Former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe, who has been leading a commission investigating the killing of six protesters in Harare on August 1, has revealed for the first time his close ties with Zimbabwe after briefly living in the country in the 1970s.
The former African National Congress (ANC) secretary-general lived in Bulawayo’s Mpopoma suburb and in the Canaan section of Harare’s Highfield township.
Motlanthe (KM), whose commission concluded hearing into the killings and handed over a summary of its findings to President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Thursday, opened up about his connection with top football club Highlanders and Zimbabwe in general in an exclusive interview with our senior reporter Xolisani Ncube (XN) on Friday.
He also responded to allegations that his commission was compromised because it included Zanu PF activists such as Charity Manyeruke.
Motlanthe also believes that Zimbabwe must address issues arising from the 1980s massacres by the army’s 5th Brigade in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces if it is to achieve national healing.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
XN: Thank you very much, Cde President, for your time. We have been going through your history both orally and written, we have discovered something interesting — you once stayed in Bulawayo and you have had strong interaction with Zimbabwe outside politics. Can you tell us more and probably explain how this affected your work in this commission?
KM: Well, I have a long relationship with Zimbabwe because many years ago, in 1972, I came over here because I was keen to check on a school, which manufactured marimbas in Bulawayo called Kwanongoma.
So I travelled to come and check how it was structured and get some music lessons,which I wanted.
I stayed in Mpopoma township next to the club house of Matabeleland Highlanders (now Highlanders Football Club).
It was just next door to where I stayed and across was a club house for Mashonaland United (Zimbabwe Saints).
I was just struck by the competitive spirit that existed between the two teams and the supporters of the teams.
I have very fond memories of that experience. I can tell you that I still remember that Mashonaland United was called Chiwororo during those days.
Supporters used to call Mashonaland United Chiwororo, then and Highlanders was called “Killers”.
I am told now that Chiwororo has morphed into modern Zimbabwe Saints.
XN: During your stay here, did you manage to reconnect with your local friends or those whom you used to associate with when you were here as a young man?
KM: Unfortunately not, because in Mpopoma I stayed with the mother of the late Ewert Nene, who was the founding manager for Kaizer Chiefs. I wonder where her daughter Maureen is.
Maureen was a teacher at the time. I actually travelled with her from Mpopoma to Harare where I stayed at a place called New Canaan in Highfield with the family of James Mabhena.
I don’t know whether Mabhena is still alive or not.
James Mabhena was originally from Orlando East in South Africa and used to run a musical show called King Kong, which helped profile musicians like Hugh Masekela, (Miriam) Makeba and Letta Mbulu.
In fact, James Mabhena is the one who discovered Letta Mbulu when she was still a young girl.
So at the end of the King Kong tour, he came and settled here.
XN: So did all this in any way help your interaction with witnesses who appeared before the commission?
KM: Yes, of course, without being sentimental I relate to Zimbabweans as brothers and sisters and I appreciate all they said.
I could do so, follow the story through, even names of places mentioned, I could relate to.
XN: One of the major criticisms of your commission is that it did not hear evidence from people directly affected by the August 1 shootings after they were allegedly frustrated by the secretariat. Do you believe you gathered enough evidence during the hearings?
KM: Certainly people who were either directly affected by the violence that happened on the 1st of August or those who relate to those events from a distance did come forward.
Many people came forward. We had representatives of the defence forces testifying, we had the commissioner of police coming in, the ZCTU (Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions) people coming to testify.
We had the chapter 12 commissions, your National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, your (Zimbabwe) Human Rights Commission, we had leaders of political parties testifying, we had ordinary Zimbabweans who walked in and had not registered and would say, I am so and so I would want to testify and we listened to all of them.
We received written submissions from organisations and individuals.
We went out to provinces to interact with people.
We went to Bulawayo, we had Gweru, and we had Mutare, to listen to a broader audience so that they could assist us in getting to the matter in a much more comprehensive style.
We wanted to hear the suggestions of other Zimbabweans as well on how best to address similar problems and to avoid similar challenges or incidences going forward.
XN: When you went to Bulawayo, people wanted to talk about the Gukuruhandi massacres in Matabeleland. What are your views on that?
KM: Well, as I said, ours as a commission was to listen to what people said. We listened and we have addressed that issue in the report.
We listened to everyone, all and sundry. In Bulawayo we had people talking about that issue and we had to pay an ear to them.
Also in Gweru we had the same issues that are of a historical nature that still pain them.
We mention that in our report and we hold that with catharsis help to clear one’s chest and we hope that Zimbabwe as a nation can do that.
It is a very painful process for people to really open up about their pains and the like, but it is necessary.
I liken it to a wound that is just dressed up without cleaning it.
It becomes septic. So you ought to clean and the process of cleaning it is not easy.
It helps for people to bring closure and move forward.
There is this statement, which I like to make: the past we inherit and the future we create.
It is always important that as a nation you understand your past and make the future from it.
XN: Do you think the misgivings about some members of your commission will affect the credibility of your final report?
KM: Well, the credibility of everybody was put to test and we were not spared, all of us. None of us was spared.
But at the end of it, which is very important and appreciable, they (opposition parties) engaged the commission and made their presentations.
Ours was to do the job and we took all that into account. We believe what we saw is that Zimbabweans want dialogue and they were talking to each other through the commission.
What was very critical for us is to appreciate that when people are pained, you must allow them to ventilate their anger and their issues and the commission acted as a platform for them to lay bare their views in a holistic manner.
XN: Is the report going to be made public and what are some of the recommendations from the marathon hearings, which included written statements?
KM: I can’t talk about the recommendations at the moment because I will need to present the report to His Excellency president Mnangagwa, who will then make it public if he so wishes as he had indicated.
He will then know how to handle the recommendations of the report.
All I can say is that we had an open, transparent process that was witnessed by all Zimbabweans and I must thank the media for being our partner throughout this journey.
It helped a lot in informing the public about what was happening.
I also want to highlight the importance of modern-day media that played a role in taking this issue to the people.
We hope that this process can help Zimbabweans to continue dialoguing among themselves about what really matters to their country.
We learnt that Zimbabweans love their country and are eager to talk to each other.
— The Standard