By Thabo KuneneZimbabwe Standard
January 6, 2002
Victims and survivors of the 1980s Matabeleland genocide have renewed their call for the arrest and prosecution of President Robert Mugabe and his security and defence ministers for crimes against humanity.
The genocide victims who have been struggling to get compensation from the government, say once Mugabe leaves office or loses the March presidential election, he should be arrested and handed over to the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, Netherlands. They want the beleaguered Zimbabwean leader to suffer the same fate as former Yugoslav dictator, Slobodan Milosevic.
Milosevic, who ruled his country with an iron fist, was handed over to the UN war crimes tribunal last year by the new rulers in Belgrade. The Standard last week spoke to Themba Mhlanga, the secretary of a Johannesburg-based group known as Survivors and Victims of Matabeleland Genocide. Mhlanga, who is also based in Johannesburg, was in Bulawayo for the Christmas and New Year holidays.
"Our plans to file a lawsuit against Mugabe have reached an advanced stage and we have found a lot of support among human rights lawyers and individuals in South Africa," Mhlanga said. He said his group had also been in touch with the United Nations Human Rights Commission and international human rights lawyers who have all promised to assist the Matabeleland victims.
Mhlanga who lost several relatives during the slaughter campaign in the 1980s, said Mugabe, who also held the defence portfolio during the genocide era, authorised the massacres of the Ndebele people who backed Joshua Nkomo's defunct Zapu party. "We are not going to let Mugabe and his commanders go free after he leaves office. He has to account for what he did in Matabeleland," added Mhlanga. He said the victims were suing the president as a group and not as individuals. Some of of the members of the group have been threatened by suspected Zimbabwean security operatives in Johannesburg. Mhlanga said his group now had 7 000 members, most of whom are based in South Africa.
Two years ago, President Mugabe promised to compensate the survivors of the genocide but up to now nothing has materialised. Bishop Pius Ncube of the Roman Catholic Church in Bulawayo later criticised the president for playing with the emotions of the people of Matabeleland. The bishop was threatened with death by suspected state agents for demanding fair treatment of his tribesmen in Matabeleland. The slaughtrer of about 20 000 minority Ndebele inhabitants of Matabeleland and Midlands provinces took place between 1983 and 1987.
Hundreds of other villagers and Zapu activists went missing during the slaughter campaign and many are presumed dead. Scores of others died of torture in detention and the culprits have never been brought to justice. The man who led the notorious army unit, the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade, Perrence Shiri, was later promoted to Air Marshall by President Mugabe. His promotion angered the genocide victims and families of thousands who died during the brigade's occupation of the provinces.
The late Nkomo himself, who was declared a national hero by Zanu PF, survived an assassination attempt by Mugabe's security agents and had to flee to Britain where Zimbabweans living in London paid for his accomodation after he had been told to vacate a flat owned by the late Tiny Rowland.
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