HomeOpinionThe people live in fear of their own govt'

The people live in fear of their own govt’

THIS is the third and final part of a letter written by the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo to President Robert Mugabe on June 7 1983 condemning the way the then prime minister had treated him after “discovering” arms that saw the government unleashing the Korean-trained Fifth Brigade on the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces that left 20 000 people dead.

It is known through information given by the masses in the affected curfew areas that, in fact, the people who go about killing, maiming, raping and burning government property are, in fact, agents provocateurs planted by Zanu PF in the form of undercover pseudo-dissidents.

It is further known that government property destroyed by dissidents was property used by district councils who were made up of 100% Zapu members, who were known to have worked hard to use this equipment for developing their areas vigorously and with great enthusiasm.

It is known that about 90% of the victims killed by dissidents were either top Zapu officials, Zapu businessmen and teachers, Zapu local government officials and generally Zapu supporters. The remaining 10% appear to be white people. Not a single Zanu supporter was killed during this period. Does not this fact speak for itself? One does not know what the position is or would be after the Fifth Brigade’s bloody escapade in the Western Province of Matabeleland.

It can be said without hesitation that to have used the police as if they were Zipra officers in the Dr Bertrand case was an abominable and fascist-like attempt to portray to the country and the world at large that former Zipra combatants had plotting tendencies so as to blemish the name of Zipra.

I believe that the notes that were purported to have been sent by former “Zipra dissidents” to the police, when foreign tourists were abducted near Bulawayo in July 1982, were in fact an effort to show Zapu and former Zipra combatants in bad light.

Having said that, I would like to make it clearly understood that former Zipra combatants are not the responsibility of Zapu but of the Zimbabwe government, like anybody else. Despite this I found it necessary to activate and involve the masses in the areas where it was thought kidnappers may be hiding with the tourists, but before I concluded the exercise government declared a curfew in those areas, making them no-go places, causing an abrupt end to that effort. Why that was done I do not know to this day.

I now understand why you have maintained legislation such as the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act, the Unlawful Organisations Act, and the Emergency Powers Act which was enacted by former regimes specifically for the suppression and oppression of the black population of Zimbabwe, and for use against their effort to struggle for independence, social justice, enjoyment of freedom and human rights. You now seem to enjoy and justify the use of these notorious laws to deny your own people that which they fought and died to achieve.

What is it that makes you believe that this independence, which you and I and indeed the masses of Zimbabwe fought for, for so long, should now be maintained and protected by this type of legislation? Don’t you think there is something wrong?

I am not surprised that you have decided to maintain a state of emergency which was declared by Ian Smith on the 5th of November 1965 in preparation for his illegal action to declare, control and protect his type of independence.

During the protracted war our people were subjected to every kind of cruelty and oppression. No man’s life was safe, it was the frequent fate of an innocent villager to be shot out of hand, to be arbitrarily arrested and often to be tortured, to suffer the burning of his village, the massacre of his women and children, the destruction of crops and livestock, to suffer long years of imprisonment or to endure the pangs of long exile. The legal basis of this campaign of terror was the “state of emergency”.

You well know that in point of fact the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act was used to undermine and subvert law and order to quite a horrendous degree, and the declaration of a “state of emergency” itself was instrumental in creating an acute state of emergency by unleashing forces which inflicted a wave of murder and brutality upon our people which, in its savagery and disregard for humanitarian considerations, had no precedent among our people.

Taken together, these facts indicate clearly that for many years an unparalleled campaign of barbarism and terror was waged against the masses. Yet this campaign failed; our people did not submit, they fought back until finally victory was won and independence achieved.

But what in fact has been achieved? It is painful to ask this question, for it springs from events which have increasingly darkened the horizons of Zimbabwe over the past year or more, events I am trying to summarise in this letter.

You knew that having created the confusion, you would then be able to take military and legal action against deliberately created “political and armed dissidents”; hence the arrest of men like Lookout Masuku, Dumiso Dabengwa and others, and decided to charge them with treason. It is a shame to all of us who fought for liberty, freedom and the rule of law, to see Dumiso, Masuku and others being immediately arbitrarily detained after acquittal by the High Court.

It is a well-known fact that in Zimbabwe today, there are more people detained without trial than in fascist South Africa. Most of these people are also without formal detention orders and the next of kin have no idea as to whether they are alive or dead.

These people are not enemies of Zimbabwe, but patriots who have suffered, like us and many others, in the struggle to free their country, Zimbabwe, peasant men, women as well as young men and women who only happen to be caught in a conflict the government itself created.

