By Sij Ncube
Bulawayo, August 21, 2013 – In the Shona culture they say “afa anaka”, loosely translated to mean do not speak ill of the dead.
But not with people in southern Zimbabwe who hold Enos Nkala, one of the founding members of Zanu PF party and former minister of Defence who died on Wednesday morning after a long illness, directly responsible for the butchering of their relatives in the early 1980s.
Critics say Nkala goes down in history or is it in the grave, as the butcher of Matabeleland if not the heartless architect of Gukurahundi which the then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe unleashed in the Matabeleland and some parts of the Midlands region to deal with the so-called dissident menace.
Mzombi, as Nkala is also known, was in charge of the military when Mugabe dispatched the dreaded North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade to “mop-up the chuff”, killing an estimated 20 000 Ndebele-speaking citizens in cold-blood.
Die-hard critics of the late Zanu PF founder member remain adamant that the military crusade was intended to annihilate the Ndebeles as Mugabe and his inner circle moved to establish a one-party state.
They are quick to point out that the untold violence and suffering of people in Matabeleland and some parts of the Midlands in the early 1980’s eventually forced Nkomo into forging a lop-sided unity agreement in 1987 with Mugabe, effectively establishing for the first time in the history of Zimbabwe a one-party state.
Despite being Ndebele himself, his critics claim he hated Joshua Nkomo and fellow tribesmen with passion.
His loathe of Nkomo is said to have culminated in the break-up of ZAPU, leading to the formation of Zanu PF at his house in Harare’s Highfields suburb in 1963.
Those who claim to be in the know say Nkala never forgave Nkomo for allegedly impregnating his sister. But be that as it may, there was no love lost between Nkala and Father Zimbabwe as Nkomo was prominently known.
At the height of the Gukurahundi, Nkala’s favourite pastime involved denigrating Nkomo to the extent of referring to him as “a mad old man who needed to be locked away for good”.
With a fiery temper and intimidating eyes, he labeled the late Father Zimbabwe, the leader of the dissidents, a rag-tag band of disgruntled former liberation war fighters who wreaked havoc in the region.
During the political disturbances in Matabeleland, he is said to have wondered what was wrong with the Ndebeles who blindly followed Nkomo, publicly declaring that he wanted to be cleansed of being Ndebele.
“Angazi ukuthi Amandebele anjani. Mina ngifuna ukuti ngigeziswe ukuba liNdebele,” he reportedly said.
But not for too long, he was to fall from grace as he was forced to resign from Mugabe’s government in the late 1980s after being implicated in a vehicle scandal famously referred to as the Willowgate.
At the height of the scandal exposed by The Chronicle newspaper, he had several run-ins with its editor Geoffrey Nyarota and he threatened to send the army to pick-up “little Nyarota.”
He was subsequently found guilty by the Sandura Commission set by Mugabe to probe the car scandal, forcing the Zanu PF founding member to leave his plush government ministerial post with the proverbial tail between his legs.
After the disgraceful exit from power, Nkala then had a love/ hate relationship with Mugabe.
At one time he would call Mugabe names and then later heap praises on him, particularly when he was in and off from hospital. He also did not lose time in reminding the Mafikizolos in Zanu PF that he “never joined ZANU as others but was its founder.”
He had no qualms in granting journalists exclusive interviews denigrating Mugabe, conveniently forgetting that he despised journalists during his time when he was drunk with power.
In a recent interview as he lay on his death-bed, he predicted that out-going Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai would overwhelmingly defeat Mugabe.
Nkala said in the interview he believed Zanu PF could not survive beyond Mugabe and then later stirred further controversy in the faction-riddled party when he suggested that Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa was a better leader than Vice President Joyce Mujuru.
“Zanu PF is an old party, it has made many mistakes during the time it has been in power, and maybe that is what may cause its defeat in the next elections,” said Nkala.
Commenting on revelations by Zambian Vice President Guy Scott that Mugabe wanted to leave politics, Nkala said Zanu PF would collapse without Mugabe.
“If he doesn’t stand in the elections, Zanu PF will lose to MDC-T. You know Mugabe is a good speaker and commands a lot of respect, if he leaves and someone takes over I do not know who that is maybe Joyce Mujuru, she may not be able to command the respect that Mugabe enjoys,” Nkala said.
“Zanu PF is already fragmented, I am not sure if it will survive, if Mugabe leaves, these factions will grow beyond what our present politics may take.”
However, Nkala said Mnangagwa would lead Zanu PF better in a post Mugabe era.
“I think Mnangagwa. Well, he knew what he was doing, he had a programme for his own leadership and I think if he were given the opportunity to put that programme into operation, he would have done very well,” the former minister, who left government after the Willowgate scandal said.
Pressed if Mnangagwa has always had ambitions to lead Zanu PF, Nkala said, “Like anybody else, people have ambitions, they may be hidden but they have ambitions.
“If you dig into them you will find that they have ambitions, they may be loose or solid ambitions. Mugabe has done very well and has been in this game for a long time, his strengths overcome his weaknesses.”
Nkala did not believe that grooming a Mugabe successor would have helped avoid divisions in the party.
“Do you groom or someone grooms and projects themselves and become acceptable. I am not so sure that you can groom somebody, it is what that individual is made of,” Nkala said.
He said the army generals had a lot of influence on the country’s politics and was not certain what would happen if Mugabe lost elections.
“I am not sure what would happen if Mugabe left because the generals have a lot of influence and some of them date back to the day of the liberation struggle.
But judging from the comments on social media after revelations he had died, there are few tears for the man blamed for the Matabeleland massacre despite all his sacrifices for the independence of Zimbabwe.