A PRIZE for extraordinary creativity can be awarded to co-Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko for weaving a new spectacular version of Zimbabwe’s military and political history which no one has encountered before.
Dinizulu M Macaphulana
In this pulsating narrative of history, Mphoko is the gallant son of Zimbabwe who delivered weapons from Zipra to Zanla in order to “rescue Zanu from collapse” in spite of the bloody enmity between the two liberation armies, and curiously, the only witnesses to this heroic role of Mphoko are the departed Solomon Mujuru and the late Joshua Nkomo and the nameless “Zipra command”.
No one living is cited as a witness. How convenient! Dead men are known not to tell any tales.
Contrary to the heroic narrative of Mphoko that can only be corroborated by the late heroes of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, there are many Zapu and Zipra leaders and cadres who are alive who accuse him of having been a storied double- agent who long sold out to Zanu PF by being a “Report” source on Zapu and Zipra plans and activities, hence he has been at long last been rewarded for his loyal service to Zanu PF.
The neat and tidy unity and smooth co-operation between Zanla and Zipra that Mphoko portrays, and which he pretends to personify, is contradicted by bloody “struggles within the struggle” such as the massacre of unarmed Zipra cadres by armed Zanla forces in Morogoro and Mgagao in Tanzania. In fact, both sides attacked each other ruthlessly in many areas, including at Entumbane after Independence.
Well, this is a subject that can be profoundly explored in detail another day.
The purpose of this article is to recognise Mphoko’s important message on dialogue on the Gukurahundi genocide and equally to expose some unfortunate self-serving falsehoods that he has uttered to rationalise his current promotion which might as well be a reward for a long history of treachery and double-dealing by a pretender and an opportunist whose ladder to the throne might be built of limbs and bodies of the innocents.
Mphoko’s role in the liberation struggle after the Zipa experiment collapsed in 1976 is yet to be fully told. It will, however, emerge in the fullness of time and his claimed heroics and self-centred narrative of the struggle, including his purported starring role in rescuing Zanu from collapse in Mozambique, will be properly and rigorously tested.
Ego-politics, in theology and philosophy, did not only rise with the God Yah-Weh telling Moses from a burning bush that “I am who I am” and the “one and only” God. It was amplified by Rene Descartes saying, “I think therefore I am,” inaugurating a tendency that the European is the standard of humanity and all truth, the rest of humanity can only learn and imitate.
It is equally ego-political for Mphoko to explain Zimbabwean history around his personal story, and to explain his political biography by hammering and chiseling Zimbabwean history to a shape that justifies him and his political fortunes.
Like many other living heroes of the Zimbabwean struggle, knowing that all living heroes are suspect, Mphoko comes across as a dubious character whose mouth must be watched and his words studied carefully.
Once upon a time in Gumtree, near Bulawayo, I was lucky to come out of the late vice-president Joseph Msika’s farm in peace and in one piece. I dared ask the temperamental politician: “How could you, mdala, call us lizards in a full Imbovane Yamahlabezulu meeting at the Large City Hall?”
There was temple silence for three minutes before he looked at his wife, then at my friend the politician who had brought me to his presence, and then he burst out laughing. A coughy guttural laugh.
“You are playing wena mfana (young man); when we address the crowds we are not talking to them, but to the president; these boys who walk behind us always are not just protecting us, they are also monitoring our words and movements.”
After that encounter, my friend accused me of possessing strong muti (spell); Msika was nicknamed Bruno because of his reputation at throwing jabs at careless challengers, but I knew that he respected his kindly wife who was in the vicinity, and chose the bleeding truth to dealing with my insolence physically.
From that logic, Mphoko’s colourful words might not have been for our ears although we are the audience, the words are for the attention of the absent, but ever present Dear Leader. How else can we understand the ridiculous words: “Gukurahundi after the war had nothing to do with (President Robert) Mugabe … Nothing!” when even children know that Mugabe was the ruler of the country and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces at the time of the genocide.
Should we all suddenly believe that Mugabe, the defiant strongman, was once a hapless puppet under whose watch the British and the Americans carried out a genocide, using him as the orator who was made to say that if you want to kill a snake (Joshua Nkomo) you must strike and crush its head. Are we suddenly to believe that the British made Mugabe say Nkomo was the “father of the dissidents”?
The Mphoko who totally reduced the Gukurahundi genocide to a Western conspiracy and exonerated Mugabe from culpability is not only an afraid man; but seemingly also a practiced double-agent who has got an eye and a nose for the buttered side of the slice.
When he was shuttling between Nkomo and Mugabe while based in Maputo after practically defecting from Zapu following the collapse of the Zipa initiative, what was his role precisely? Was he an honest messenger playing a constructive role to thaw relations between the two in service of the struggle or a self-serving double-agent?
All careful readers and thinkers on world affairs and life know that the Global North, since 1492 when Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas, has always had colonial and imperial conspiracies against the Global South. The book Meet Me in November by Peter Stiff has Taffy of the Rhodesian Intelligence narrating how they sought to fuel the animosity between Zapu and Zanu, and how they killed freedom fighters through assassinations.
But Mphoko, the Rhodesians, British and the Americans were not in the flight in 1982 when his current counterpart Emmerson Mnangagwa and Sydney Sekeramayi met Nkomo on their way to Bulawayo to “discover” hidden arm caches (they were known to be there as Zanla and Zipra hid weapons around assembly points) on Zapu farms or at that rally where Perence Shiri, then called Black Jesus, allegedly held a six-month-old baby by the neck, and then let the infant fall to its death in front of the mother and the multitudes to demonstrate what must happen to “children of dissidents”.
