MDC deploys youths to strife-torn Bikita West
THE MDC says it has deployed hundreds of youths to Bikita West to help restore order in the constituency rocked by widespread violence allegedly sponsored by war veterans and Zanu PF supporters ahead of the crucial by-election on 13 and 14 January. Senior MDC officials yesterday said: "The State has neglected the people in the area. They need some form of protection from Zanu PF supporters." The MDC's decision follows the deployment of 100 war veterans and Zanu PF supporters throughout Bikita to campaign against the opposition. "Everyone knows that Zanu PF is at the forefront of the violent campaign," said the official.
Border Gezi, the Minister of Youth, Gender and Employment Creation, Chenjerai Hitler Hunzvi and Joseph Chinotimba, leaders of a faction of war veterans, last week joined the fray to drive fear into people ahead of the by-election. Chinotimba met his match when he was assaulted last week and left the constituency briefly to seek treatment in Harare after he was injured in an attack involving MDC youths on Tuesday. The self-styled commander-in-chief of farm invasions was assaulted at Ukomba nightclub on Tuesday evening after he had tried to intimidate patrons of the club. Police sources and some of the councillors from Bikita confirmed the assault although yesterday Chinotimba was denying ever having been in the area. But on Friday, Chinotimba, together with Hunzvi and Gezi, were in Bikita West. The trio refused to speak to The Daily News reporter, threatening to beat him up.
Hundreds of people were admitted to hospitals and clinics in Bikita West following an orgy of violence by war veterans 20km from Nyika Growth Point. Many were treated and discharged, but five were still in hospital as of yesterday afternoon. The hospital matron was so terrified of the violence sweeping the constituency she did declined an interview with The Daily News. She confirmed several people had been treated at the hospitals. Several nuns confirmed taking "many X-rays" of broken limbs and wounded heads. One victim, Masimba Chisamba, lost four front teeth, while his upper jaw was broken. Another victim from Ziki area, Taguta Tapera, is in serious condition at Silveira Mission Hospital.
Over the weekend there was increased riot police presence in the area with many deployed at major centres, but they have not arrested anyone in connection with the ongoing violence. Yesterday Gezi and Hunzvi addressed meetings in the Maregere area, 2km from Silveira Mission Hospital. Villagers said the two Zanu PF politicians forced all adults in the area to attend the meeting. MDC politicians also addressed several rallies in the area, but played hide-and-seek with Zanu PF youths. Several businessmen have boarded their shops and others have temporarily left the area for fear of being caught in the violence. After assaulting villagers, the Zanu PF supporters help themselves to some of the villagers' property, including chickens. People flee their homes at the appearance of Hunzvi and company. Jervas Mavhumashava, Francis Zingwe - a teacher - and Davasha Chirichoga, all from Makuvaza township, have abandoned their properties and fled the area.
Although police have mounted roadblocks in the area, these are not evident in areas where Zanu PF will be holding rallies. Near Tanzwana Village, where Gezi and Hunzvi were addressing people yesterday afternoon, police could be seen dismantling the roadblock, while Zanu PF youths and war veterans terrorised all adults into attending the rally. The campaigning has now reached fever pitch. Yesterday MDC posters were plastered all over the place, including any notable landmark. In contrast, there are very few Zanu PF posters. Zanu PF is promising the people assistance in starting small agricultural businesses. However, people in the area said when retired Colonel Claudius Makova lost to Amos Mutongi in the June election, he came, he removed roofs and rafters from clinics, schools and people's homes. He had given these to the villagers. Makova also allegedly withdrew cattle he donated for a livestock revolving fund for the villagers.
Learnmore Jongwe, the MDC spokesman, yesterday said: "Supporters of the MDC in Bikita West will react violently if they are attacked by Zanu PF members and former freedom fighters. "The time has now come for us to act in self-defence. Zanu PF should not have a monopoly of violence. We will not give away Bikita West. That is our seat and we are sure to retain it." Jongwe, the MP for Kuwadzana, said it was imperative and prudent for MDC supporters to act in self-defence to protect its members and the elderly in the community who are being brutalised. He said: "While we don't and will never take violence as an ideology, we wish to state that our supporters will defend themselves if they are attacked." The Bikita West parliamentary seat fell vacant following the death of Mutongi of the MDC. Jongwe said: "Violence or no violence, we will ensure that we retain that seat. When we are attacked we will defend ourselves within the confines of the law. The law allows us to use reasonable force, within the confines of the law, to protect ourselves." Hunzvi has declared the constituency a "no-go area" and senior war veterans have embarked on a door-to-door campaign, targeting MDC activists.
