SHORTLY before he deployed the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade to the south-western region of Zimbabwe from 1982-87 which then went on to butcher at least 20 000 civilians, President Robert Mugabe accused the main opposition party at the time, PF Zapu, of “acts of banditry”.
Mugabe â€” who has said he has “degrees in violence” â€” claimed that Zapu leader Joshua Nkomo was using “dissidents” to destabilise and oust his newly elected government, an allegation proven by the courts and events to be unfounded. He said Nkomo was like “a cobra in the house”. “The only way to deal effectively with a snake is to strike its head,” he declared.
In the process he accused Nkomoâ€™s party officials and their supporters of being “dissidents” in a bid to justify increasing repression to secure a one-party state and consolidate his grip on power.
The scalding condemnation of Zapu went on for some time as Zanu laid the ground for its offensive. The denunciation of Nkomo and his supporters was meant to prepare the country for a military onslaught on a party which was key in the liberation struggle but was now an inconvenient stumbling block to Mugabeâ€™s one-party state project.
Regrettably, Mugabeâ€™s warlike propaganda found extensive purchase and expression in commentary after commentary in the media. It was canvassed by policy-makers, discussed from observatory to political observatory, and openly celebrated in the streets, institutions and market places by Zanu PF fanatics, especially after the bloody 1985 elections.
As they say, if you want to kill a dog first give it a bad name. Thatâ€™s what Zanu did.
What followed, as is now known, were chilling acts of brutality. A fierce campaign of terror, characterised by beatings, torture, maiming, arson, rape and mass murder, swept across a vast swathe of Matabeleland and the Midlands leaving a trail of massacre and destruction.
Mugabe and his officials denied the killings. They are still in denial, even though Mugabe himself has described them as an “act of madness”.
Although years have gone by now and circumstances changed since the Gukurahundi days, echoes from that dark period were heard in Harare on Friday last week when Mugabe accused the MDC of “acts of banditry”.
He accused the MDC of attacking his party supporters, mainly in the rural areas, before issuing a menacing warning: “Such acts of banditry must stop forthwith. The MDC and its supporters are playing a dangerous game”. He further said the MDC “cannot win that kind of war”. Mugabe said the recent elections happened in “circumstances of an all-out war” in remarks apparently designed to justify violent campaigning.
However, Mugabe last week admitted his party lost the elections because it was “unprepared, disorganised, passive, lethargic and divided”. Zanu PF diehards think violence is the answer to Mugabeâ€™s faltering electoral prospects and looming defat.
During the 1980s there were early wake-up calls, but the world dithered. That the world initially remained silent was a tragedy. That the world has eventually woken up bodes well for the future. One can be certain that this will eventually spell the fall of the current regime as violence yields diminishing returns.
While nothing of the scale of Gukurahundi can possibly happen again, Mugabeâ€™s remarks last Friday must be seen in the context of the ongoing political violence. The “acts of banditry” are the pretext for this crackdown as they were in the 1980s and later in the Cain Nkala case where Mugabe accused the MDC of terrorism.
Zanuâ€™s way of thinking has not changed. The underlying principle is still the same: to win and consolidate power at all costs.
Although Mugabe said violence must stop, the reality is that the wave of terror is still rippling through the rural areas. The recent brutal attack on villagers at Mapondera in Chiweshe communal lands in Mashonaland Central is a microcosm of escalating post-election violence.
Mugabe has called for an end to violence, but this is wholly unconvincing coming as it does from the same people who as recently as two weeks ago were denying there was any violence.
When there were public complaints about Gukurahundi, Mugabe briefly withdrew it even if he was denying its atrocities. The same tactic is being used now. There will be public anti-violence statements and possibly a brief halt to brutality, but the cut-throat campaigning prior to the June 27 presidential election run-off will not stop. Violence is the only tool they have.
Opposition and civil society leaders, trade unionists, lawyers, journalists, diplomats, workers and many ordinary people have been caught up in the current crackdown since the March 29 elections which Mugabe and his party lost.
This entrenched pattern of repression will not cease. The international community must be vigilant over Zimbabweâ€™s miscreant regime to stop the violence and electoral theft.
In the meantime, letâ€™s wait for June 27 â€” Judgement Day.