BULAWAYO – It will be prudent for Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa to issue a public apology on his role during the Gukurahundi atrocities if he truly aspires to be the next president of Zimbabwe, ex-Education minister David Coltart has said.
Responding to a question on the VP’s suitability for presidency given his alleged involvement in the 80s atrocities that claimed over 20 000 lives according to rights groups, Coltart said while it was clear that Mnangagwa had not acted as an individual but as part of the government at that time, his clear ambitions for the highest office made it explicitly necessary to come clean on his role.
Apparently advising Mnangagwa to take a cue from him, Coltart, a former member of the racist and brutal Rhodesian police, said as soon as he was voted into a public office in 2000, he renounced his past.
In his recently published book, The Struggle Continues: 50 Years of Tyranny in Zimbabwe, Coltart claims that Mnangagwa, then Security minister, made inflammatory remarks at the height of the Gukurahundi atrocities, which the VP refuted as false.
Mnangagwa subsequently threatened to sue Coltart.
“Should he (Mnangagwa) be condemned for saying those words in 1983? Obviously not,” Coltart said. “If I stand here and say I should have a political future despite the fact that I fought for the Rhodesians, then clearly the vice president should have the ability to stand for the president as well, in respect of what he has done, but the critical thing is this, have I turned my back on the Rhodesian era or do I seek to perpetuate those policies today?” Coltart told journalists at the Bulawayo Press Club.
“I publicly renounced that time.”
“Through this book, I publicly accepted my role in it and on that basis, I want to look forward and that is what I think … Mnangagwa needs to do.”
The rights lawyer said Mnangagwa should be at ease and walk the nation through his journey during the widely-condemned atrocities as Zimbabweans were incredible natural forgivers.
“He (Mnangagwa) played a role whether any of us like it or not in the very troubling chapter of our history. He played an active role. I think if he wants to seek office, he has got to come public with his role and coach us for what the role he played was.
“The only thing that singles him out is that he wishes to stand for national office, he wants to stand for the highest office in the land.
“There are expectations of that person and that relates to me as well,” he said.
“Certainly, the experience that I have had as a white Zimbabwean is that Zimbabweans share an incredible capacity for forgiveness, an incredible capacity to shut the door and move on,” he said.
“I think all our current actors not just … Mnangagwa will experience that if they do that and then ironically shore up the positioning for national office or office of that nature.”
Coltart further noted that pretending as if nothing happened during that sad chapter of the Zimbabwean history by anyone who wants to hold the highest office makes one unsuitable.
“But the real danger is that if we simply seek to pretend as if nothing happened and even worse than that if we employ a language and engage in conduct which perpetuates those practices, then people like that are not fit for office,” Coltart said.
He was however, quick to point out that the atrocities cannot be blamed on Mnangagwa alone.
“It was a collective decision and it is to those individuals to learn from those mistakes and move on,” Coltart said.
He added: “Even when I write about Gukurahundi in my book, I write about super Zapu and the destabilising influence of South Africa which exacerbated the situation in Matabeleland,” he said.
“This is part of our history, part of the objective fact of our history. None of us, including those who are mitigating Zanu PF’s approach to Gukurahundi can ignore this, if we are honest.”
Coltart, who was conscripted in the Rhodesian police when he was 17 and left when he was almost 20, however, said it would be unfair of anyone to judge him on the basis of what he did as a young man. He said in his later life, he has been fighting for justice and equality for all.
“There are things that I did then that I would not do now with a wisdom I have with a benefit of hindsight, I am not proud of that, never judge me.”
In reference to the vicious criticism of his book in the State media, accusing him of attempting to whitewash history and hiding the sins he committed when he was in the Rhodesian police, Coltart accused his critics of being dishonest and hypocritical.
Coltart emphasised that his book is an autobiography and thus has his personal perspective on the history of the country, adding that everything he had written was factual and could be independently verified.
“We need to understand that if our nation is going to be a vibrant modern State there cannot have one dimensional view of our history to get this multi-sectoral view and get the truth from all perspectives and learn from it and move on,” he said.
He also challenged his major critics, Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo and shadowy State media columnist Nathaniel Manheru, to write their own books rather than spend time criticising him.