From The Daily News, 25 December
Travellers stranded as fuel crisis deepens
Bulawayo - The fuel crisis hit the tourism industry hard as hundreds of visitors from South Africa failed to get transport at the Beitbridge Border Post where the volume of people crossing the border increased during the festive season. The border post is open for 24 hours for the convenience of travellers. Zimbabwe is facing critical fuel shortages, which have been blamed on mismanagement at the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe as well as the shortage of foreign currency.
Thousands of border jumpers who have sought economic refuge in South Africa are among those in the scramble for transport back home. Some travellers who phoned The Daily News yesterday said taxi operators were now inflating the fares, capitalising on the shortage of transport. Others who were driving in from down south said they were stuck after running out of fuel. "The problems start with the goods clearance at the border post, which is very slow and when you come into Zimbabwe, there is no fuel," said Paul Stevens, a visitor from South Africa. The fuel crisis has cost the country millions in foreign currency as would-be tourists have stayed at home for fear they could get stuck in Zimbabwe without fuel to return home or even to see the sights.
A Zimbabwean living in South Africa back home on holiday said the situation was "frustrating" and urged Zimbabwean political leaders to "put their act together or accept responsibility and go". A number of "crisis businesses" are said to be mushrooming in Beitbridge, particularly the sale of fuel to stranded motorists. Hundreds of people were yesterday stranded at Mucheke bus terminus as there were no buses to their rural homes because of the current fuel crisis. The bus station became an instant squatter camp overnight as people from as far as Botswana and South Africa spent days at the terminus. "We have been here since Thursday," said Joyce Mhlanga, a Zimbabwean living in South Africa. "We are failing to get transport to our rural homes. We learnt on Saturday that the buses which usually service our rural area had been withdrawn because of the fuel crisis."
Many people had to cancel their plans to travel to their rural homes because of the transport problems. Most of them blamed the government for failing to secure enough fuel stocks for the festive season. "I have decided to go back to Harare because there are no buses to take me to Chipinda in Zaka," said Jethro Sivaya. "We used to have only three buses servicing the area but we have heard that they have been withdrawn by the operator because of the diesel shortage." Transporter Enock Chirondo said he cancelled some of his routes because of the shortage of fuel. He said most of his buses were parked at the depot because there was no diesel. In Masvingo, only one fuel station had fuel yesterday and queues stretched for almost a kilometre. Many motorists said they had spent the whole night in the queue. "We do not know whether we are going to make it to our rural homes," said Michael Maruto, a motorist. "We have been queueing for fuel all night long but there are no signs that we are going to get it."
From The Star (SA), 27 December
Rebels claim to have killed 20 in DRC battles
Kigali - Rebels opposed to President Lauren Kabila killed 20 pro-government troops who launched attacks, backed by heavy armour, in Katanga province of the DRC, the rebels said on Tuesday. Lola Kinsanga of the Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), said soldiers of the Congolese Armed Force (FAC), Interahamwe militia foes of Rwanda's government and their allies had attacked in several places. "Twenty Interahamwe, FAC and allied troops were killed in attacks by Kabila's forces against Nyunzu, Kasinge and Monono," said the deputy spokesman for the RCD from the rebel base at Goma on the Rwandan border. "Since Sunday night, ground attacks involving heavy artillery and tanks have been launched against our positions, but we managed to rout the enemy," said Kisanga.
The towns under attack lie west of Lake Tanganyika in the north of Kabila's mineral-rich Katanga province, where rebels and their Rwandan military allies have pressed as far south as Pweto on the shores of Lake Mweru. One of Kabila's main supporters, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, last week warned in Kinshasa that if the Rwandans failed to pull back from Pweto, the allies would drive them out, using "all means at their disposal". Kisanga said that the offensive "follows several months of preparations and Kabila's men are very numerous, all in breach of the Lusaka accords" signed by all parties to the conflict by the end of August 1999. These accords included a ceasefire agreement, which has frequently been violated by both sides.
