Some United States lawmakers and a top Department of State official have urged Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa to address atrocities of the 1980s committed by the country’s North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade, which left more than 20,000 supporters of the then opposition Zapu party led by Joshua Nkomo dead and thousands maimed and displaced.
Republican Senator Jake Flake, Senator Cory Booker of the Democratic party and Stephanie Sullivan, Principal Deputy Assistant Director of the Bureau of African Affairs in the U.S Department of State, made the remarks during and after a Congressional hearing on Zimbabwe conducted by the Congressional Committee on Foreign Relations.
Booker said President Mnangagwa should address the Fifth Brigade atrocities to ensure peace prevails in Zimbabwe.
“The new government of Zimbabwe and the international community must address the yet unanswered calls for justice and accountability for the victims of past horrific atrocities reportedly committed by members of the now in government perpetrators of the brutal cleansing of political opposition in Matabeleland and the Midlands in the 1980s in which 20,000 people were killed still have not been held accountable after all these years.
“Thousands of Zimbabweans still live with physical and psychological wounds of the atrocities.”
Flake echoed Booker’s sentiments, noting that Mnangagwa is believed to be associated with the killings. Then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe between 1983 and 1987 deployed the Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland and Midlands, which were Nkomo’s strongholds, claiming that his government was fighting against dissidents that were killing innocent civilians. At least 20,000 people were allegedly killed in the atrocities.
According to Sullivan, that’s one of the reasons USA officials are handling the Zimbabwean crisis with an open mind.
“We are engaging with the new government with an open mind. It’s not enough to say it’s a new government so therefore none of the sanctions or restrictions that were previously in place should apply. We will continue to look for signs of implementation, for example, the election that is coming up there’s months and months preparation they need to be up to that and we will be interested to see an openness or invitation to send outside observers potentially as part of a group that will be led by an eminent African. And these are things that we need to happen very soon.”
Some members of the Congressional panel on the future of Zimbabwe, including human rights activist Dewa Mavhinga and Tendai Biti, president of the People’s Democratic Party, urged Mnangagwa’s government to allow people living in the diaspora to vote in the next elections.
Biti said Zimbabwe’s constitution allows the country’s citizens living in various countries to take part in national elections.
“The diaspora has a right to vote. So, we are insisting that we can’t disenfranchise the millions of Zimbabweans that are in the diaspora. In the past there has been a serious resistance by the government, by the authorities against enfranchising people in the diaspora the major argument and the major unsubstantiated premise is being that people in the diaspora are deemed to be in the opposition. But that’s neither here nor there.”
Speaking about revamping Zimbabwe, author and journalist Peter Godwin told the meeting that there is need for developed nations to entice Mnangagwa to implement tangible reforms through setting up a fund for the southern African nation.
Various people who spoke at the Congressional hearing on Zimbabwe said there is little hope that Mnangagwa will transform the country into a democratic state as he is associated with former President Robert Mugabe, who devastated the nation following 37 years of his iron fist rule.