VICE-President Phelekezela Mphoko sought to gather damning dossiers of information to expose and nail co-Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa over his role in Gukurahundi massacres as part of his campaign to discredit potential rivals in the cutthroat race to succeed President Robert Mugabe well before his current appointment.
This was after the Zimbabwe Independent published an article by Kent State University Professor Timothy Scarnecchia titled Rationalising Gukurahundi: Cold War and South African Foreign Relations with Zimbabwe, 1981-1983, which exposed how Mugabe’s government in the 1980s collaborated with apartheid South Africa on Gukurahundi massacres for different agendas and ends in the context of regional geo-politics and cold war dynamics. In the aftermath of the publication of Scarnecchia’s informative article by the Independent in September 2013 and its re-run by the United Kingdom-based NewZimbabwe.Com, Mphoko called the editors of the online news site saying he found the article very interesting and revealing.
Intelligence sources this week told this paper that Mphoko made the calls from South Africa where he was serving as Zimbabwe’s ambassador.
He reportedly proceeded to request for the original files used in writing the articles thinking that they were originated by NewZimbabwe.Com even though it was Scarnecchia and they were initially run by the Independent.
Said an intelligent source this week: “Mphoko said he wanted the files that had information showing Mnangagwa’s meetings with apartheid intelligence chiefs. Although he did not explain why he needed them he sounded very excited about the revelations and was thus keen to get hold of the original files which had been de-classified in Pretoria (South Africa) a few years ago.”
Scarnecchia’s article explains in scholarly and insightful detail how Mugabe’s government perpetrated the atrocities and sought to rationalise them in the context of its public and behind-the-scenes relations with South Africa, Western powers and the Eastern bloc.
“At the same time, evidence shows high-ranking Zanu PF officials negotiated with the South African Defence Forces in 1983 to cooperate in their efforts to keep Zapu from supporting South Africa’s ANC operations in Zimbabwe,” Scarnecchia wrote.
“The 5th Brigade’s campaign therefore served a purpose for apartheid South Africa, even as Zanu PF officials rationalised the Gukurahundi violence in international and anti-apartheid circles as a campaign against South African destabilisation. The diplomatic history of the Gukurahundi can provide a useful lens for understanding the tragedy in both regional and international Cold War contexts.”
Scarnecchia relied on declassified files, some of which revealed new information, particularly in reference to the Mugabe government’s collaboration with the apartheid regime behind the scenes on security matters and the Gukurahundi military campaign in which about 20 000 people in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions were killed.
The files reveal that Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) held bi-annual meetings with apartheid South African Defence Forces (SADF) starting between 1982 and 1983. SADF files disclose that on February 7 and 8 in 1983, CIO and apartheid intelligence bosses held meetings to discuss mutual security issues in which Gukurahundi featured prominently.
The meetings which were attended by Mnangagwa and apartheid security services chiefs a month after the Fifth Brigade was deployed in Matabeleland North where it massacred innocent civilians with genocidal intensity reveal close collaboration between Mugabe’s government and then South Africa President PW Botha’s regime.
“Zimbabwe’s Minister of State for Security Emmerson Mnangagwa met personally with the SADF team. According to the SADF report, Mnangagwa took personal credit for obtaining ‘permission’ from the Prime Minister (then Mugabe) for the SADF visit to Harare and for future intelligence meetings of a similar nature,” Scarnecchia wrote.
“Given the realities of the Gukurahundi against the backdrop of the Cold War and South Africa’s regional strategy Zapu was virtually ‘friendless’, while Zanu PF managed to obtain support of the West, the Soviets, and to a certain extent even South Africa so long as Zanu PF and the Fifth Brigade continued to target Zapu, Zipra, and by extension the ANC’s ability to operate in Zimbabwe to fight apartheid South Africa.”
Although Mphoko was based in Pretoria where the files were declassified, he apparently did not want to directly obtain them himself, preferring a tortuous route that would not show his footprints around the issue.
However, Mphoko is said to have been disappointed when NewZimbabwe.Com editors told him they did not have in their possession the files that Scarnecchia had used in his research and writing.
After this setback, Mphoko is said to have approached high profile people in political, business and media circles in South Africa looking for the documents but once again he got no joy.
“At that point, it seemed the only option for Mphoko was to find someone to go to the South African government archives to get them. Given his determination, it then appears afterwards that he did in fact pursue the matter using that route.”
In all this, intelligences sources indicate, those close to him say he wanted to get hold of evidence of Mnangagwa’s involvement in Gukurahundi and his clandestine meetings and liaisons with apartheid intelligence when he was at the height of his power as Zimbabwe’s Minister for State Security between 1980 and 1988 in the midst of Gukurahundi atrocities.
Intelligence sources say Mphoko wanted the files to secure evidence to expose Mnangagwa as one of the chief architects of Gukurahundi as part of Mugabe’s succession battles.
They say at that point Mphoko – who was coming to the end of his diplomatic tour of duty in South Africa – was already plotting his strategy and tactics of coming back to Zimbabwe to enter mainstream politics at a high level. The strategy involved compiling a dossier on Mnangagwa which he would use upon his return to expose him over the Gukurahundi murders as part of his plan to knock him out of the succession race.
He was also planning at the time to eliminate all potential rivals who included former vice-president Joice Mujuru and then Zanu PF chairman Simon Khaya Moyo using different tactics as he sought to project himself as an alternative successor to Mugabe.
“The strategy included at one level exonerating Mugabe from culpability over Gukurahundi in order to curry his favour and secure his confidence, promotion and patronage, while positioning himself to be a successor,” said a source.
Mphoko’s bid to exonerate Mugabe by claiming he was not the architect of Gukurahundi started when he was still the ambassador to Botswana before he went to Russia and later South Africa.