From The Daily Telegraph (UK), 27 December
Congolese refugees pour into Zambia
Johannesburg - Zambia's army has been mobilised in an attempt to control hundreds of armed Congolese soldiers and thousands of civilian refugees fleeing across the border from the mineral-rich province of Katanga, which is under siege by rebel forces. Observers fear that Zambia is being drawn reluctantly but inexorably into the conflict in the DRC, in which eight other African nations are already actively participating. Fierce fighting was reported from Katanga yesterday as President Laurent Kabila's forces attempted a counter-attack against the towns of Pweto and Pepa, both captured by Rwandan-backed rebels this month. Zambian troops have been deployed in and around the town of Kaputa on the northern border to cope with the influx of deserting soldiers and refugees from the Congo. According to officials the refugees, some of whom have taken to banditry, pose "massive security and health problems".
From the BBC, 27 December
Hutu militia 'surrender' to Rwanda
Kigali - Rwanda says it is making important headway in its war against the Interahamwe - the Hutu militia allegedly linked to the 1994 genocide. The Rwandan Government says that 22 Interahamwe surrendered to its troops following successful cross-border operations in the DRC. The presidential defence adviser, Colonel Charles Kayonga, said the militia fighters crossed into Rwanda from DR Congo, and handed themselves in at a military base near the border on Monday. Rwanda has frequently accused Congolese President Laurent Kabila of giving military support to the Interahamwe and other armed groups and of using them as front-line troops in the war in Congo. Rwanda says there are thousands of Interahamwe still at large in Congo, with many of them wanted by the Rwandan authorities for their alleged involvement in the genocide, in which 800,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were slaughtered. Colonel Kayonga said the returnees included a senior commander believed to have played a key role in enemy military operations.
For the past few years, Rwandan troops have been heavily deployed in eastern Congo, officially on a mission to secure Rwanda's western frontier and to track down and neutralise thousands of Interahamwe fighters. To date that campaign has met with limited success. Rwanda itself may be secure but the Interahamwe and allied armed groups still carry out regular attacks and ambushes inside Congo, operating in part from bases in the hills, forests and volcanoes. The Rwandan presence has proved highly unpopular with the local Congolese population. Congolese critics have talked of an army of occupation and have accused Rwanda of looking to loot and plunder rather than restore stability.
Despite growing international appeals for a withdrawal of his troops, Rwandan President Paul Kagame says he first wants guarantees that Rwanda will never again be attacked from Congo. Mr Kagame has repeatedly accused his Congolese counterpart, President Laurent Kabila, of offering every assistance to the Interahamwe and using them as part of a military coalition which also includes regular soldiers from Zimbabwe.
|28/12/2000 13:51 - (SA)|
The travellers reportedly failed to convince British immigration officials of the purpose of their visits.
A British home affairs official told The Herald in a telephone interview from London that the 65 were denied entry into Britain between Saturday and Tuesday.
"The (immigration) officers were not convinced that the people were coming here on holiday," the official was quoted as saying.
Nineteen of the travellers are now seeking political asylum in Britain while the rest were put on flights back to Harare.
The home affairs official said there was nothing unusual about the refusal of entry to Zimbabweans, and that they are not the only nationals affected.
Zimbabweans do not require visas to enter Britain.
Mainly citing economic hardships, many Zimbabweans have fled the country for overseas destinations which include Britain and the United States. - Sapa-AFP
HARARE, Zimbabwe (Reuters) -- Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has accused the opposition of using undemocratic means to try to win power and warned against any attempt to overthrow him.
In a New Year message, the veteran leader said his controversial drive to seize white farms for blacks would continue. The speech, delivered at a state banquet on Wednesday evening, was carried by official media on Thursday.
"I do not want to be overthrown and I will try to overthrow those who want to overthrow me," Mugabe said at the banquet, which was boycotted by deputies of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
He called on the MDC, which almost broke 20 years of dominance by Mugabe's ZANU-PF party in parliamentary elections in June, to build its power legally. He condemned the MDC for using mass protests and strikes as a political weapon and suggesting the president could be ousted by violence.
"One would think they (the MDC) would build up as a party in parliament. Why would they want to resort to violence?" Mugabe said.
