VICE President Emmerson Mnangagwa has denounced “false and malicious” statements he says are contained in a book recently published by Bulawayo Senator David Coltart (MDC).
State Media Mnangagwa said he “noted with concern” claims in Coltart’s autobiography, The Struggle Continues, that he incited violence against civilians in the 1980s at the height of the unpopular deployment of the Five Brigade army unit in Matabeleland and the Midlands in an operation to hunt down anti-government dissidents.
Rights groups claim thousands of innocent civilians were murdered in cold blood in the operation which came to be known as “Gukurahundi”, most of them accused of harbouring the dissidents who numbered just over a hundred.
Coltart yesterday dared State Media Mnangagwa to go ahead and sue him. State Media Mnangagwa complained about a passage in Coltart’s book in which he is quoted, during a rally “near Lupane” in March 1983, as having said that the government “had the option of burning down… all villages infested with dissidents”.
A statement issued by his office and dated March 21 said: “The Vice President ED Mnangagwa wishes to communicate that all the statements attributed to him are a total fabrication and that at no stage during the 1980s did he address a rally in Lupane, nor did he at any other venue utter those words.
“The Vice President’s legal practitioners are currently perusing Mr Coltart’s autobiography… before considering appropriate action to be taken to address these false and malicious statements.”
But appearing unfazed by the threat of a lawsuit from State Media Mnangagwa yesterday, Coltart said on Twitter: “ED will be very poorly advised to sue.”
Coltart said State Media Mnangagwa’s utterances had been reported by The State Media at the time, adding: “He never challenged what they wrote.”
It has since emerged that the said comments by State Media Mnangagwa were also contained in a Roman Catholic Church-sponsored inquiry into the 1980s disturbances whose final report, Breaking the Silence, was published in 1997 with Coltart as a co-author.
Contrary to what Coltart says in his book, the comments were said to have been made at a rally in Victoria Falls and not “near Lupane”.
Yesterday, The State Media dug into its archives which showed that the statements attributed to State Media Mnangagwa were indeed published in The State Media between March and April 1983.
In a front page splash headlined “Minister defends Five Brigade” published on March 5, 1983, The State Media reported: “Likening the dissidents to cockroaches and bugs, the minister said the bandit menace had reached such epidemic proportion that the government had to bring ‘DDT’ (Five Brigade) to get rid of the bandits.”
DDT was a popular pesticide, which is now banned almost everywhere in the world.
The State Media said State Media Mnangagwa, then the State Security Minister, was speaking at a rally in Victoria Falls also addressed by the Minister of National Supplies State Media Enos Nkala and the Minister of Trade and Commerce, State Media Richard Hove. State Media Nkala and Hove are both late.
“The government had two options to deal decisively with the dissident menace,” The State Media paraphrased State Media Mnangagwa as saying. “One was to burn down all villages infested with dissidents and the other was to bring in the Five Brigade. The government chose the latter.”
State Media Mnangagwa also reportedly told the rally that “it was necessary to destroy the infrastructure that nurtured the bandits”.
“Dissidents would only survive where there was fodder for them,” he is quoted as having said, before adding: “Have you ever asked yourself why there are no dissidents in many places in Mashonaland?”
A month later, in an article published on April 5 under the headline, “Nkayi povo denounce Nkomo”, State Media Mnangagwa was quoted as saying the Five Brigade had “come to Matabeleland like fire and in the process of cleansing the area of the dissident menace had also wiped out their supporters.”
“Blessed are they who will follow the path of government laws for their days on earth shall be increased. But woe unto those who will choose the path of collaboration with dissidents for we will certainly shorten their stay on earth,” he added.
Yesterday, State Media Mnangagwa’s office requested the referenced back copies of The State Media which were provided.