ZAPU leader Dumiso Dabengwa believes Gukurahundi architect Perence Shiri has “repented of his role” as commander of the Fifth Brigade which is accused of the slaughter of more than 20,000 civilians in Matabeleland and the Midlands, according to WikiLeaks.
Dabengwa, who was detained without trial by President Robert Mugabe’s regime while Shiri’s death squads carried out mass killings in the countryside between 1982 and 1987, told the former US ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee that the Air Force of Zimbabwe chief would readily accept a change of government.
Dabengwa spoke to McGee on March 12, 2008, in the run-up to general elections later that month.
McGee said the former Home Affairs Minister, who was supporting independent candidate Simba Makoni in the presidential race, “shared his concern that Mugabe would not accept defeat”.
In a diplomatic cable dated March 13, 2008, McGee wrote: “Dabengwa was optimistic the military would not play a destabilising role. He noted that as the commander of ZIPRA, ZAPU's military arm, he knew the current crop of high ranking Zimbabwean military officials, many of whom had served under him. He offered his opinions of the top three military leaders ...”
Zimbabwe Army Commander General Philip Sibanda “had commanded UN forces in Angola and had rescued Zimbabwe from defeat in the Congo. He was professional and level headed”, Dabengwa is said to have told the ambassador.
Defence Forces Commander General Constantine Chiwenga, on the other hand, was so corrupt that "he would rather sink with the ship than oppose the captain”, Dabengwa opined.
Controversially, McGee said Dabengwa had told him Shiri “had long been critical of Mugabe's leadership and his unwillingness to permit change within Zanu PF. He had repented of his role in Gukurahundi, the Matabeleland massacres instigated by Mugabe in the early 1980s”.
Dabengwa’s apparent willingness to look over Shiri’s role in the Gukurahundi massacres – which affected his ZAPU party more than any other – will “demoralise” his supporters, said activist and researcher Brilliant Mhlanga.
“It’s a shocking thing to say,” Mhlanga told New Zimbabwe.com last night. “Dabengwa, of all people, should know better. There is enough documented proof that Perence Shiri is responsible for the worst acts of mass murder in Zimbabwe, and his victims do not need Dabengwa beautifying him.”