He was referring to a speech in September by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in which he said Mugabe would be forced from office if he did not quit peacefully in the face of a deepening economic crisis. Tsvangirai later said he did not mean the MDC would organize Mugabe's overthrow but that this would happen spontaneously.
Last month, the MDC indefinitely postponed plans to call for strikes and street protests against the government. Political analysts said the party feared there would be a bloodbath after Mugabe threatened to use "the might of the law" to stop any demonstration.
In his New Year message, Mugabe said his government would respect different political views but not tolerate the use of protests because they hurt people and property.
"Democracy has its vital weapon -- the vote. If it's not the vote then obviously that method cannot be democratic," he said.
State media said Mugabe had promised that the violence that hit Zimbabwe during the June elections would not be allowed to happen again.
"Comrade Mugabe regretted the loss of lives due to political violence and said this should not be allowed to happen in the future," it said.
Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, which has dominated Zimbabwe's political scene since the former Rhodesia won independence from Britain in 1980, narrowly beat off a stiff challenge in June parliamentary elections in which the MDC won an unprecedented 57 out of 120 elected seats.
The June poll followed five months of political violence in which at least 31 people -- mainly MDC supporters -- were killed. These included five farmers killed in violence linked to the invasion of white-owned farms by self-styled war veterans backed by Mugabe.
From The Daily News, 27 December
Unusually big bums betray mbanje smuggler
AN unusually large posterior betrayed a woman at Harare International Airport last week who tried to smuggle marijuana in her underwear. Harare police yesterday confirmed they had arrested a 26-year-old woman at the airport on Friday, 22 December - National Unity Day - as she attempted to board a London-bound flight with more than six kilogrammes of mbanje stuffed in her underwear. Police spokesperson, Inspector Bothwell Mugariri said she was arrested after a security officer became suspicious when she noticed the woman's unusually large buttocks. "During the search a female security officer discovered that the suspect had stuffed 6,4 kilograms of mbanje inside her trousers behind her buttocks," Mugariri said. He said the drug was valued at $25 000. The woman allegedly confessed that she intended to sell the mbanje in the United Kingdom. Mugariri said the woman was detained at Hatfield Police Station and was expected to appear in court today on charges of contravening the Dangerous Drugs Act and attempting to smuggle the illicit drug.
From CNN, 28 December
Congo seeks arms, trade embargoes on Rwanda, Uganda
UNITED NATIONS - Protesting recent military offensives by Rwanda and Uganda, the Congo Tuesday urged the UN Security Council to impose arms and trade embargoes against its two central African neighbours. "My government urges the Security Council to react with vigour in keeping with its primary mission as guarantor of peace and international security," said Atokie Ileka, acting ambassador for the DRC. Ileka, in a letter, said the 15-nation council should cut off arms shipments to Uganda and Rwanda, ban trade and financial dealings with the two nations and freeze diplomatic ties of both countries with UN member governments. But diplomats said there was little chance the council would take such action.
The letter accused the two nations and the Congolese rebels they support of mounting fresh attacks in its Katanga and Equateur provinces in the north and southeast despite a 1998 cease-fire agreement reached in Zambia's capital, Lusaka. But the Rwandan army said Sunday in Kigali that it had come under attack from Congolese government troops trying to retake a rebel-held position in Katanga province. Military sources in Kigali said Congolese forces had also launched attacks at Kasinge, Kabalo and Manono, also in Katanga province, in a move which analysts in the region feared could further escalate the war.
Rival rebel groups, supported by Rwanda and Uganda, have been trying since August 1998 to topple Congolese President Laurent Kabila in the country's many-sided war. Kabila is bolstered by troops from Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia. The fresh attacks in Katanga followed a recent meeting between Kabila, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and Namibian President Sam Nujoma. The three leaders said they would use force to recapture the southeastern Congo town of Pweto, which was lost to Congolese rebels and Rwandan troops earlier this month.
Ileka urged the council to pressure Uganda and Rwanda to withdraw their forces to the lines agreed upon in the cease-fire before withdrawing them from Congo altogether. "The main victims of these confrontations are primarily innocent Congolese civilians who have already paid a heavy price for this senseless murderous madness," he said. Buoyed by recent expressions of support for the cease-fire accord, the council last week approved plans to more than double the number of military observers in the Congo and plan for the deployment of UN infantry troops.
