Open discourse on wartime conflicts: Ex-detainees

A former political detainee says the country should also focus on wartime atrocities committed by the Ian Smith regime and assist families that lost their loved ones to find closure.

Ernest Malandu Moyo a ZAPU cadre who spent years in political detention said a lot of detainees were hanged extra-judicially by the Smith regime and some are still considered missing.  

In an interview with CITE, Ernest Malandu Moyo (70) said the time has come for the subject to be openly discussed so that some families can find closure over their dead or missing relatives killed by the Rhodesian Front.

He claimed the extrajudicial killings took place from 1965 to 1979 when blacks were now conscious of self-rule and eager to fight against the white settlers.

Moyo was part of the stakeholders who had attended a meeting hosted by the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) in Bulawayo recently and called on the government to apologise and offer reparations for Gukurahundi.

His argued it was painful for comrades who struggled for independence together only to turn on each other in a genocide that killed more than 20 000 people.

“The state has taken too long to apologise. I am not talking about (President Emmerson) Mnangagwa as an individual, we were in prison together during the struggle but I am referring to him as the head of the state. When will the government apologise? Who has to die so that an apology can be made? Apologising will not weaken his office, as we will respect the office of the president,” Moyo said in his submissions.

He pointed out that in calling for reconciliation, the state must acknowledge that Gukurahundi deliberately targeted ZAPU members besides killing other innocent civilians.  

After the NPRC meeting, CITE approached Moyo to shed more on his experiences as an ex-detainee.

He said he was first arrested on treason charges when he was 28 at Mpopoma in Bulawayo, taken to Donnington Police Station, moved to Matopo then Figtree and back to Grey Prison.

“You would stay inside the cells for two months and when you thought they would release you, the police would move you to another prison. Those days, police would place handcuffs on hands and chain feet as well since we were considered highly dangerous people

“From Grey Prison, I moved to Connemara Prison in Midlands then to Hwahwa Prison in Gweru. This was from 1975 to 1978,” Moyo narrated.

He lamented that the liberation struggle era was tough especially for those who executed without due trial.

“This is a part of history that has to be told. Many went missing and when in prison you would know they would have been hanged. Their families don’t know this. Their children did not go to school, the widows suffering and they don’t know where their husbands are buried.

But no one talks about these families or recognises them. As detainees, we are trying to locate some of these families but the challenge is that we are divided but we must solve this,” said the ex-detainee.

Moyo called on authorities to follow up on this matter, dig up prison records of all people who were executed in prison.

“This happened mostly in Bulawayo and Harare, named Salisbury prison then. Those records would state the next of kin and authorities can then trace families from there. I went to Khami Prison, a list is there and at Chikurubi Prison it must be there too. In Bulawayo inmates would go to Grey Prison where detainees would be rounded up, awaiting transportation to be hanged. This was from 1965 until 1979 where it stopped,” he said.

He noted that the guerillas were followed and arrested by the Rhodesian Front’s Special Forces, which also consisted of blacks.

“If arrested one would stay in prison for three months, then move to another prison, as stated by Squires (the late, Judge Hilary Squires practised as an attorney in Rhodesia and was appointed by Smith as Justice Minister and later became minister of both Defence and Operations.) You would not go home until they concluded investigations and if they found a loophole in your case one was sentenced and hanged,” Moyo said.

President Mnangagwa is one of the people who survived hanging after he was sentenced to death in 1965 for blowing up a train near Fort Victoria (now Masvingo).

He was convicted under Section 37 (1) (b) of the Law and Order Maintenance Act and sentenced to death but his lawyers were able to successfully argue that he was younger than 21, the minimum age for execution.

Weighing on the matter, ZAPU Southern Region Information and Communications Director, Patrick Ndlovu said as a party, they have always called on the government to open discourse on wartime occurrences.

“But the regime because of its dirty hands disregarded our calls. People were kidnapped by the Special Branch and Selous Scouts and never to be seen again. Usually, there would have been an internal leak. We declare that Zanu were and are still experts in selling out comrades of the struggle. That is the reason they have ignored calls from stakeholders looking for closure. Instead, they have concerned themselves with writing a fake narrative of the war and passing it off as history. But the truth will come out. It has begun to come out. The ‘jongwe’ is coming home to roost,” he claimed.

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