The leader of the Zimbabwe opposition, Mr Joshua Nkomo, who has been missing since his home was attacked by government troops during a sweep through Bulawayo on Saturday, spoke to foreign reporters in a safe house in the town’s suburbs late last night.
Mr Nkomo, whose chauffeur was killed when the troops ransacked his home here, accused the Prime Minister, Mr Mugabe, of trying to murder him and his family and appealed to the international community for help. He said he was returning to the ‘townships’, the black suburbs, where hundreds of his supporters were rounded up at the weekend.
“It’s quite clear now that the search for arms over the weekend was a cover,” he said. “The aim was to come and kill me. It’s quite clear that my life is in danger, and that of my family. I can only appeal to the international community to try and drive sense into Mugabe’s head.”
He accused the government of turning the campaign against dissidents in the south of Zimbabwe into an attack on his party, Zapu. Apart from Mr Nkomo’s driver, at least two other people are thought to have died and hundreds, including many Zapu officials, to have been arrested as the government’s Fifth Brigade moved into the townships of Bulawayo in an operation which had already killed many in the outlying areas.
Last night the townships were still seething with troops carrying automatic rifles and machine guns. Local people said lorry loads of people had been driven off to detention. Reports of beatings and shootings were widespread.
Mr Nkomo’s neighbours led the reporters into his bungalow, which stood through Saturday night with its doors and windows flapping in the wind. Inside, one bedroom was splattered with blood. It is believed that Mr Nkomo’s driver, Mr Yona Ncube, was killed in his bed when the Fifth Brigade went into the house on Saturday at about 5.30 in the afternoon. Mr Nkomo had already left.
Outside on the pavement a bloodstain marked the spot where Mr Didiza Ndlovu, aged 25, was shot dead with three bursts of automatic gunfire after being searched by the soldiers when he walked past the house. Two cars stood in the courtyard by the side of the house, their windows smashed by rifle butts. Six other members of Mr Nkomo’s staff were driven away to West Commanage police station. Three were later released. Two other leading local figures in Mr Nkomo’s Zapu party were also held: a Bulawayo MP, Mr Sydney Malunga, and one of the party’s vice-chairmen, Mr Kennerly Moyo.
Mr Nkomo told reporters last night: “It would appear now that there is a concerted effort to try and destroy Zapu completely by elimination.” He said he would not leave Zimbabwe. “I have no other country except this one. What country can I go to ? I have suffered for a long time; I have been in exile; I have been in prison; seeking independence; seeking Zimbabwe. Why must I go now?”
He has not returned to the house where his driver was shot dead. He had been told that the soldiers attacked his staff because they would not say where he was.
The Fifth Brigade’s entry into Bulawayo, the capital of the southern province of Matabeleland, is a new escalation in the long-running struggle between Mr Mugabe’s Zanu Party, based on the northern Shona tribe, and Mr Nkomo’s Zapu, based an the southern Ndebele tribe. After weeks of rumour the army’s arrival caught the town by surprise.
Bulawayo authorities would not confirm the deaths but suggested that up to 1,000 people had been arrested, some of whom would be detained for questioning.
For the government, the Minister for Security, Mr Emmerson Monangagwa told me: “It is a clean up operation. It will go on for as long as is necessary.”
Reuter adds from Victoria, Seychelles: Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister, Mr Mugabe, accused the Western press of conducting a smear campaign against his country during a stopover in the Seychelles at the weekend on his way to the nonaligned conference in New Delhi. He said his government was trying to eliminate a dissident element which was creating instability in western Zimbabwe.