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Mphoko’s toxic revisionism

SOME people given a choice to face an ugly or terrifying truth or to conveniently avoid it, they would rather choose the latter.

Editor’s Memo with Dumisani Muleya

When they do that delusion or refusal to acknowledge reality takes over.

This is what co-Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko chose to do in his controversial interview with the Sunday Mail last weekend.

The most salient points of Mphoko’s interview included that the Gukurahundi massacres in the south-western region in 1980s were a Western conspiracy in the context of the Cold War and southern African geo-politics, not an ethnic conflict.

In fact, Mphoko claims the British created Gukurahundi. There was also the stunning assertion therein that President Robert Mugabe has nothing to do with it. Yet there was another new and unheard of contention that Zipa was formed in 1976 “mainly to rescue Zanu from collapse” in Mozambique.

Vicious attacks on the history and memory of Gukurahundi — from holocaust-like denials, distortion, to revisionism — are erupting in our midst as perpetrators and their supporters scramble out of panic and fear to clumsily obfuscate issues.

In his self-centred narrative, Mphoko speaks of his heroics and starring role in the liberation struggle. The whole interview read like a memoir; a personal life story, through which we must see and interpret the history of the liberation struggle. In some instances, it degenerated to authoritarian levels as he claimed his version is unassailable; everything else to the contrary is fictitious.

However, put under scrutiny, Mphoko’s flawed narrative collapses on its own.

First, he seems unaware or forgets an exhaustive narrative discourse and historical representation of the liberation struggle — its historiography — cannot be simply reduced to a mere biographical procedure.

The modes and tropes of history are complex, especially given the taxonomy of the sorts of narrative games historians and participants in such events always play.

Second, Mphoko’s claim Gukurahundi was a Western conspiracy is just false. It was an internal conflict with regional and international dimensions. Its genesis lies in the contradictions of the struggle and sustained mutual distrust and hostilities within the liberation movement manifested through Joshua Nkomo’s troubled relationship with Mugabe.

The hot Cold War, as Vladimir Shubin put it, and attendant geo-politics provided a global stage for a local conflict with regional and international ramifications.

Locally, it was a political power struggle between Zanu and Zapu, Mugabe and Nkomo to be specific. After winning elections in 1980, Mugabe and his party wanted to liquidate Nkomo and Zapu to establish a one-party state. As part of a power consolidation strategy, Mugabe launched Gukurahundi; a campaign of fascist violence and brutality now a trademark of his party in times of crises, to wipe out Zapu and its support base.

Therein lies the ethnic factor as Zapu, which used to be national in outlook and reach, had by 1980 been pushed back to Matabeleland and Midlands regions by Zanu largely using divisive identity politics for electoral purposes.

Third, there already exists a large amount of writing in the state formation literature on Zimbabwe’s first few years of Independence and declassified archival material which further shed light on Gukurahundi’s origins and dynamics.

There were various stakeholders in Gukurahundi and invariably different interests. As already stated, Mugabe’s interest was to destroy his main rival, Nkomo and the then main opposition Zapu.

Apartheid South Africa, as later shown by Operation Drama, wanted to destabilise Zimbabwe through its creature, Super-Zapu (different from local Zipra army deserters hounded out due to infighting) and clandestine aggression to keep the communist Soviet bloc and its purported proxies, the ANC/MK, at bay.

The West wanted to prevent communism from spreading sout-hwards to Zimbabwe and South Africa, so the Soviet-sponsored ANC and Zapu had to be crushed. Conspiracies and deception were then used to achieve the motley agendas. Mphoko’s toxic revisionism and distortion are simply dishonest.

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