The double tragedy of Zimbabwe today is, firstly, that the routine and administrative use of detention, torture and arbitrary repression has been adopted by an independent government and, secondly, that this government uses the very same mercenaries and torturers as the former regime used against the struggling people.

In fact the situation today is in some respects even worse, as our government has abandoned even those standards of bourgeois legality which the Smith regime generally attempted to hide their repression behind. Under that regime you could be detained but at least you were more likely to be issued with a detention order. You were therefore, less likely to simply disappear as is the case today.

The mercenaries and torturers used by the former regime are known and are very few, and therefore their exclusion from our security organs could not have disrupted those organs.

There are, in Zimbabwe today, so many different groups of armed men with power to do virtually anything to people.

People get arrested by the CIO, the Law and Order Section of the police, the so-called Zimpolis, the so-called Zanu Intelligence Service (which is not an arm of government), the military police of the Zimbabwe National Army, the Fifth Brigade (which seems to regard execution as the most effective method of arresting people), the Youth Brigade (which is also an arm of the party, but used as if it were part of the machinery of government), the militia, by Zanu party officials, by undercover pseudo-dissidents — the list is endless.

In fact, the rights of the Zimbabwe citizen as defined in the constitution are meaningless.

One of the most disgraceful and shaming aspects of our independence which is difficult to defend is that we have taken the methods and men used to oppress, torture and kill our people and tried to use them to consolidate our “independence”. You cannot take weapons, methods and people designed to defend colonial fascism and try to use them to defend the people. It is just not possible.

Today in Zimbabwe the same torturers that Smith used against the people are back in business “defending a people’s government”. They must smile to themselves when they are ordered to continue their torture of patriots by an independent government.

The methods of torture are also the same: electric shocks, beatings, burning with cigarettes, suffocation using wet sacks, and psychological torture. In the recent case of the State vs Dabengwa and others, the government must surely have been embarrassed when the activities of Fraser, Arnold (of CIO) and DSO Kaurayi were revealed in court. These men whose record of torture and atrocities against the people during the liberation war are well known, were brought into this case by our government to use their same techniques against the heroes of the liberation struggle.

In court it was revealed that Fraser assaulted, tortured and threatened Zipra men to tell lies against their commanders. DSO Kaurayi did the same to workers on the Nitram farms. Arnold, the so-called chief of the investigation, offered bribes and threats to witnesses to try to get them to change their evidence. Fraser has now run back to his masters in Pretoria. Arnold and Kaurayi remain to be used again to prostitute justice and bring disgrace on the memories of the fallen heroes of our struggle.

Under the terms of the Indemnity Act, which we condemned as barbaric and fascist during the liberation struggle, a citizen has no right of appeal or redress against those who illegally torture, maim, kill, destroy property or do any illegal act on him or against him.

I am sure you realise that the result of this use of Smith’s laws and torturers has been to create in an independent Zimbabwe a climate of terror and fear even more discriminate than that created by the Smith regime. Remember, there is no war in Zimbabwe today.

As it is in Zimbabwe, everyone faces this fear. It is a fear created by the fear the government itself obviously feels. What the government is in fear of is not very clear, but the fact that our government lives in daily fear cannot be doubted.

Ministers fear to walk the streets without armed men around them, roads are sealed off, convoys of armed men race through the streets sirens wailing announcing this fear.

The real victims of this climate of fear are the people themselves. How can the people get on with the vital task of building the nation when all around them they feel this insecurity and fear? At any moment they know that this machinery of fear and repression may be turned against them.

The people of Murewa may have not yet felt the bayonets of the Fifth Brigade, but they have already heard the stories. In their faces is the fear that one day this party army may be turned against them. It is certain that some Zanu members fear that the Fifth Brigade may be turned against Zanu and that it may even turn against its creators.

Is this the climate of a confident, free, proud and independent people and government? You do not teach young people to be contemptuous of human life and expect them to respect yours.

Mr Prime Minister, as I have mentioned above, the way the security organs of government in their generality are being used has created fear and despondency in the minds of a wide section of our people. But, let me stress that the activities of the Fifth Brigade in particular are something I never expected could happen in Zimbabwe. I could not make myself believe that such activities could have been carried out with your knowledge and approval.

It was when you were reported to have given an astounding declaration at a rally in Zhombe that I realised you support what the Fifth Brigade has done and continues to do in Matabeleland; quote: “When men and women provide food for dissidents, when we get there we eradicate them. We do not select who we fight, because we cannot tell who is a dissident and who is not.” — Financial Times, Telegraph and The Times, 15/4/83).