Gukurahundi had a colonial and imperial conspiracy in it, I have written on this before, but it was also a plot that was opportune for Mugabe and Zanu PF who had their own machinations against Nkomo and Zapu.
I would be the next Jesus if anyone expects Mphoko to confess this truth given his role in the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), present position and the culture of retribution in his party, but he should maintain his silence like many others than seek to mock the graves of his fellow Zapu cadres and fellow victims of Gukurahundi.
While the North Koreans trained the Fifth Brigade, the British, who were training Zimbabwe’s regular army under BMATT, armed them in certain respects as they provided equipment to Mugabe who was the darling of the West at the time.
As Greg Mills has explained, it must be said for clarity’s sake the Fifth Brigade was not trained by BMATT. With no British training involvement, the Fifth Brigade, which comprised around 1 000 ex-Zanla guerrillas, were exposed to a vastly different military philosophy, traditions and tactics as the rest of the army.
The use of North Koreans illustrated what is perhaps a less well-known problem faced by BMATT: that of the differences in systems, philosophies and tactics between Western and formerly Sino-Soviet bloc allies.
The latter, BMATT contend, rely on shock systems of attack with a mass conventional front where there is little initiative below command level.
The British system, BMATT maintained, is the opposite: where junior officers are encouraged to think for themselves, to show initiative and interpret leadership directives as the situation dictates.
But the British collaborated in Gukurahundi for their own interests. Yet Mugabe and other players also played their part for their own interests as well.
The BBC Panorama archive has footage of a giggling Sekeramayi, during Gukurahundi, watching as a British soldier demonstrates the use of a machine gun to a Fifth Brigade soldier. Foreigners and imperialists provided training and guns yes, but Mugabe gave orders, and the Fifth Brigade carried out the orders, Cde Mphoko. Your new job cannot blind you so much to reality and change those facts just like that.
Beside his spectacular ego-politics, Mphoko is wise to say about Gukurahundi that “where people have died, you have to be very careful”, and that there must be “frank” debate by citizens on the genocide. True also is the observation that Mphoko makes that in actuality, there is not one Gukurahundi, he names two, the one before independence and the one in Matabeleland and the Midlands after. I can identify many more Gukurahundies.
While the term Chimurenga defines the progressive revolutionary ideology of the struggle as advanced by Zanu, Gukurahundi is a violent strategy of dealing with the party’s enemies within and without. Zimbabwean historians will remember that the soldiers who dealt with the internal Zanu revolt in the mid-1970s in Mozambique were also called Gukurahundi.
The witty Edison Zvobgo called this “the gun idea” that came when other persuasive ideas had failed to discipline cadres. Those involved in the Nhari rebellion after they tried to arrest the leadership for corruption, tribalism and eclecticism were executed under a Gukurahundi operation in 1974.
Such sayings as “Zanu ndeye ropa (Zanu is from blood)” can also be taken to mean how the party ruthlessly dealt with opponents and rivals.
For that reason, the term Gukurahundi did not originate with the genocide in Matabeleland and the Midlands; by the early 1980s, the name was already a trusted code-name that referred to a final jihad (Islamic for holy war) against anyone and anything opposed to Zanu and its leaders.
Those young and old concerned Zimbabweans, who seek to explore this history, can explore Wilbert Zvakanyorwa Sadomba’s War Veterans in Zimbabwe’s Revolution and among many other sources such as Norma Kriger’s Zimbabwe’s Guerilla War.
In reality not in name, such recent victims of ruthless internal Zanu PF politics as Joice Mujuru, Rugare Gumbo and Didymus Mutasa are in actuality the fresh casualties of the party’s tried and tested Gukurahundi strategy that has always accompanied the Chimurenga ideology as and when necessary.
Martin Rupiya has written academically about how Zanu PF governs by operations. Such militarised operations as Murambatsvina, Operation Mavotera Papi and many others, have been carried out as parts of the Chimurenga ideology and they bear in them the spirit of the Gukurahundi strategy.
For Mphoko to seek to attribute the 1980s Gukurahundi genocide to a Western colonial and imperial conspiracy and exonerate Mugabe, and by extension Zanu PF, shows he is either dishonest or actually does not understand the party he belongs to. The frank dialogue that Mphoko wisely counsels can surely not begin from such a distorted framework of history and the truth.
By its nature, politics involves the management of history and memory. Politicians work overtime to get audiences to remember certain events and to forget others. What Mphoko will have Zimbabweans remember is a heavily-doctored version of history that delivers him as a decorated hero of the liberation war who even saved Zanu from collapse in Mozambique.
However, like many of our African liberation war leaders, Mphoko is a dented and tainted product of a history of war, defeats, treacheries and cozenage.
A future Zimbabwe will not be founded on such fraudulent narratives as that Zanu PF and Mugabe are totally innocent, and only imperialists are guilty of the Gukurahundi genocide.
Zimbabweans have to look at the many sins of this generation in the eye and frankly contemplate solutions outside personalised fantasies and deliberately distorted, misleading narratives such as the one Mphoko has treated us to.
Macaphulana is a Pretoria-based Zimbabwean political scientist and semiotician. email@example.com