From Vanguard Daily (Nigeria), 24 December
Kabila Confers With Obasanjo On DRC Crisis
President Laurent Kabila of the DRC arrived in Abuja yesterday for a meeting with President Olusegun Obasanjo on the latest peace efforts in his country. A correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) learnt that Kabila would hold bilateral discussions with Obasanjo on how to implement the final phase of the Lusaka peace accord, entered into by his government with rebels and other foreign forces that had invaded his country.
Kabila, who met privately in September last year with President Obasanjo during the mini OAU summit held in the Libyan capital, had a follow-up meeting early this year in Abuja, with a view to speeding up the peace process in his country. The DRC was engulfed in crisis shortly after Kabila, who forced his way to power, after removing the late former President Mobutu Sese-Seko, was attacked by rebels backed by forces from neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda. Zimbabwe's forces, in support for the Kabila government, further helped to escalate the crisis in the great Lakes Region, which had not known peace now for almost a decade.
A peace meeting convened in Gabon by President Omar Bongo, to speed up the peace process, at which all the rebels were invited, could not be held on Friday because most of the rebel factions failed to show up. The Gabon meeting was, therefore, rescheduled to allow more time for the various rebel factions to attend. Last Tuesday, another opposition leader and former Prime Minister, Mr. Etienne Tshisekedi was also in Abuja to consult with President Obasanjo on the crisis in the DRC.
From BBC News, 27 December
Kabila bombs rebel positions
There have been reports of more fighting in the DRC between rebels and government troops. The leader of the Ugandan-backed Congolese Liberation Movement, MLC, Jean-Pierre Bemba, said government aircraft had carried out two bombing raids on the rebel-held town of Dongo, in Equateur province. There has been no word from the government on the rebel claims.From Focus (HSF - SA), December 2000
Interview: Wilfred Mhanda, former freedom fighter
As a senior commander in Zimbabwe's armed movement, Mhanda helped Robert Mugabe come to power, a move he soon regretted. Trained by the Chinese, he was jailed in Mozambique, then blocked from jobs in his own country. Now he is campaigning for the restoration of the rule of law and the resignation of the president
How did you come to be a Zanla guerrilla?
My father was always a keen African nationalist and by the time I was 11 in 1961 I knew all about Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta and other liberation heroes. Our maths teacher at school was arrested by the white minority regime and another of my teachers was banned, so politics strongly affected my schooling. But I had no party affiliation: I just wanted freedom. I attended a mission school at Zvishavane where Garfield Todd, the former liberal prime minister, had taught. He had founded the school and was still chairman of the school board and had a lot of influence there. He often used to come to the school and hold a seminar on current affairs with us. I would walk five kilometres each way to school to talk to him and I thought a great deal of him.
Judith Todd, his daughter, also played a role in my life and once arranged for me to go on a scholarship to Manchester University, though I never got there because of the struggle. Garfield Todd used to deliver milk to the school and sometimes the pupils would carry him shoulder high, particularly after he was restricted to his farm at UDI and became a martyr under the Smith regime. Another great figure for us was Todd's friend, Leo Barron, the liberal lawyer who also used to come to the school sometimes.
By the time I did my A-levels in 1970 I was already in trouble with the police. We organised a demonstration against Smith's unilateral declaration of independence in 1969 (sic) and also against the Land Tenure Act, so I had to report to the police at very regular intervals. I would spend from 7am to 5pm at the police station, sitting there working at my school books. In 1971 I went to the University of Rhodesia in Salisbury. Really I wanted to study pharmacy in Manchester.
Was there much anti-Smith activity at the university?
I was doing a BSc in chemistry, zoology and botany but political work took up much of my time. I joined Zanu, which was led by Ndabaningi Sithole. Like Joshua Nkomo's rival Zapu, it was banned. We had a cell of ten and our main aim was to recruit students for the armed struggle. They would pretend to be going on holiday with the Student Christian Movement but would slip into Botswana and on to Zambia for basic military training. I was arrested in May 1971. Rhodesian intelligence tipped us off that one of our group was an agent: they had known about us all along. It was time to get out. Five of us skipped bail and fled to Botswana. I am the only survivor of that group. Two, Celestine Dembure, who was my very close friend, and Dzinoruwa Chirau, died at the hands of the liberation movement. One was killed in action and the fourth died for reasons that still remain unclear. I am certainly lucky to be alive.
