AFTER widespread criticism that his long-awaited memoirs did not reveal anything new, particularly his close relationship with President Robert Mugabe, former Cabinet minister Cephas Msipa has opened up and called on the 92-year-old leader to provide answers on the Gukurahundi atrocities.
BY XOLISANI NCUBE
Msipa, a former senior Zapu leader and a relative of Mugabe, launched his book titled In Pursuit of Freedom and Justice: A Memoir in November last year.
A review of the book on the former Midlands governor’s publishers, Weaver Press website, says one of the most touching chapters in the book was the one titled From Geneva and Dissidents and Gukurahundi.
However, some critics were of the opinion that Msipa did not reveal much about Gukurahundi as one of the people who played a pivotal role in exposing the massacres in the Midlands and Matabeleland soon after independence.
The politician also had Mugabe’s ear and was one of the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo’s trusted lieutenants.
He told The Standard in an exclusive interview at his Gweru home last Thursday that Mugabe must make public the two reports that were authored by commissions of inquiry that he set up to investigate the massacres by the North Korea trained Fifth Brigade.
According to human rights groups and researchers, over 20 000 civilians — mostly Zapu supporters — were brutally killed by the feared brigade in an exercise that only ended in 1987 after Nkomo’s party was cowed into joining Zanu PF.
Msipa also spoke for the first time about the tension in Mugabe’s government at the time, which resulted in the expulsion of several Zapu ministers — including Nkomo — on allegations that they supported dissidents.
He also spoke about the late Vice-President John Nkomo’s open confrontation with some of Mugabe’s loyalists during Cabinet meetings as the killings intensified in Matabeleland and Midlands.
John Nkomo came from Tsholotsho in Matabeleland North, where most of the Gukuruhundi killings took place.
Msipa said in order for the victims of the massacres to find closure, Mugabe must let the nation know the truth.
“This is where I have a problem [non-disclosure of what happened]. There was a Dumbutshena Commission, the Chihambakwe Commission, and they have never been made public. Their findings have never been made public! Why?” he queried.
“We need to know why these people [former Zipra fighters] decided to leave the army and in a way, become what may be called dissidents.
“We don’t know for certain. No one has really gone to them and done proper research. I hope this National Peace and Reconciliation Commission will go into such matters and find out what motivated them to get out of the army.”
Msipa believes Zimbabwe went off the rails when Mugabe fired Joshua Nkomo and other Zapu officials from his Cabinet in 1982, after arms of war were allegedly found at one of the party’s farms.
He described the charges Mugabe raised against Nkomo and Zapu as spurious.
Msipa believes the publication of the Dumbutshena and Chihambakwe reports will vindicate ex-Zapu cadres and in the process, help Zimbabwe achieve national healing.
The former minister said from his recollection of events, there were less than 100 people who could be described as dissidents.
He said there was no need for the deployment of the army in Matabeleland and Midlands to deal with them. Msipa said when Joshua Nkomo and the entire party leadership — which included Josiah Chinamano and Joseph Msika — were sacked from government, Mugabe retained him along with John Nkomo.
He said at the time, they tried to take the Zanu PF leader head-on and challenged him to prove his claims against Zapu.
The former governor narrated what transpired at one of the meetings, where he confronted Mugabe about the killings.
“When the prime minister called to inform me that he had sacked Joshua Nkomo and others, I asked why and he said: ‘Well, because they are involved in dissident activities,’” said Msipa.
“I said ‘I don’t know, maybe you have information which I don’t have, but I don’t believe in that’.
“I said to him, for example, ‘I know Chinamano is always here in Harare and he is such a peaceful man. I can’t believe that he can be involved in such acts. What do you say to it’?”
Msipa said Mugabe responded by saying: “The trouble with Chinamano is that he never opposes Nkomo publicly’.
“I said, ‘Hey, wait there, [the late Vice-President Simon] Muzenda has never opposed you publicly. Does it mean he agrees with you all the time?’ Then he laughed.”
