BRITAIN has been accused of turning a blind eye to Zimbabwe’s ethnic violence between 1983 and 1987 when the army unit known as Fifth Brigade killed between 10,000 and 20,000 people in Matebeleland and Midlands region.
A new report published online and titled: The Matebeleland Massacres: Britain’s wilful blindness, by Hazel Cameron, alleges that members of the British government in Zimbabwe, which included a British Military Advisory Training Team (BMATT) on the ground, were intimately aware of the violence.
“This article analyses official British and US government communications between the British High Commission, Harare, and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Cabinet Office, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Defence, London, as well as between the US Department of State and the US Embassy in Harare,” Cameron writes.
“Analysis of the documents dated between January and March 1983 sheds a critical new lens on Gukurahundi, establishing what knowledge was available to the British and US governments about the persistent and relentless atrocities taking place; the diplomatic approaches pursued by both governments in response; and their rationale for same,” she adds.
Cameron says she obtained “the hitherto unavailable material,” through Freedom of Information requests to various British Government offices and to the US Department of State.
“Analysis establishes that the British High Commission, Harare, had detailed knowledge of events unfolding in Matabeleland from an early stage of Gukurahundi, yet senior members of BMATT and the British diplomatic team in Harare, in contrast to their US counterparts, were consistent in their efforts to minimise the magnitude of Fifth Brigade atrocities,” she notes.
“That the British government chose to adopt a policy of wilful blindness towards the atrocities undoubtedly constituted naked realpolitik,” Cameron adds.
In 1999 Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe described the early 1980s as a “moment of madness.”
Former Zimbabwe vice president Joice Mujuru admitted during an interview on BBC’s Hard Talk that she had knowledge of the Gukurahundi atrocities. However, she said that she was just a junior minister then and had no powers to stop the carnage.
“I did not say a word against it, but those were executive orders that were used by the Fifth Brigade. With an executive person, what else would you do?” said Mujuru.
The full report is published in The International History Review and can be accessed for £28-00