Magazine article The Spectator

Rule of the Lawless

Magazine article The Spectator

Rule of the Lawless

Article excerpt


Most brutal regimes dispatch troublesome colleagues and pretend afterward to know nothing about it. Lenin perfected the wiping from memory of freshly eliminated aides. President Robert Mugabe's government, according to a decision just handed down by a high court judge in Harare, has now produced the ideal package for dealing with the disposal of a disloyal servant. Murder him when he becomes unreliable, declare him a national hero before the corpse grows cold, blame the opposition for his demise and then lay into them with righteous vengeance.

Cain Nkala was the leader of Mugabe's war veteran rabble in Matabeleland in 2000. He directed both the violent invasion of white farms and the ruling Zanu PF party's campaign of savage intimidation of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) before the parliamentary elections in June that year. He was implicated in the abduction in Bulawayo of veteran opposition activist Patrick Nyabanyana, the day before the election. A year later Nyabanyana had still not been found and, as a reluctant concession to a huge outcry, authorities had Nkala charged with kidnapping and then murder.

Suddenly insecure, Nkala began talking. He admitted abducting Nyabanyana but said he had handed him over to one of Mugabe's cabinet ministers. He spoke of fleeing to Britain. Retribution came fast. On 5 November 2001, Nkala himself was kidnapped from his home by eight men with AK47 assault rifles. A week later police announced that his body had been found, strangled, in a shallow grave outside Bulawayo.

The rest ran according to established Zanu PF practice. The state media loosed a barrage of vilification that blamed the opposition MDC and denounced it as 'a violent terrorist organisation'. State television hourly showed grisly footage of the body being 'discovered'. A reporter in the government press was curiously able to describe how Nkala sang hymns as he was being strangled with a shoelace.

Mugabe's politburo swiftly declared him a 'national hero'. At his burial in Heroes' Acre - reserved only for the Zanu PF faithful - outside Harare, Mugabe laid it on thick. 'Comrade Nkala's brutal murder was the bloody outcome of an orchestrated, much wider and carefully planned terrorist plot by internal and external enemy forces' who included the MDC, white farmers, Selous Scouts and even the Westminster Foundation. Zanu PF mobs went on the rampage in Bulawayo and Harare, burnt down buildings and left hundreds injured.

About the same time, six MDC activists, including the national treasurer, Fletcher Dulini-Ncube, were arrested on murder charges. Three were tortured until they signed 'confessions'. For the next year, in prison, all six were subjected to horrible neglect - Ncube lost an eye. Court orders for their release were ignored. Then their trial began in January 2002, and the authorities encountered an unexpected obstacle - an upright judge.

Mugabe badly needed a guilty verdict. Despite a sustained five-year torrent of accusations of treachery and violence, the government has failed to make a single case stick against the MDC. A murder conviction could permanently disable the MDC's reputation as an organisation based on tolerance and non-violence, and wreck its considerable international support.

The government wanted a conviction so badly that the judge, Sandra Mungwira, who was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, was threatened. Her clerk was hounded by Central Intelligence Organisation agents who came to his office and demanded copies of her judgment. …

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