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Letter from America – Obituary: Michael Auret’s life was a witness to faith!

By Professor Ken Mufuka

Now let us sing hymns and songs to those of our white brothers who suffered greatly on our behalf during the colonial regime, and when independence came, celebrated with us as brothers, even though our skins were darker than theirs. Such was the life of Michael Hayes Auret, a devout Catholic and farmer from the Mberengwa paramountcy, Zimbabwe.

Mike AURET, member of the opposition party MDC in Zimbabwe. (Photo by Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images)
Mike AURET, member of the opposition party MDC in Zimbabwe. (Photo by Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images)

My research interest was in the life and times of Robert Mugabe. Somewhere along the line, the name of Mike (as he became known later in life) looms large in  a particularly bitter period of Zimbabwe’s history.

A note from my white sister Judy Todd reminded me that the Auret (s), Michael and Smiley (his father) were farmers. Smiley had a dream that the hills of Mberengwa would one day become the home of apple farmers. The weather was cool enough and by some miracle, (as in Israel) springs could be the mainstay in this apple country.

To my surprise, Smiley and Auret visited Sir Garfield Todd, who already was notorious among white farmers for his love of blacks. Todd’s wife had written the Dadaya Scheme which formed the foundation of African education.

Todd, in their eyes was the worst enemy to the white man’s baaskap lifestyle. When Todd was overthrown as Prime Minister, one of his crimes was that he had secretly met with the nationalist Ndabaningi Sithole, a trouble maker.

The Aurets were Catholic, kept the faith and had an inner experience of the Holy Spirit. Where there is no justice there is no peace. So, their friendship with Sir Todd, though a surprise to white farmers, and to me, was to be expected. Mike was a member of the catholic Commission for Justice during the colonial days of Ian Smith.

He had participated in an inquiry into the atrocities of the Rhodesian troops. But I jump the gun. When he refused to renounce loyalty to the Queen, it was obvious that he could no longer hold his Captaincy in the army. So began his struggles for justice and for conscience which only by paying attention to the inner Calling of his faith, could he liver a normal life.

Smith had listened to him and to the Catholic fathers with scorn and dared them to take their complaints to court on behalf of Africans. They did. Smith then passed a law exonerating those (a priori) who were accused of war crimes.

When Robert Mugabe became prime minister April 1980, there was some euphoria among Catholics. One of their own was in charge. Mugabe attended mass and Bishop of Chinhoyi reported that he would ask his driver to stay outside as he approached the holy shrine in fear and in trembling.

With hindsight, we now know that the Bishops were fooled, as indeed everybody who had dealings with Mugabe at that time. Some believed that Mugabe was an English gentleman and that such a man would be imbued with a sense of fair play.

So, on March 8, 1983, almost three years after independence, Auret and the Bishops entered the prime minister’s office with benevolent expectations.

They had “incontrovertible evidence” that Mugabe’s Shona tribal troops, known as the “Rain that washes away the chaff” (Gukurahundi) had conducted “a reign of terror, caused by wanton killings, wounding’s, beatings, burnings, and rapping’s.”

True to Mugabe’s chameleonic style, the Bishops were welcomed and promises were made that inquiries would follow and appropriate action would be taken to prevent such occurrences.

Because of their benevolent feelings towards Mugabe, the Bishops with-held the larger document from publication, to give him time to act.

But as the Holy Spirit led the Bishops, they sent out a pastoral letter, April 8th, 1983, a week after the meeting, warning the faithful that the western part of the country (Matabeleland) was in the throes of some form of genocide.

Mugabe reacted furiously. Their mouthings were concocted by whites, whose aim was to blacken African ruler ship. The Bishops were the hidden hand of foreign powers and in cahoots with “fabricated reports of a hostile foreign press.”

If Auret had hoped for a more benevolent and symbiotic relationship with the son of the Church, he now realized that he was terribly mistaken.

The great betrayal

In this story, I want to emphasize that our white brothers who had sacrificed their lives and reputations on our behalf when were unable to speak for ourselves felt terribly betrayed by Mugabe’s government.

Auret was not the only one.

Before the meeting on March 8, Swiss German Bishop of Bulawayo, Ernest Karlen, had sent Judy Todd to Harare with a package. Believing in the chimera that Mugabe was a devout Catholic, the Bishop thought if only he knew what his tribal Shona Troops were doing in Matabeleland, surely in God’s name, as the Lord liveth, Mugabe is a reasonable man. He will see reason.

Judy was fellowshipping at the Ambassador Hotel lounge when she saw General Solomon Mujuru, Juston Nyoka (my college mate at U-Zee) and Major General Agrippa Mutambara.

Assuming that her journey could be shortened if she enrolled the services of Mujuru, she revealed the contents of the package to the three apparatchiks. Nyoka was sweating drops of blood from his face and making wild gestures to Judy. Judy, assuming the innocence of her mission, did not comprehend Nyoka’s wild gestures.

She was taken to the military base where she was sexually assaulted as punishment for carrying the package/message of disapproval of military atrocities.

In September of that year, I was traveling to Bulawayo on Shu Shine Bus 84 when we were intercepted by Gukurahundi troops at Lalapansi. Each passenger was asked to say their name as the troop leader checked the identity card.

Those with Shona names were ordered to board the bus while those with Ndebele names were ordered to remain. I have nightmares to this day. What ever happened to those who remained, I shall never know. I wrote a weak paragraph in the Sunday Mail about Gukurahundi. After that event, I quietly made arrangements to return to the US.

Auret did not cease and desist in aspiring for a just society. In 1999 he served as vice chairperson of the National Constitutional Assembly the forerunner of the Movement for Democratic Change. He won a seat in the legislative assembly in Harare Central.

But he was a marked man. There was another reason. Senior Catholic Bishop Patrick  Chakaipa, Mugabe’s friend, shielded Mugabe in the belief that infractions by black leadership are exaggerated by imperialists in order to delegitimize the nationalist struggle.

The report by the Commission of Justice and Peace was kept under wraps for ten years. This to Auret was intolerable. Though the contents had been known, the publication of the report: Breaking the Silence 1997, was a bombshell.

The reaction to the report is symptomatic of Mugabe’s rule. He and his cohorts never accepted responsibility for wrongdoing; a sure sign that malefactors like Mutambara enjoyed Mugabe’s blessings.

Two years after Auret had entered parliament, Mugabe leashed another horrendous onslaught, the decapitation of the White tribe and all their assets. They too had been lulled into a false sense of security. For the safety of his family, Auret migrated to Ireland, where he continued working for the Catholic Church.

I was told that he had been ‘summoned by the authorities” several times and informed that “unspecified action” awaited him. My informant said that assisted road accidents and disappearances were common against government opponents.  That he was “plastered with fear for his family of the highest magnitude” (Zimbabwean English) was credible interoperation for his unceremonious departure.

To his family, my words of comfort are that Auret was my white brother, that his betrayal was our betrayal, and that his name is recorded in the chronicles of Zimbabwe.

Our faith teaches us that a righteous life is better than living the life of a prince among malefactors. Rest now in peace. You have kept the faith and walked in our Lord’s footsteps. Your courage will inspire damsels and young men who fight for freedom. Peace.

(This article was adapted from the Zimbabwe Standard. Ken Mufuka and Cyril Zenda spent ten years researching the Life and Times of Robert Mugabe; A Dream Betrayed (Innov Bookshops, Zimbabwe) from which excerpts are taken.

I am collecting for a book: EYE WITNESSES FROM HELL, 1980-1987. Stories by survivors of Zimbabwe’s darkest period, Gukurahundi. Send me your stories at mufukaken@gmail.com