However, Msipa was subsequently fired and at one of his last Cabinet meeting, he presented a detailed report on Gukurahundi naming all perpetrators and debunking lies that Mugabe had been made to believe by those surrounding him.
“My dismissal towards the end of 1984 was quite dramatic because a week before that, I had presented a report on dissidents’ activities and they listened to me in Cabinet,” he said
“I said, ‘Look gentlemen, I find it most embarrassing to continue to sit here with you when you are killing our people in Matabeleland and the Midlands’. I was very clear.
“I didn’t try to mince my words and Mugabe himself said to me, ‘Look, that is an important issue. You can’t raise it under matters arising’.
“He [Mugabe] said: ‘Next week, we are giving you all the time to present your case in Cabinet. Prepare your case and present it in detail’.”
Msipa detailed how explosive the next Cabinet meeting was as tempers flared, particularly among those who were directly involved in the killings.
“Come Tuesday, after the minutes and matters arising, Mugabe said: ‘Today is a special meeting. We are discussing the problems in Matabeleland, so we are giving the floor to Msipa’,” the veteran politician recounted.
“Everything seemed okay, and he even warned that anyone who interrupted me would be sent out.
“He told everyone in the meeting to ‘take down whatever notes and so on and when he is through you can ask [questions]’.
“So, for an hour, I was speaking about events that were happening. I named people and detailed everything.”
Msipa recalls that after his presentation, others in attendance started firing questions at him and “at one time, it was very tense”.
“John Nkomo lost his temper and said certain things which are unprintable, you know. He insulted others in Ndebele using proper insults. They were deep insults and they almost exchanged [blows], you know”.
“Mugabe handled the whole thing very well. He was listening and at the end, he summed it up and said: ‘This is not the time to be pointing fingers at each other. We must find a solution to the problems at hand. We want peace to prevail.’
“I thought I had done my part. So the next Friday after the Tuesday Cabinet meeting, there was some shooting and killing in Beitbridge, where one of the senators, a Zanu one, was shot dead.
“So Kembo Mohadi [now State Security minister] phoned me to say there were problems. Mohadi back then was not yet in government.
“He said the government wanted to kill us and so on and so on. Back then, the [Home Affairs] minister was Simbi Mubako. I called him in the middle of the night and told him that his government was killing our people in Beitbridge and he said: ‘Hey, what are you talking about? It’s your people who are killing our people. Haven’t they told you that they have killed our senator’?”
Msipa said he asked him what he meant and Mubako responded: “They haven’t told you that they killed Senator Moven Ndou Ndlovu?”
He said he then phoned Mohadi, whom he said in his responses retorted: “That’s not our problem!”
The ex-Midlands governor went on to reveal that it was during the burial of Ndou that Mugabe declared Zapu the “number one enemy of the people” and a decision to fire him (Msipa) and John Nkomo from Cabinet was reached.
“So I got to Mugabe’s office on Monday morning and I found John Nkomo there and we were handed dismissal letters,” he said.
“He [Mugabe] tried to explain that he couldn’t have people sitting in Cabinet that supported dissidents.
“I was very angry and I confronted him. I said: ‘Look, you have the right to fire me, but please, don’t say things which are not truthful.
“You know the truth about these issues and that I have no dealings with these issues, not even Nkomo [Joshua]’. So he then said: ‘Come home let us discuss’,” Msipa added.
He, however, contends Mugabe knows the truth about Gukurahundi. Msipa said the country’s economic misfortunes could be traced back to the massacres as Mugabe’s government appeared to lose direction from that period.
Mugabe has described the Gukurahundi era as a “moment of madness”, but is yet to apologise for the killings.
But Msipa said the peace ushered in by the 1987 Unity Accord signed between Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo should be cherished through peaceful elections where the army was not involved, as this [army involvement] went against the dictates of the armed struggle.
The former politburo member left politics in 2014 due to old age and increasing factional fighting in Zanu PF.