'5th Brigade did not follow instructions'

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe has said soldiers that killed thousands of people to crush the late Joshua Nkomo’s opposition Zapu party during Gukurahundi did not follow instructions and did so unilaterally.

Mugabe told Dali Tambo in an exclusive interview on his People of the South TV programme beamed on SABC 3 on Sunday night, that the five-year genocide in Zimbabwe from 1982 to 1987 was “outrageous” and fuelled by a “personal element.”

The North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade launched a brutal army crackdown ostensibly to hunt down armed dissidents from Nkomo’s Zapu but which targeted innocent civilians who supported the late vice president.

The suppression campaign targeted the predominantly Ndebele regions of Zimbabwe most of whom were supporters of Nkomo, the founding father of nationalist struggle for independence in Zimbabwe.

More than 20 000 civilians reportedly perished during the crackdown by the Zimbabwe army’s North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade, according to the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), in what is regarded as Zimbabwe’s darkest hour.

“Yes, it was very bad,” Mugabe admitted. “We don’t want to talk about that, but it turns up a story which has not been told in full, how it started and so on, you know, what was happening. It’s involving, it’s not a story we should continue.

“But of course when wars do occur, it doesn’t matter the form of it, it hurts.

“What happens on the ground, well, we all know what happened on the ground, you have even soldiers, where they are under instructions, but there is always the personal element.

“Yes, and sometimes they go out of their way, you see, to hurt and commit acts which are outrageous. It happens and you get it happening, so those things happened.”

According to a report titled Breaking The Silence compiled by CCJP on the atrocities, the army troops were deployed in Matabeleland North in late January 1983 and within weeks, they had killed more than two thousand civilians, beaten thousands more, and destroyed hundreds of homesteads.

Thousands more were to be massacred in the following years.

But Mugabe said the atrocities by the dissidents were not highlighted as much as the excesses by the Fifth Brigade.

“But also there are elements on the guerrilla side who committed atrocious things, cutting people’s noses and ears, that was happening, but of course people merely want to emphasise the side of what was alleged to be the acts of the soldiers but are silent completely about what the guerrillas were doing on their own because they wanted the people to honour them and not to give any assistance to the guerrillas,” Mugabe said.

The Gukurahundi massacres ended in 1987 when Nkomo agreed to dissolve his political structures and join Zanu PF, creating a virtual one-party state. He died of natural causes in 1999.

Wounds inflicted by the uprising in Matabeleland have not however, completely healed. - Gift Phiri, Political Editor

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