And in Tanzania you did military training?
I became a military instructor, and was promoted to a political commissar and then a Zanla commander. In 1975 I joined the Zanla high command and was in charge of both political and military training. Our military trainers were Chinese and I was chosen for three-months advanced strategic training in China. The Chinese said that I was far too precious to be sent to the front to fight and I must be kept back as an instructor. Nonetheless I did fight at the front in north-eastern Rhodesia in 1974 and for three months in 1976. I saw plenty of action.
How did you like China?
The training was very good. I studied under a Chinese lieutenant-general and we studied the Chinese revolution, its guerrilla tactics and battles against Japan and the Kuomintang. But they didn't teach us Marxism-Leninism. They didn't really trust us because we weren't all communists. We had to go out and buy Marxist classics for ourselves. China was a very closed and strange society. The Chinese themselves were essentially racist. Crowds would form and stare at us if we appeared in the street.
By this time wasn't there a difficult situation over the leadership of Zanu?
While Ndabaningi Sithole was in detention for ten years in Salisbury, Herbert Chitepo led the party from its base in Zambia. But Chitepo was murdered in Lusaka in March 1975. The next day the Zambian government closed our camps and took everybody to a remote area. Zambia's president, Kenneth Kaunda, had decided that Zanu and Zanla were a hopeless lot and that it would be far better if we were united under Joshua Nkomo's control. Kaunda and Nkomo got on well and it was no secret that Kaunda wanted to see Nkomo win the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe so as to maximise his own influence there. We managed to foil his attempt to put us under Nkomo but it didn't endear us to Kaunda. He accused us of being "anti-unity" and of responsibility for Chitepo's death.
How did Kaunda try to get you to join up with Nkomo?
It was pretty ruthless. There were 1,200 Zanla people under arrest in that remote camp, including nearly 500 women, children and old people. There were only 300 or 400 real fighters among us and another 300 raw recruits. The Zambians said that we all had to join Zapu's military wing, Zipra, and they starved us all - even the women and children - of rations, soap and other necessities to try to force us to do so. In the end about a hundred people did join Zipra. But most of us wanted to consult Sithole on the issue and had to pretend to go on hunger strike before the Zambians allowed us to do so.
What had been happening with Sithole?
Robert Mugabe and his followers had staged a coup against Sithole while they were all in prison. Smith released Mugabe, who then led a Zanu delegation to meet with the leaders of the front line states - Agostino Neto, Julius Nyerere, Samora Machel and Kenneth Kaunda. They were surprised and horrified to see Mugabe leading the delegation and asked how on earth he could stage a coup inside an enemy prison against the properly elected leader of the movement. They suspected the prison authorities had helped Mugabe. Indeed, Nyerere was so angry that he refused to accept Mugabe as leader and demanded that the delegation return to Rhodesia and come back with Sithole.
In the end this is what happened and Sithole, who had been released in December 1974, helped to negotiate the December 1975 unity accord with Zapu and two smaller movements. This was very much what the front-line leaders wanted. Two months later Sithole was rearrested. This was just one of a number of openings that Smith created for Mugabe. Looking back it is difficult not to believe that Smith wanted to help promote Mugabe as the leader of Zanu.
How did Mugabe emerge as a rival to Sithole?
Mugabe wanted to build a following among the refugees in Mozambique. At that time there were only 300 Zanla fighters in Mozambique but many more Rhodesian refugees. However, President Machel would not allow him into the country, so he sat for three months on the border. The border was always alive with Rhodesian agents and later we wondered whether Mugabe had been in touch with them then. He finally slipped into Mozambique disguised as a refugee, but Machel put him under house arrest far away from the refugee camps.
What was your attitude to all this?
Like most of the Zanla fighters I still considered Sithole our leader. When we got to know him, it was a disillusioning experience. We quickly discovered that Sithole was very keen to talk to Smith, whereas we wanted to fight him. Sithole believed that we were very close to an independence deal with Smith and everything he did was based on that. I will never forget the way he turned to us fighters and said, "I can certainly talk to Ian Smith but as for you, my children, I don't know what's going to become of you." When the Zambians shot and killed ten Zanu fighters, we expected Sithole to protest but he simply didn't want to know about it. He didn't even want to let us go to their funerals or to visit the wounded in hospital. We were beyond the pale. It made your blood run cold.
