that is what they wanted.
“It is going to go a long way to heal. That is where the problem is. But we have to be very analytical as a people to understand the source.
“If we don’t do that then we will continue for years and years. But if we understand and be analytical, then you will understand that yes, it was a conspiracy.”
But in a recent interview, opposition MDC-T spokesman Obert Gutu said the healing process should begin with public release of the government’s own inquiries into the conflict.
“For reasons best known to the president and his team of advisors, the Chihambakwe Report has never been made public.
“Consequently, there has been no closure to the highly emotive issue pertaining to the Gukurahundi genocide.
“To bring closure to the Gukurahundi genocide phase of our post-independence history, the Parliament of Zimbabwe should immediately be granted access to the Chihambakwe Report so that the same may be debated and the recommendations made therein either be formally adopted or rejected.”