Zimbabwe’s Information Minister on Thursday clashed publicly with his boss, Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko over the Gukurahundi atrocities.
Responding to a question by a member of the public on his much-anticipated Question and Answer session conducted on social networks, Professor Jonathan Moyo, the Government propaganda chief, said that he was bemused and shocked by statements made by the recently appointed Vice President.
In a recent interview with The Sunday Mail, VP Mphoko exonerated President Mugabe for the Gukurahundi atrocities and instead, laid blame at the door of the West, saying that the atrocities were “a Western conspiracy”. Thousands of innocent civilians, predominantly of Ndebele ethnic origin in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions were killed by the Fifth Brigade, a crack military unit trained by the North Koreans.
The Government of the then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe claimed that it was fighting dissidents who were destabilising the newly independent country, but the elimination of thousands of civilians was widely interpreted as a form of ethnic cleansing.
The killings only ended in 1987 when Joshua Nkomo and his opposition PF Zapu agreed to be swallowed by Mugabe’s Zanu PF under an agreement known as the Unity Accord. The Government has never taken formal responsibility for what happened but Mugabe later admitted begrudgingly that it was “a moment of madness”.
VP Mphoko torched a storm early this week, when he claimed in an interview with the State weekly that Mugabe was not to blame for Gukurahundi and blamed the West for the massacres. Many critics lambasted VP Mphoko, accusing him of trying too hard to please his boss, Mugabe.
Now, Moyo, the Government information chief has waded into the storm and openly refused to back his boss.
When a commentator asked what he thought of VP Mphoko’s remarks, Moyo was blunt in his response, refusing to explain or defend VP Mphoko’s statements.
“I’m still trying to come to terms with those remarks in terms of their intended meaning and purpose,” said Moyo, warning his boss against historical revisionism.
Moyo urged an open approach to the issue of Gukurahundi, which he described as “a dark period”. Without getting into detail, he said there was a need to address “the consequences” of Gukurahundi.
“I don’t think there’s a problem in the country about unraveling (sic) the causes of that dark period in our country’s early independence period. The question of its causes has been addressed authoritatively, especially in the run up to the historic Unity Accord. What has remained with lingering questions are not the Gukurahundi causes but the Gukurahundi consequences”, said Moyo on his Facebook page.
Moyo has previously backed campaigns to deal with the Gukurahundi atrocities, which remain a sore spot for the people of Matabeleland and the Midlands. In 2007, when he was an independent Member of Parliament for Tsholotsho constituency, he sponsored the Gukurahundi Memorial Bill, a private member’s Bill, which sought to address the unresolved grievances.
At the time he was accused by the State media of trying to divide the country along tribal lines. Moyo later re-joined Zanu PF after the 2008 elections and appeared to have dropped the campaign.
This is the first clear clash between Moyo and Mphoko, who was unexpectedly handed the Vice Presidency by Mugabe in December 2008.
“What is significant is that while VP Mphoko is doing his best to defend Mugabe, Moyo is openly contradicting him and effectively telling him that he is talking nonsense,” said an analyst who preferred to remain anonymous.
“Mphoko said Mugabe is not to blame for Gukurahundi. Now Moyo is saying he is still trying to come to terms with those statements. This can only mean that Moyo is not in agreement with Mphoko’s attempts to exonerate Mugabe. As Information Minister and propaganda chief, one might have expected Moyo to sanitise his boss’ gaffe but clearly Moyo is saying he has no obligation to defend him and will not go out of his way to do so”
Moyo bears a personal grievance from the Gukurahundi era. He has previously claimed that his father was killed by the Fifth Brigade soldiers during Gukurahundi.
It remains to be seen how VP Mphoko will respond to this severe put-down by his subordinate in Government and the party.