Sithole knew that we were resentful and he formed an alliance with the Zambians against us. His idea was to arrest the fighters at one of the memorial services. But we realised what was going on and escaped into Tanzania, where we decided to depose Sithole and back Mugabe instead. With Sithole out and Chitepo dead he was the obvious person, but we didn't really know what he was like. The front-line states continued to agitate for unity and so they sent both Zanla and Zipra commanders to Mozambique saying "You must unite and fight." We agreed with this and the result was that we united as the Zimbabwe People's Army (Zipa), under the leadership of Rex Nhongo. I was number two to Nhongo on the Zanla side and thus number three in Zipa as a whole. We sat down and worked out our war strategy and in January 1976 we resumed military operations together.
However Machel was worried about continuing trouble in the military camps and wanted Zanu leaders to balance the Zapu leaders. We suggested Mugabe or Josiah Tongogara. Machel didn't like or trust Mugabe. He was quite adamant about this and said we must find somebody else. But we weren't very keen on Tongogara and in the end Machel accepted him as leader.
What was Robert Mugabe like?
Gradually, of course, we realised that we had made a terrible mistake. I now greatly regret it, as do the other members of the Zimbabwe Liberators' Platform. He was arrogant, paranoid, secretive and only interested in power. And he didn't want unity at all since he was scared that Nkomo, as the senior African nationalist, would take over a united movement. He dissolved Zipa and abolished all the joint organisations between the liberation movements, which was very upsetting for those of us who had worked hard for unity. When Mugabe asked me to join his Zanu delegation to the Geneva negotiations on the country's future in 1976 I refused, saying that I only wanted to go under a Patriotic Front banner uniting the Zapu and Zanu forces.
How did Samora Machel react?
The irony was that Machel had finally become reconciled to the idea of Mugabe as Zanu leader. Just as Kaunda supported Nkomo as future president of Zimbabwe, Machel now backed Mugabe, who he thought would be his client in turn. When Mugabe came back from the Geneva negotiations having received international publicity, Machel decided it was time to really get behind him. Knowing that many Zanla fighters were extremely critical of him, Mugabe persuaded Machel to arrest us in order to head off a military rebellion. I was arrested along with some 600 fighters and the 50 top commanders. Some of the fighters were released but the commanders stayed in jail for three years.
What was your prison experience like?
It was the worst part of my whole life; even now it is dreadful to recall. We were packed like sardines into converted offices that were our cells. We were naked and slept on cement floors. There was nowhere to go to the toilet so we simply had to defecate and pass water onto the floor and eat our meals amid that filthy mess. The cells were only cleaned once a month. We were infested with lice and we were also starving. We had to go through winter without blankets and there was so little food that we often used to eat rice mixed with sand. Naturally we fell ill with fevers, malaria and so on.
I have read about conditions on the slave ships and our conditions were virtually identical. One of the holocaust survivors wrote, "He who has not experienced it cannot believe it. He who has experienced it can't understand it," and that is exactly how I felt about conditions in that jail. The nightmare went on for six months and only stopped because Nyerere persuaded Machel to relax conditions. We were moved to a remote former Portuguese military camp, called Balama, where we spent two years and planted our own crops. We were finally released after a representative of the British Labour Party took up our case with the foreign secretary Lord Carrington. Our release was part of the whole independence deal.
What happened to you after independence in 1980?
Mugabe did not want us and used his casting vote to stop us being re-integrated into Zanu. By this time there were 64 of us; 27 aligned ourselves with the Patriotic Front, while others rejoined Sithole and some followed Bishop Muzorewa. Luckily, joining the Patriotic Front gave us the protection of Joshua Nkomo, who was minister of home affairs. We really needed it: as soon as Mugabe was elected he arrested all 27 of us. We spent ten days in the cells, the last five of them on hunger strike. Nkomo got us out, but it was clear that Mugabe had marked us as enemies. With the president himself against us it proved virtually impossible to get work. In 1981 the man in charge of the president's personal security told me, "You're mad hanging around here. You're only looking for trouble and you will get it if you stay." I managed to get a scholarship to West Germany and went off with no intention of ever coming back.