Comrade Prime Minister, you know that about two weeks before election day in March 1980, then Governor of Southern Rhodesia, Lord Soames, called all leaders of political parties contesting in the election and told them that “because of the security situation in the eastern districts of Zimbabwe there could be no free and fair election there”, which meant election would in fact not take place.

You will remember, I am sure, that about four or three days before polling day, Lord Soames unilaterally and without consultation announced that elections will take place in all districts in the country, including the eastern districts. I am sure you will agree with me that, with all the goodwill in the world, the Good Governor could not have made the “security situation” in the eastern districts so stable in less than two weeks, to be able to conduct “free and fair elections”.

You know as well as I do that the unstable and dangerous security situation in the eastern districts was caused by your party, Zanu PF, which maintained armed former Zanla combatants throughout that area who terrorised by beatings, tortures and even killing anyone who did not comply with Zanu PF directions. It was made impossible for any party other than Zanu PF to operate in the eastern districts area.

We in Zapu tried to canvass support for elections in those districts, and ended up with two candidates killed, 18 party workers killed and several others severely beaten up, some of them permanently maimed, and while others disappeared to this day. I approached you and told you what your party was doing with little or no effect at all on the situation there.

Now that the 1985 elections are approaching Zanu PF has begun using the same tactics as were used in the eastern districts before and during the 1980 elections.

This time the Fifth Brigade is being used as state machinery to terrorise and coerce the people in Matabeleland. Some believe that you are doing all this not just for electoral advantage, but that your aim is genocide.

As an effective coercive stunt, the Fifth Brigade was deployed in the area ostensibly to root out dissidents but in fact to terrorise the masses by beatings, torture, killings, rapings, looting, burning of villages, and literally doing anything atrocious on such a large scale as to instil fear into the people, not only in the affected areas, but that the effects of the action would pervade the entire population of Zimbabwe.

This has been followed by maintenance in every area sizeable groups of the Fifth Brigade and reinforced by armed Youth Brigades in areas like Gokwe and Zhombe to organise forced pungwes (rallies held from dusk to dawn) at which the old and the young are forcibly given doses of Zanu PF indoctrination.

This group has continued to carry out selective beatings, torture, killings and kidnappings in their respective areas. In areas like Nkayi, Lupane and Tsholotsho only sizeable groups of the Fifth Brigade are maintained. It is general practice during these pungwes that young women, schoolgirls and residents’ wives are forced to have sexual intercourse with brigadiers.

District councillors, chiefs and headmen are ordered by these armed young men to give numbers of people under them, and then given a corresponding number of Zanu PF membership cards and told to return with cash and lists of names on a given day.

These are the methods used for organising rallies for Zanu PF ministers and other officials.

I know and accept that the Fifth Brigade was deployed in these areas after the murder of about 200 people in about a year and the destruction of thousands of dollars worth of government equipment by dissidents. But Mr Prime Minister, I am sure you appreciate the absurdity of trying to protect people who have had 200 of their number killed in 12 months by dissidents while the Fifth Brigade in the process of that protection kills 3 000 to 5 000 people in six weeks.

I know that you have denied that any such things have taken place in Matabeleland, but the fact is that the evidence of this is irrefutable and based on the testimony of numerous first-hand witnesses, not least on that of many of the victims who survived. These victims include teachers, nurses, district councillors, etc.

Apart from victim witnesses, there are among others well-known international aid organisations who were friends of Zimbabwe during the war and after independence, who came to work with our people on the ground level. Added to these witnesses are different churches which work in the affected areas. I would refer especially to the testimony of no less than six Catholic bishops who were moved to issue a joint signed pastoral statement at their Easter 1983 conference. They did this, I would remind you, after I made my own disclosure at a press conference and in parliament late in February.

It has to be appreciated that a bishop of the Catholic Church, indeed any Christian bishop, is a person who has devoted his life to the service of God. In order that his ministry shall be effective, he has an obvious interest in maintaining friendly and cordial relations with the government of the day. It is certainly not in his interest, or that of his flock, to act in any way which will make such relations difficult or discordant. We may conclude therefore that when he is so moved he acts from a deep sense of personal conviction and from motives which can scarcely be said to spring from self-interest.

The following is an extract from their statement: “We entirely support the use of the army in a peace-keeping role. What we view with dismay are methods that have been adopted for doing so. Methods which should be firm and just have degenerated into brutality and atrocity. We censure the frightful consequences of such methods.

“Violent reaction against dissident activity has, to our certain knowledge, brought about the maiming and death of hundreds and hundreds of innocent people who are neither dissidents nor collaborators. We are convinced by incontrovertible evidence that many wanton atrocities and brutalities have been and are still being perpetrated. We have already forwarded such evidence to the government.”

