BULAWAYO – The late vice president Joshua Nkomo turned down an offer to become the country’s president in a coalition government formed after the 1980 elections, Zapu president Dumiso Dabengwa claims.
Instead, the veteran nationalist opted for a ministerial post, only to be fired two years later by then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe on charges of plotting to overthrow his government.
Mugabe claimed arms meant to overthrow his government had been uncovered on farms owned by Zapu and its military wing, Zipra.
In his address during a policy dialogue forum organised by the Southern African Political Economy Series in conjunction with the Women in Leadership Development held at a local hotel on Friday evening, Dabengwa claimed the arms had been deliberately planted by Mugabe’s government.
“At Lancaster, we agreed that we will contest the elections as a united front, as the Patriotic Front but in the nominations for the elections, Mugabe deliberately got to the offices and said Zanu was going to stand as Zanu PF and there were only a few hours left before nominations closed,” Dabengwa told the gathering.
“I think it was someone in the British Governors’ office who then asked Nkomo have you decided that the name you are going to contest the elections as Zanu PF. Nkomo was furious. He summoned Msika and said this is what has happened, go and verify and if it is true go and register and tell them we will be participating in the elections PF Zapu,” he said.
“Msika did that and found it was true. Mugabe had registered to contest the elections as Zanu. After the election, after the victory, Mugabe then enticed Nkomo to come into a coalition government. He said we fought the struggle together and we can’t leave you out, come in.
“First, Nkomo was supposed to be president, and Nkomo said I don’t want to be a president. He preferred one of the ministerial posts and he was given Home Affairs,” he said.
The discussion was held under the theme: “Gukurahundi: Towards A National Dialogue.”
Nkomo was then expelled by Mugabe alongside the late Josiah Chinamano and Joseph Msika in a development that marked the beginning of Gukurahundi.
“Nkomo and most of his colleagues except for one John Nkomo were expelled from their Cabinet posts. Nkomo was then being hunted for. He had to escape and go to Britain. We remained in prison, went for trial which went for several weeks, if not months and acquitted by the High Court but we were still kept in detention. I spent four years 10 months exactly after having been acquitted.”
Dabengwa said Mugabe deployed North Korean trained Fifth Brigade to Midlands and Matabeleland provinces to hunt down what became known as dissidents “numbering less than 50 disgruntled Zipra guerrillas who were frustrated by Mugabe’s harassment of Zapu members.”
As a result, over 20 000 are said to have perished in the internationally condemned crackdown.
“During this period, there were some Zipra guys who got frustrated and decided to take up arms and go back to the bush and the number was not even a 100. It was very much less. I think somewhere in the region of 50 and these were the dissidents who made the Fifth Brigade,” said Dabengwa.
“These are the people that they created the Fifth Brigade for to deal with about 50 Zipra guys who had gone to the bush. That is what happened. This was (the pretext use to push for a) one-party state. They did not want an opposition.”