Why did you come back?
I had to. I did an MSc in chemical biotechnology and was then offered a lectureship at the Technical University of Berlin. I was very keen to take it, particularly since I had a German girlfriend by that time, but Zimbabwean intelligence told the German government that I was a communist, so the job offer was withdrawn. After that I tried to settle in France, but after much shuttling to and fro, it became clear that neither country would have me and I would have to return. When I came back in 1988 I found that people like myself were blacklisted for all jobs. As soon as anyone offered us a job the Central Intelligence Organisation would make sure the offer was withdrawn. In the end a friendly personnel officer arranged a deal whereby we were allowed back into the labour market if we agreed to have nothing to do with politics. Today I work as a quality control manager.
Despite all this aren't you are one of the men who put Robert Mugabe where he is?
Yes, I'm afraid so. I now greatly regret it, as do the other members of the Zimbabwe Liberators' Platform (ZLP). We have come together because we are so shocked at the present situation in Zimbabwe. We are the real war vets. The people who are now describing themselves as war vets and invading white farms are not really war vets at all. Often they are just thugs. We fought for freedom and democracy in this country and what they are doing is quite the opposite. We would like to see a united front with the farmers against what is happening now. After all, today's white farmers all want to be Zimbabweans and are contributing to the country. We plan to go to the farms and tell the so-called war vets that what they are doing is completely at variance with everything the liberation movement stood for. We can't afford to be neutral. What we say is "Don't sit on the fence, because the fence is electrified."
What do you feel about the way Mugabe's regime has turned out?
We knew what he was like even before independence and are in no way surprised by what has happened. For a long time we kept our opinion to ourselves but now others have come round to our point of view. The vast majority of people in the Zimbabwe Liberators' Platform - its members range from company directors, to magistrates, to high-ups in the army and the police - are now sympathetic to the MDC. Mugabe is only interested in power. It's not even true that he is a racist. He is just making quite cynical use of racism as a means of staying in power. The truth is that he has always wanted to be an English gentlemen, dresses like one, makes much of his love of cricket and so on. Indeed Samora Machel said to him in 1976, "If you want to fight the British, why do you always choose to go through London when you travel?" Machel was very suspicious of him.
Do you feel that Josiah Tongogara would have been a better leader?
No. He would have been at least as bad as Mugabe, probably worse. The only man that we now think would have made a really good president of Zimbabwe was Herbert Chitepo, who was really our Mandela, and just possibly Jason Moyo. Unhappily both of them are dead. Chitepo's death remains a mystery to this day. There are those who think that Mugabe had him killed, but they have no proof of that. We are inclined to feel that the Smith forces did it, though with inside help. Many people whom we knew perfectly well were Smith agents were later recruited into the upper ranks of Zanu-PF by Mugabe.
How did you know that?
In the camp in Tanzania we would question the new recruits and found there were always a considerable number acting as agents of Smith. We would gradually uncover them and then unravel their networks. Our policy was not to victimise them but to turn them into our people so that they could feed false information back to Smith. Some later attained very high positions. But their presence was always a risk - some must have carried on working for Smith. It's possible that Smith may have ordered the murder of Chitepo to help clear the way for Mugabe.
Are you scared about coming out in such open opposition to Mugabe?
We have decided that it's high time to do so. We are not scared because we trained the heads of the air force, the army, the police and many others. We have supporters even within the intelligence services. No one dares to attack our credentials. We can expose Mugabe and ask people in power who are you, what did you do for liberation? No one has done more than the people in the ZLP to liberate this country. Now that other people recognise the truth about Robert Mugabe, which we have known for so long, it is time for us to tell our story at last. We will never regret our struggle for liberation. We made great sacrifices and now we want respect as the real war veterans. We do not want to see our name dragged through the mud by the criminals who are occupying farms.
Have you all joined the MDC?
No, we are sympathetic to it, but the answer does not lie in another almighty party. While we would like to see the MDC defeat Zanu-PF, we do not want it to become too powerful either. It will need a strong opposition, but we do not want that opposition to be Zanu-PF. Most of all we need the restoration of the rule of law and a multi- party system with a proper democratic constitution