On Monday lunchtime I landed at Harare Airport and the South African Airways pilot made an announcement saying that passengers should remain in their seats so that the Korean (North) delegation could leave the plane first. There was a whole lot of rumbling in response to this from passengers up and down the aircraft. Then the pilot spoke again and asked passengers to exit out the back door so that the Korean delegation could skip out the front and along the red carpet all on their own. The rumbling grew louder. Another announcement and we were told that stairs for the back door couldn’t be found so we’d get our turn on the red carpet after all. The pilot apologised, and so he should have. What sort of crap is this? Why should the Korean delegation get any special treatment? Come to think of it they hadn’t even bought business class tickets, so sitting cattle class like me they should have waited their turn like everyone else.
Bollocks I say.
Even bigger bollocks was the fan fare put on by the Government of National Unity . . . they rolled out Everything, not just the red carpet. And I believe that Morgan Tsvangirai and Thoko Kupe were part of the welcome party.
A text message I received on that day read
I would not like to think any member of the MDC whatever group would attend the state banquet tonight for organisers of the fifth brigade.
So who were the fifth brigade and what did they do? Here is an excerpt from a report called Breaking the Silence published by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace. The report discusses the atrocities in Matabeleland in the early 1980s.
In October 1980, Prime Minister Mugabe signed an agreement with the North Korean President, Kim Il Sung that they would train a brigade for the Zimbabwean army. This was soon after Mugabe had announced the need for a militia to “combat malcontents”. However, there was very little civil unrest in Zimbabwe at this time.
In August 1981, 106 Koreans arrived to train the new brigade, which Mugabe said was to be used to “deal with dissidents and any other trouble in the country”. Even by August 1981, there had been very little internal unrest. Joshua Nkomo, leader of ZAPU, asked why this brigade was necessary, when the country already had a police force to handle internal problems. He suggested Mugabe would use it to build a one party state.
Mugabe replied by saying dissidents should “watch out”, and further announced the brigade would be called “Gukurahundi”, which means the rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains.
5 Brigade was drawn from 3500 ex-ZANLA troops at Tongogara Assembly Point. There were a few ZIPRA troops in the unit for a start, but they were withdrawn before the end of the training. It seems there were also some foreigners in the unit, possibly Tanzanians. The training of 5 Brigade lasted until September 1982, when Minister Sekeramayi announced training was complete.
The first Commander of 5 Brigade was Colonel Perence Shiri. 5 Brigade was different to all other army units, in that it was not integrated into the army. It was answerable only to the Prime Minister, and not to the normal army command structures. Their codes, uniforms, radios and equipment were not compatible with other army units. Their most distinguishing feature in the field was their red berets. 5 Brigade seemed to be a law unto themselves once in the field.
Deployment of 5 Brigade – Matabeleland North, 1983
In late January 1983, 5 Brigade was deployed in Matabeleland North. Within weeks, they had murdered more than two thousand civilians, beaten thousands more, and destroyed hundreds of homesteads. Their impact on the communities they passed through was shocking.
Most of the dead were shot in public executions, often after being forced to dig their own graves in front of family and fellow villagers. The largest number of dead in a single killing involved the deliberate shooting of 62 young men and women on the banks of the Cewale River, Lupane, on 5 March 1983. Seven survived with gunshot wounds, the other 55 died. Another way 5 Brigade killed large groups of people was to burn them alive in huts. They did this in Tsholotsho and also in Lupane.
At the same time as 5 Brigade was sent into the area, the Government had introduced a strict curfew on the region. This prevented anybody from entering or leaving the area, banned all forms of transport and prevented movement in the region from dusk to dawn. A food curfew was also in force, with stores being closed. People caught using bicycles or donkey carts were shot. No journalists were allowed near the region. This situation meant that it was very hard to get news of events out of the region, and hard to judge the truth of the early accounts. However, as some people managed to flee the area, stories of the atrocities began to spread.
Targeting civilians: during these early weeks, 5 Brigade behaved in a way that shows they had clearly been trained to target civilians. Wherever they went, they would routinely round up dozens, or even hundreds, of civilians and march them at gun point to a central place, like a school or bore-hole. There they would be forced to sing Shona songs praising ZANU-PF, at the same time being beaten with sticks. These gatherings usually ended with public executions. Those killed could be ex-ZIPRAs, ZAPU officials, or anybody chosen at random, including women. Large numbers of soldiers were involved in these events, sometimes as many as two hundred, and often forty or more.
If Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Thoko Kupe were part of the welcome party at Harare Airport then I’m pretty sure that they attended the state banquet as well. The thought of this made me choke – what about you? A question to ask ourselves is when do we move on and put these national injustices behind us?
After a national inquiry perhaps?