Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko has denied persistent charges by his critics that he participated in the massacre of an estimated 20 000 innocent civilians in the early 1980s, mainly in Matabeleland and the Midlands, during the infamous Gukurahundi offensive in the region by the army.
Mphoko told scores of Zanu PF supporters gathered at Bulawayo’s Davis Hall yesterday that his hands were clean.
The VP, who was on his maiden “Meet the People” tour in the second city, said allegations that he was a member of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) during the Gukurahundi era were both “disturbing and malicious”.
“There is a woman called Nomazulu Thatha, I think she is based in the UK. She has really given me a torrid time.
“She alleges that I joined CIO in 1980. I am not a liar, in my entire life, I have killed no one. I repeat no one was killed by these hands,” Mphoko said, displaying his palms.
“I have not killed anyone, direct or indirect,” he said.
The VP said he was a God-fearing Christian who would not dare end someone’s life.
Now grey and looking all of his 74 years, Mphoko further dismissed reports that he was a CIO operative at independence in 1980 — a time that he said he had been unemployed.
Human rights groups accuse President Robert Mugabe’s government of carrying out the much-criticised atrocities in western Zimbabwe —
through the North Korea-trained Fifth Brigade — that left an estimated 20 000 civilians dead, in what has been described as the darkest period in the country since 1980.
The government claimed at the time that it wanted to crush an alleged rebellion in the region by former Zipra combatants — with Mugabe since having described the period as “a moment of madness” in the history of the country.
Government apparatchiks have recently attempted to defend the massacres, in addition to disputing the number of people killed during the offensive.
Curiously, these officials have shied away from giving details about what the offensive was really about, how many people were killed at the time and why a number of reports into the massacres have never been released despite crass threats to do so — with most of this done under the cover of anonymously-written opinion articles in lickspittle State newspapers.
“In 1980, I was not employed. I was staying at my plot where I was farming cabbages,” Mphoko said, going on to briefly narrate his history until 1987 when he was attested into the CIO.
“When I joined the CIO, I joined as a diplomat. Back then in 1987 in the CIO there were many branches of which I fell under the Diplomats Branch,” he said.
Mphoko said that year marked the start of his long journey as a diplomat, which saw him being deployed to Mozambique first and later to other countries such as Austria, Botswana, Russia and South Africa.
Mphoko was appointed second vice president of the ruling party and of the State by Mugabe last month.
Later in the meeting, he also took a swipe at those who were accusing him of being a traitor, after he allegedly jumped ship from Zapu to Zanu.
“We started unity with Zanu PF in 1972, so during that time we regarded each other as comrades and allies. Talk of JMC (Joint Military Command) and I was one of the members in charge of it,” he said.
“From there we joined (James) Chikerema’s party which was a flop. We joined Zipra, then later the Patriotic Front. Zanu had always been seen as an ally, so for people to say I jumped ship and crossed over to Zanu, that’s a grave lie,” he added.
Mphoko accused his enemies of being guilty of trying to tarnish his image since he landed the VP post.
He also told the gathering that his appointment was not going to be a stroll in the park as he faced a mammoth task of working towards the development of the country’s failing economy.
“I have come to thank the people of Bulawayo for placing me on this high position. I am not on leave.
“This is a job that is very tough considering that it was held by a person of such stature like the late John Nkomo,” he said.
However, he said, no problem was insurmountable as long as people worked together for one cause.
He also said that he was going to work tirelessly to ensure that the city of Bulawayo was restored to its lost glory as Zimbabwe’s industrial hub.
He immediately ordered Provincial Affairs minister Sandi Moyo to set up a special meeting with stakeholders, including former mayors, to map a way forward for the revival of the city.