PHELEKEZELA Mphoko’s appointment two years ago as Vice-President-designate was a complete turn-around for the former Zipra combatant, who 32 years ago was arrested by President Robert Mugabe’s government at the height of the Gukurahundi genocide.
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In her much acclaimed book, Through the darkness: A life in Zimbabwe, Judith Todd narrated how Mphoko was detained by Mugabe and the troubles his wife went through.
“A year after independence, Mphoko was elected deputy director of the demobilisation directorate, which was created in 1981 and fell under the Labour and Social Welfare ministry,” Todd narrated.
“John Shoniwa was the head of the directorate and had been in the first batch of men sent to China by Zanu-PF for military training in 1963 along with Emmerson Mnangagwa, who had become the minister responsible for State security,” she wrote.
“Their task was to co-ordinate activities and programmes for the ex-combatants with relevant government ministries.”
At that time an inter-ministerial committee was established for liaison with the directorate, which included agriculture, labour, finance, education, health and manpower planning and development ministries.
However, Mphoko was to quickly lose his job, as in August 1985 he was arrested together with other Zapu legislators, late Sydney Malunga, late Welshman Mabhena and Stephen Nkomo.
“This was kept quiet, as was the news of Cephas Msipa’s brief spell with the CIO,” Todd writes.
“His detention was serious, as he was a senior civil servant holding a delicate position.”
Following his arrest, Mphoko was able to smuggle a letter from where he was detained, instructing his wife to contact Todd for help in getting him a lawyer.
Judith, the daughter of a former Rhodesian Prime Minister, Sir Garfield Todd had by then set up the Zimbabwe Project, a non-governmental organisation, which among other things helped ex-combatants reintegrate into society.
“Mphoko’s wife brought a letter, he had managed to smuggle from wherever he was being held that made reference to me,” the book reads.
“It was carefully protective mentioning only ‘that lady’ and telling her she should contact me for help in getting him a lawyer.”
Judith said in the letters from detention, Mphoko wrote how much he loved his wife and that she should not despair because of his arrest.
As tensions rose, a number of Zapu cadrés were arrested, with the late former Home Affairs minister Enos Nkala a key player in the Gukurahundi genocide, chiding that the arrested legislators “would have a long rest”.
It is not clear when Mphoko was released.
Judith describes the height of the arrest as “an increasingly miserable time,” which saw the late former Vice-President Joshua Nkomo, whose own life was in danger, having to fly his family out of the country.
With the 1985 elections drawing closer, Zapu’s symbol was a bull, then Zanu-PF chose the derogative slogan, saying Pasi nebhuru rengozi meaning down with the bull of evil spirits.
“Minister Maurice Nyagumbo and others conducted mock funerals of bulls at which they were presented with coffins containing effigies of Nkomo,” Todd wrote.
Despite his arrest and detention, Mphoko was in 2009 to court controversy, as Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Botswana, when he claimed Gukurahundi was a conspiracy constructed by the West to protect South Africa’s apartheid regime.