I would remind you of the basis on which this testimony is made. It stems from the first-hand reports of numerous parish priests, priests who are articulate and responsible officers of their church and who are in close daily contact with the people of their parishes.

Again in the interest of their work they have everything to gain from maintaining good relations with the government of the day, and much to lose from a failure to do so.

Hence their testimony is surely to be judged to be disinterested, just as their motives for offering it can spring from nothing but a desire to serve their people. In this light is it possible for anyone in a position of authority and hence responsibility for these outrages, and possessed of the merest sense of human sensibility and compassion to feel other than a deep sense of shame and a desire to make amends for all this grievous suffering?

I was amazed and bewildered when Dr Nathan Shamuyarira dismissed the Catholic bishops’ statement as “irresponsible, contrived propaganda”. But I thought because as Minister of Information, he would swallow what the bishops in their well-considered statement said about his government-controlled mass media which has, to quote the same pastoral statement, “singularly failed to keep the people of Zimbabwe properly informed of the facts which are common knowledge, both in areas concerned and outside them through the reports of reliable witnesses.

“The facts point to a reign of terror caused by wanton killings, woundings, beatings, burnings and rapings. Many homes have been burnt down. People in rural areas are starving, not only because of the drought, but because in some cases supplies of food have been deliberately cut off and in other cases access to food supplies has been restricted or stopped. The innocent have no recourse or redress, for fear of reprisals.”

I was shattered when you as Prime Minister said of the bishops’ well-thought and constructive pastoral letter: “The seven Catholic bishops’ pastoral statement sermonising my government on the morality of our military operations in Matabeleland as they affect human rights and our policy of reconciliation is the latest pronouncement on the subject.”

You further said the bishops were playing to the international gallery and are mere megaphone agents of your external masters — “this band of Jeremiahs”.

“In these circumstances, your allegiance and loyalty to Zimbabwe becomes extremely questionable.”

Considering that the church in general and the Catholic bishops in particular on the question of human rights were very outspoken during our war of independence, one wonders where we are being headed to.

Looking at your attitude towards this most serious occurrence in your country, it appears that for many of our people the result of a 15-year armed struggle has not been to achieve the liberties for which they fought, but an increase in the oppression against which they took up arms in the first place.

I agree completely with the bishops when they declare: “These brutal methods will have the opposite effect to what the government is intending to achieve.” And we would add that terror did not work under Smith and it will not work today under us.

As a direct result of government terrorism thousands of people have fled into neighbouring territory and many, many more have left their villages and gone into hiding. In keeping with the worst excesses of the Smith era there has been the burning of villages and other barbarities referred to in the report, as well as the widespread practice of extortion and attempts at compulsory indoctrination as stated in preceding paragraphs.

This is not government, it is the abuse of government, an abuse which transforms the rule of law into the law of rule. As such it cannot lead to a free, united, peaceful and prosperous Zimbabwe. But to one in which oppression, division, violence and poverty will shadow all our hopes, and make a mockery of the freedom struggle in
which so many heroes gave their lives.

In the final section of their statement the bishops appeal to the government to use its authority to stop these excesses and call for the establishment of a judicial commission. We fully support this call. But I feel that the problem facing us in Zimbabwe today requires an approach much more resolute, much more embracing than ever
attempted by Zanu and Zapu before.

A judicial commission as proposed by the bishops should be a part of wider machinery composed of a wide spectrum of our society, who should examine our composite problems together with government, seek and find solutions which should be implemented jointly by the people and government.

If the people of Zimbabwe and their government fail to find a solution to this serious situation in which we find ourselves, our enemies will exploit the situation and destroy us.

Remember, Prime Minister, Zimbabwe and the people have to defend the country from these enemies. But today Zimbabwe is defenceless because the people live in fear, not of these enemies, but of their own government.

What has happened to the brave and determined, confident and fearless people of Zimbabwe and their soldiers of liberation, who showed the world that no power on earth could prevent us from achieving our freedom? That was a time when even our enemies had to admire us for our courage and determination.

Today our enemies laugh at us. What they see is a divided, confused and frightened people, led by a divided, confused and frightened government.

A government which has the love, respect and confidence of the people does not have to use the laws and weapons of colonial regimes to protect itself. The people themselves will protect their government if they have full trust in it. Fear is a weapon of despair, used by those who fear the people. This is the time and opportunity to rebuild trust, find the solution to our problems and defend the country as a united people.


Yours sincerely,

Joshua M Nkomo.

This Article was first published Sep 29, 2006 

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