By Fungi Kwaramba
As the fall-out between President Robert Mugabe on one hand, and many war veterans and liberation stalwarts on the other, continues to escalate, further stunning claims have emerged regarding Zanu PF’s kangaroo courts during Zimbabwe’s difficult struggle for independence in the 1970s.
War veterans who disagreed strongly with the nonagenarian then, and who allege that they were locked up in inhuman dungeons as a result, say Zimbabwe’s long-ruling leader and his close lieutenants did not just want to punish them at the time, but also wanted them dead.
The chilling claims come as analysts, civil rights organisations and opposition parties have warned that Mugabe and his warring Zanu PF will increasingly resort to using violence to remain in power as the eagerly-anticipated 2018 national elections beckon.
They also follow Mugabe’s recent threats that disgruntled war veterans who have served divorce papers on him, on account of Zimbabwe’s deepening political and economic rot, would be punished severely — in similar fashion to the barbaric treatment that was meted to dissenters during the country’s liberation struggle.
Among the dozens of prominent former freedom fighters who were caged in the filthy pits in Mozambique at the time were current police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri, the late Wilfred “Dzinashe Machingura” Mhanda, Bernard “Parker Chipoyera” Manyadza, former ZBC boss Happison Muchechetere, the late journalist Alexander Kanengoni and Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) elder Rugare Gumbo.
Gumbo and Manyadza told the Daily News in separate interviews that Mugabe was then seemingly consumed by the desire to see them die in the dungeons — with their lives only being spared by the merciful intervention of the late Mozambican president Samora Machel at the end of Zimbabwe’s bush war.
The straight-talking Gumbo was brutally purged from the warring Zanu PF in late 2014, along with former Vice President Joice Mujuru and former Presidential Affairs minister Didymus Mutasa — all of whom are now leading players in Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) which is set to take Mugabe and the ruling party head-on in the eagerly-anticipated 2018 national elections.
The purged former Zanu PF stalwarts were accused of the serious, but untested crime of plotting to oust and assassinate Mugabe, allegations that Gumbo says many current ruling party bigwigs and war veterans now regretted not having spoken against.
“The man is cruel. He has no feelings at all for the human race, but his family alone. He treats human beings as animals and has no compassion. We spent a bad six months in the dungeons and were it not for … Machel we would have died in there because Mugabe has no feelings for humanity,” he said.
Gumbo, a member of the wartime Dare ReChimurenga (War Council) which directed the venerated liberation struggle while Mugabe and other nationalists were in detention, described his nemesis as “utterly ruthless”, particularly when he felt threatened.
“Look, people are suffering and yet he does not address that. He just thinks about his family and his close associates. It is a pity that Mugabe wants to rewrite history. I once said this in 1980 that Zimbabwe was making a mistake in electing a cruel person. Look at us now,” Gumbo said with a mixture of pain and disdain.
On his part, Manyadza said Mugabe “has always been mean, very cruel”, which was the reason why the nonagenarian had thrown them into dungeons in the late 1970s on “non-existent charges”.
“The man is ruthless. It is shocking that when war veterans are asking for what we fought for — that is democracy, good governance and the rule of law — they are punished. The revolution has been hijacked by people who have no understanding of what we went through,” Manyadza told the Daily News.
In a statement in response to Mugabe’s threats against pro-democracy activists and war veterans who are criticising the nonagenarian, Mujuru subsequently demanded that her former boss tells the nation the whereabouts of several Zimbabweans who have gone missing over the years, after being abducted by suspected State agents.
“We are shocked as Zimbabwe People First by Mugabe’s rants. It is quite alarming that of late he has been using the spectre of macabre and grossly horrifying human rights abuses perpetrated by him, his government and his merchants of violence to ward off political opposition to his rule,” Mujuru said through her party’s spokesperson Jealousy Mawarire.
Her party also said Zimbabweans had every reason to be worried by Mugabe’s threats given that the increasingly isolated and frail nonagenarian had unfettered control over the State’s coercive levers of power.
“We believe that Mugabe’s threats are not hollow, or just the rants of an old, tired and desperate leader. We are fully aware that there are citizens who have disappeared and up to now there is no trace of where they are being held, if they are still alive.
“Names that quickly come to mind are Rashiwe Guzha and Itai Dzamara because these were widely publicised … there are many who did not get the publicity that the two got, but are still missing, and their families are living with the pain of their inexplicable disappearance every day,” the party said.
Speaking in an interview with the Daily News last year, Gumbo also narrated in spine-chilling detail how Mugabe and Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa had allegedly caused his arrest and detention in the dirty dungeons during the liberation struggle.
The emotional Gumbo said then that so desperate was his situation at the time, that he thought that it was a matter of time before he met his maker — with his erstwhile comrades only being restrained from killing him by Machel, who decreed that he “did not want innocent blood on his soil”.
“VaMugabe has said it before and even Mnangagwa has also said that they arrested us and threw us in pits, but they have not said the whole story,” he said, adding that the “current barbarity”, raging chaos and brutal purges in Zanu PF were nothing new — and merely “history repeating itself”.
Gumbo drew parallels between what happened in exile four decades ago with the anarchy that was currently devouring the ruling party.
He said the “terrible ordeal” that he suffered then began after he and other members of Dare reChimurenga clashed with Mugabe over the direction of the liberation struggle, leading to his “barbaric detention” together with other comrades that included the late Henry Hamadziripi and Mukudzei Mudzi.
“We disagreed on the treatment of Zanla commanders who had been arrested. The official position was that they would be released after three months, but they did not come.
“We also wanted to know what happened in Zambia (including the ruthless quashing of the Nhari rebellion) and this didn’t come out. Those were the allegations that we were charged with and we were then subsequently arrested.
“We were tried before a kangaroo court that was presided by the president himself and they alleged that we were plotting a coup. We were then thrown in a pit. Fortunately, Machel said he did not want blood on his land and thus we survived because of the mercy of Samora.
“It was the Zanla commanders and the Dare reChimurenga that mounted the struggle and not Mugabe or the late Edgar Tekere who directed the war,” Gumbo charged.
The blood curling narrative by the former Cabinet minister in Mugabe’s government runs contrary to the yarn that has been repeatedly spun by lapdog State media that Gumbo survived the ordeal on the goodwill of Mugabe and the late Vice President Simon Muzenda.
Gumbo said while he would never forget this “horrible nightmare”, he was no longer bitter about it and would never seek revenge against his tormentors, even though he and his “innocent comrades” had been “treated worse than dogs”.
“The holes were six metres deep and I think four metres wide. It was hell on earth and we all thought we were going to die. At one point, the holes were filled with soil and only our heads were left protruding, but we survived the ordeal,” he said. Daily News