“When Zimbabwe became independent in 1980, apartheid South Africa was under threat from the ANC through Zimbabwe,” Mphoko said at the time.
“Western intelligence together with the South African intelligence BOSS and the out-going Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) designed a strategy to destroy the lines of military supply of the ANC and MK (Umkhonto weSizwe, ANC’s military wing) under the pretext that the newly independent Zimbabwe was under threat of being attacked by former Zapu/Zipra in Matabeleland. That falsehood was intended to create a military force to deal with the perceived threat.
“That is how Gukurahundi was formed and that is how it became a Western conspiracy,” Mphoko said.
Following his return from South Africa early last year ahead of Zanu PF’s critical congress in December, Mphoko worked assiduously, initially in Matabeleland, to eliminate his former Zapu colleagues to replace the late Vice-President John Nkomo who had died a year earlier.
After much hard work and political shenanigans, made easier by the fact that former Zipra intelligence chief Dumiso Dabengwa had already left Zanu PF and other remaining possible contenders were divided and not suitable for different reasons, Mphoko and other former Zapu leaders met in Gweru in September 2013 and agreed that current party spokesperson Khaya Moyo should replace Nkomo. However, Mphoko decided to subvert their resolutions and persisted with his agenda. He reportedly approached Mugabe and other senior party officials to market himself.
He even did something unusual in politics: He applied for a job as Vice- President of Zimbabwe by sending his application and CV to Mugabe.
The move paid dividends as he was eventually appointed co-vice-president with Mnangagwa in the aftermath of the controversial party congress. He was ironically now at par with the man he sought to eliminate from the race using de-classified apartheid files.
After his election, Mphoko stuck to his strategy and script of using Gukurahundi as a double-edged sword to protect Mugabe and eliminate Mnangagwa from the succession race.
“When everybody thought the issue had been settled and there was no need to use Gukurahundi as a political weapon anymore, from nowhere he (Mphoko) called Sunday Mail editors soliciting for an interview in February which turned out to be about Gukurahundi in the main,” a source said.
In that interview, Mphoko repeated the claim he made while he was ambassador to Botswana that Gukurahundi was a Western conspiracy but this time went further to exonerate Mugabe.
Even though he came under a barrage of criticism he was not deterred and after a brief silence, Mphoko was at it again last week when he told a gathering in Masvingo Gukurahundi was a Western project and Mugabe was not to blame.
The intelligence sources further say Mphoko is determined to exonerate Mugabe and endear himself to the veteran leader while at the same time stirring the pot in order to damage Mnangagwa who seems among all those involved in Gukurahundi to be the one with the most to lose and thus more vulnerable.
After the elimination of Mujuru, Mnangagwa is widely seen as the front-runner to succeed Mugabe as he could become Zanu PF presidential candidate in the 2018 general elections. Such is Mphoko’s determination to damage him by refusing to let sleeping dogs lie that lately he has taken to rejecting the notion by some sections of society and the media that he is second vice-president and therefore under Mnangagwa. He insists they are at par.
“Before I proceed, I would like to make a point of correction to Cde (Psychomotor minister Josiah) Hungwe,” Mphoko said at a public lecture on national healing at Great Zimbabwe University last week. “We do not have a first and second vice-president in our structures. We just have two vice-presidents.”
This was after Hungwe had addressed him as a “second vice-president”.
Mphoko has not only sought to exonerate Mugabe but also to shake off accusations that he is a Gukurahundi denialist and accomplice. In a bid to clear his own name, Mphoko went out of his way to write a letter to one of his fiercest online critics whom he had never even met.
In the letter to overseas-based lady Nomazulu Thatha run in an online publication on January 5, Mphoko clearly stated that he did not kill anyone during Gukurahundi because when he was in CIO he was not in the branch that dealt with such security issues.
“I would kindly request and advise you to walk carefully on eggs on this matter because your article about me is not based on researched material and I am considering taking legal action to stop this rubbish. I would like to repeat to you for your own personal information that I was transferred to CIO, Branch 2, in 1987 from the Ministry of Labour, and I was sent to Maputo as liaison officer, in September the same year,” wrote Mphoko.
“Branch 2 is a diplomatic division of CIO whereas Branch 1 is an internal branch that was dealing with Gukurahundi. Victor Mlambo and Gordon Butshe, all former colleagues of Dabengwa in NSO, were seconded by Dabengwa to the internal branch of CIO. Manje mina ngingena ngaphi (How do I come into all this)?” Mphoko fumed.
In so doing it came out clearly that while Mphoko was saying he was not responsible, he knew others in the CIO were involved in the killings.
However, Mphoko’s strategy could be starting to unravel and gradually collapsing after new Australian cables this week trashed his claim that Gukurahundi was a Western conspiracy and Mugabe was not involved.
Quoting from the de-classified cables, historian and author, Stuart Doran, who is set to publish a book based on the new information on Zimbabwe titled Kingdom, Power, Glory: Mugabe, Zanu and the Quest for Supremacy, 1960–87, also questions why Western governments did so little to stop the killings, but insists blame for the massacre lies solely with Mugabe.
“New documentary material underlines once more that post-Independence Zimbabwe’s greatest crimes and deepest wounds lie squarely at the feet of Mugabe and Zanu PF,” Doran said.
“The killings were a thoroughly internal affair. They were neither provoked nor sustained by outsiders. From start to finish, the atrocities were driven from the top by Zanu PF in pursuit of specific political objectives.”
At least for now the South African files and Australian cables appear to have driven a coach and horses through Mphoko’s strategy.
Mphoko did not respond to calls and questions fielded to him.