President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s controversial biography, A Life of Sacrifice, which trended upon its launch this week – mainly for the wrong reasons – has many shades of grey, but it does not completely steer clear of Gukurahundi as initially and widely thought.
It deals with the burning subject of genocide which still troubles the conscience of nation and remains a scar on its soul by seeking to downplay and rationalise it through scapegoating and denialism, prompting literary critics to say a deceitful whitewash is worse than a blackout.
Better be quiet than lie, Mnangagwa’s critics say.
In his biography, Mnangagwa carefully and unconvincingly opens the lid on the emotive Gukurahundi atrocities, describing his role in the massacres as “peripheral”, while blaming his predecessor the late former president Robert Mugabe for the killings.
In his last interview soon after the coup, Mugabe told journalists – including The NewsHawks editors then with the Zimbabwe Independent – at his Blue Roof home in Harare that Mnangagwa is largely to blame for Gukurahundi.
Sustained media coverage, video footage and parliament hansards from the time show Mnangagwa was not only deeply involved, but actually spearheaded the operation.
Just like Mnangagwa, Mugabe also resorted to scapegoating in a bid to wriggle out of the issue and clean the blood on his hands.
In his book, Mnangagwa blames Mugabe for ordering security, including the army, intelligence and police, to embark on the bloody murderous campaign well-documented as the darkest chapter in the country’s contemporary history, even without parallels in the region.
On Thursday, Mnangagwa, who served as minister in charge of State Security at Independence in 1980 until 1988, launched at State House his biography which immediately trended mainly for the wrong reasons – its glaring omissions that create serious revisionism and distortion.
The 154-paged biography, which Mnangagwa described as a “brief window” into his life, was authored by Eddie Cross, a former opposition MDC senior official and MP.
It was edited by businesswoman and musician Rachel Jambaya, who is also known as Rachel J.
According to Mnangagwa, in mid-1983 the Gukurahundi campaign was launched, controlled and executed by 5 Brigade and the police.
In the following four years, he says it was estimated that 700 to 800 people had been murdered by dissident operators in rural regions.
In a new incident not recorded before by journalists, researchers and academics, Mnangagwa says that in August 1985 dissidents massacred 22 Shona civilians in Mwenezi and 16 Ndebele people on a mission farm in Matobo.
Mnangagwa obfuscates the large-scale massacres of civilians – over 20 000 according to civil society organisations – in Matabeleland and Midlands regions by the Fifth Brigade, in the process failing to explain what happened, when, where, why and how.
The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe surveyed and documented at least 2000 deaths. The International Association of Genocide Scholars estimated the death toll at 20 000.
The atrocities came to an end after Mugabe and former Zapu leader the late vice-president Joshua signed the 1987 Unity Accord. After the peace pact Nkomo became the country’s co-vice-president with the late Simon Muzenda.
“While the origins of the campaign and its execution was fully controlled by state actors in Zimbabwe Government and armed forces, Emmerson (Mnangagwa) claims that his role was peripheral and concerned mainly with the threats to national security emanating from the South African Government and the Zapu dissidents,” the book says.
“Was Emmerson Mnangagwa responsible for Gukurahundi? He was in many ways an ideal choice for Zimbabwe’s first minister responsible for State Security. He had impeccable liberation credentials he was a clever and well educated man with a legal background, married to a relative of the Commander of the Zanla forces, Josiah Tongogara who had died just before Independence in a road accident in Mozambique and a fellow Karanga.
“Clearly, Emmerson as a member of Cabinet and holding down a job that included intelligence and chairmanship of the Joint Operation Command, was part of the decision to launch the Gukurahundi campaign and would have played a significant role in its management over four years. Emmerson saw the campaign as part of the defence programme against South African destabilisation and events in both Mozambique and Angola as well as the discovery of arms caches in key areas in the south west and east supplied by South African elements would have heightened his concerns. But in the end, there is little doubt that the savage nature of the campaign against Zapu and the tribal groups in the south west was due to direct Mugabe instructions to the 5th Brigade and to the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Police on the ground.”
Mugabe’s motivation, the book further says, was not only the destruction of dissident elements, but to eliminate political opposition to establish a one-party state under his total control.
“This tactic would be employed by Mr. Mugabe several times during his rule of the country up to his resignation in November 2017. The motivation behind the campaign Murambatsvina in 2005 and the campaign to take land away from white commercial farmers from 200 to 2009 was mainly motivated by the desire to maintain total control of the state under pressure from democratic forces,” the book reads.
Speaking at Nkomo’s memorial which was held a year after his death, Mugabe described the atrocities as a “moment of madness.”
However, in his latest ever interview after the coup and before his death, Mugabe blamed Mnangagwa for the massacres.
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