Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has blamed the excesses of the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade on then intelligence chief Emmerson Mnangagwa and David Stannard, a top operative of the government spy network, the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO).
Mugabe, who set up an inquiry into the atrocities led by lawyer Simplicius Chihambakwe which was never made public, told the privately-owned Zimbabwe Independent newspaper that more people in his government were involved in the atrocities than Mnangagwa, Stannard and him.
"... You know he (Emmerson Mnangagwa or ED) was the minister of intelligence, he’s the one with Stannard, the two of them, who led that (arms caches findings) and who even led Gukurahundi. I know one of the vehicles, (then ZAPU/ZIPRA intelligence chief) Dabengwa’s vehicle, which they blasted, they said he’s carrying arms.”
Mugabe claimed that they deployed the Fifth Brigade in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces because ZAPU then led by Joshua Nkomo wanted to topple his government as his party lost to ZANU in the 1980 elections.
He claimed that ZAPU sourced arms from Russia, which the party smuggled through Tanzania and Zambia and hid them in Hwange district where an elite ZIPRA force was waiting for them, ready to launch an armed insurrection against his government.
Nkomo dismissed these allegations as baseless and wishful thinking when he fled Zimbabwe after his house was attacked by the Fifth Brigade.
Mugabe further blamed Ndebeles for the Fifth Brigade atrocities, claiming that they wanted to unseat him.
“... lf we are to tell the truth, it’s the Ndebeles and Zapu and Zipra who should bear the blame. We had that election, in 1980, the first one, and we won, we had 57 seats and Zapu had 20. (Joshua) Nkomo actually wept dearly. They had operated in Angola - remember they had gone to Angola - they said let’s do in Zimbabwe what the MPLA has done; if we lose we will have Zero Hour. And they lost. So what happened?
“There was a ship of arms received by (the then Tanzanian president Julius) Nyerere in Dar es Salaam port, it came on Tazara (Tanzania-Zambia Railway). Because KK (the then Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda) preferred Nkomo to me, so KK passed on the arms, from the Soviet Union, to Zapu. But now after independence! So at Hwange Dumiso (Zipra intelligence supremo Dabengwa) had made arrangements underground to hide the arms."
He claimed that when the second shipment came Nyerere called and asked him about the issue.
“Nyerere then called me and said ‘Robert, what’s this?’ This is a second ship. Then he said ‘ask KK’. I asked Kaunda, you know Kaunda is a very soft man. He said ‘ah, my brother, if I wronged you I did so because the arms addressed to Zapu were always going to Zapu from the Soviet Union. I said ‘but KK, we are now independent’. He said ‘yes I’m sorry and I won’t do it again’.
“But the ship came and it was received by Dumiso and once again the arms were hidden in Hwange. Zipra had pledged 12 000 war veterans to join the integrated army. They left out some of their experts and in their place, because they had promised 12 000, they put mujibhas (wartime runners) to fill in those places in the army. The mujibhas were trained and they started putting on uniforms and they started earning as trained soldiers. Nothing was happening to the well-trained ones who had been left out. And they saw the mujibhas take their place for a long time and they said ‘ah no we can’t continue like this’.”
He told the newspaper in an exclusive interview that some ZAPU and ZIPRA members informed his government about the arms caches. ZAPU also claimed that the arms were planted by Mugabe’s government.
But Mugabe insists they belonged to Nkomo’s party.
“So, some amongst them came to us, came to ED and reported that this is the arrangements we had, we put mujibhas in our place and we were left out. (They said) ‘we had arms, we hid arms here and there in Hwange’. So ED and (CIO director David) Stannard went and discovered these guns.
“That’s why Dumiso was arrested, that’s why he went to prison, that is why Dumiso and ED will never work together. So Dumiso was arrested. But they had already given a few weapons to some individuals who now said ‘ah is this what has happened, we have been discovered’. They started shooting in Matabeleland South and then we said okay we had a Fifth Brigade trained by North Koreans. So we said, fine, face them, you go into Matabeleland South.”
He regrets leading a government that killed an estimated 20,000 people in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces though, like Mnangagwa, is disputing the number of casualties.
On compensating relatives of Gukurahundi victims, Mugabe said, “Getting victims is a process which must be done thoroughly because many would come and claim.”
ZAPU and ZANU signed a unity agreement in 1987, which resulted in the end of the atrocities and Nkomo joining the Mugabe government as Vice President.
Mnangagwa toppled Mugabe in a military intervention last November in what the former Zimbabwean leader says was a coup.