HARARE-VICE-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his counterpart Phelekezela Mphoko took turns to order the removal of various paraphernalia from a stand exhibiting national hero and late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo’s history at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) last week, NewsDay has learnt.
Nkomo, who led Zanu PF during the struggle against colonialism, joined President Robert Mugabe’s first post-independence government as a Cabinet minister, but was sacked before rejoining as Vice-President following the signing of a unity pact in 1987 until his death in 1999.
Impeccable sources said Mphoko was the first to tour the stand last Wednesday before Mnangagwa visited the stand the following day, Thursday.
“He (Mphoko) arrived at the stand, looked around and found 50 copies of Nkomo’s autobiography, The Story of My Life, being exhibited. Mphoko ordered his aides to remove the books, but did not tell the family why and how they would recover them,” a source told NewsDay, adding 49 copies of the book were later returned on Friday.
An angry Mphoko on Friday rejected the claims.
“Me? Are people crazy? Please do not play games with me. I don’t want that,” Mphoko fumed before going dead quiet on the phone.
The late Father Zimbabwe’s son Sibangilizwe Nkomo seemed cagey when asked about the incident.
“I have heard that there is an exhibition at ZITF, but I would need to check with other family members. I am not sure about that incident,” he said.
Contacted for comment on Monday, Nkomo’s eldest daughter Thandiwe Nkomo-Ebrahim initially said she would call back, but her phone later went unanswered.
Jabulani Hadebe, the chief executive officer of the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo National Foundation, could not be reached for comment.
Minister in Mphoko’s office Tabetha Kanengoni-Malinga professed ignorance about the incident.
“Is that what happened? But I was standing right next to him (Mphoko) when he toured the stand and I did not hear him say that to anyone. I am not aware of that incident,” Kanengoni-Malinga said.
The head of the Central Intelligence Organisation’s close security unit, Miles Ngulube, somewhat confirmed the matter before he made a U-turn saying he knew nothing about the incident.
“I was there at the stand wani (of course)! Who gave you my number? Just because I am the head of security, so people think I know. Talk to the guys in Bulawayo, I know nothing about what you are saying,” Ngulube said.
Ngulube also queried: “I left Bulawayo as soon as the President (Robert Mugabe) left on Friday, so how would I know about that?”
Nkomo’s book caused untold discomfort in Mugabe’s government as it revealed intricate details of the Gukurahundi episode that forced him into a union with the veteran Zimbabwean leader following years of military-backed violence which caused at least 20 000 civilian deaths in the western parts of the country.
Mphoko, a former Zapu commander in the early years of the liberation war, has had his credentials questioned by his former colleagues amid claims he abandoned the war at the critical stages, hiding in Mozambique and started a family while others continued fighting.
Nkomo was at the time of the genocide forced to flee the country fearing for his life. Conservative figures put the death toll at the hands of the crack North Korean-trained 5th Brigade at 20 000 mostly Ndebele-speaking civilians in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces who stood accused of harbouring alleged armed bandits linked to the then Zapu.
It is understood that when Mnangagwa toured the same stand on Thursday, he reportedly also ordered one of his aides to “remove some material”.
“The following day, when VP Mnangagwa came to the stand, he saw a board that had pictures of the late Father Zimbabwe and we suspect he was unhappy about it because some of the pictures were about Gukurahundi. We just saw his security coming back to collect the board and never returned it,” a source close to the Nkomo family said.
The source also said: “But Mnangagwa, unlike Mphoko, asked one of his officials to leave his details with Nkomo family members manning the exhibition so that they would be able to collect the stuff after the event.
“After we engaged the head of security (Ngulube), VP Mphoko’s people on Friday returned 49 books that had been confiscated, meaning only one was missing, while we did not hear anything from Mnangagwa.”
Mnangagwa was not available for comment yesterday, and so was Minister of State in his office Clifford Sibanda.
Mugabe, who toured the stand on Friday accompanied by Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé, first viewed his portraits that covered much of the Zanu PF space. He then proceeded to the information department, business development and liaison department, grassroots, women’s league, and department of environment and tourism.
On his way out, Mugabe also paid a visit to the Nkomo stand. Nkomo’s portraits as well as those of his wife, Mama Mafuyana, were on show as well as a small statue of the late Vice-President. The Zanu PF leader passed without a word.
Mugabe went on to tour other stands including that of his company, Alpha and Omega Dairy, amid heightened security closing out journalists from listening to his conversation with his senior management.