Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Harare: Few Tears for Manyika

As Mugabe henchman is buried, opposition round on man they see as architect of recent election violence.
By Jabu Shoko
It is taboo to celebrate the death of an individual in Zimbabwe’s dominant Shona and Ndebele cultures, but opposition supporters, human rights defenders and government critics are happy to see the back of a man they view as their nemesis.

Elliot Manyika, the ZANU-PF political commissar, notorious for launching a reign of terror against opponents of the Harare regime, perished in a horrific car crash on December 6, and is due to be laid to rest this week.

As President Robert Mugabe, ZANU-PF and family prepared to bury him on December 11, his enemies in the opposition expressed scorn for Manyika, 53, who died at a private hospital from injuries allegedly sustained in a car accident.

Opposition supporters and officials said they viewed the late ZANU-PF political commissar and minister without portfolio as the architect of the violence in the run-up to the presidential run-off election in June.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, pulled out of the run-off after more than 200 of its supporters had been killed.

There were impromptu celebrations, mostly in the opposition strongholds in major cities and towns, as word filtered that Manyika had died.

Elliot Pfebve, an MDC official who lost his parliamentary seat to Manyika following a bloody campaign in Bindura, called him “one of the most horrible monsters ever created”.

Pfebve told a Zimbabwean radio station broadcasting from exile in London that Manyika had not left the legacy of a political statesman but rather a culture of fear and terror.

“He has also left behind a traumatised country. This man was the architect of violence in ZANU-PF. He was instrumental in designing and developing the militia to terrorise the whole country,” he said.

Pfebve's elder brother, Matthew, was killed allegedly on orders from Manyika, as was Matthew Pfebve’s campaign manager, Trymore Midzi.

Pfebve said during Manyika’s reign of terror, Mashonaland Central province saw the highest number ever of unexplained disappearances, murders and maiming of innocent civilians.

In July 2001, Pfebve said he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt that he claimed Manyika had plotted.

“While my response to the death of Manyika might dismay others who were benefiting from his brutality and hold on power, let me remind them that Zimbabweans in particular will not mourn a brutal leader who has been [responsible for] our deep-rooted poverty,” said Pfebve, now living in exile in England.

“He failed to respect human life when he was alive, he tried to kill me, he murdered my brother and now he is dead. It’s a positive loss rather than a negative loss. I am not going to mourn him.”

Meanwhile, Mugabe praised his fallen lieutenant, saying he had learnt with disbelief and sadness of his death.

“We mourn the departure of a committed, hard-working party cadre, an uncompromising activist,” said Mugabe in a condolence message broadcast on national television and carried as headline news on all the state-run newspapers this week.

Mugabe said Manyika had injected creativity into the ZANU-PF commissariat. “He sang, danced, he persuaded, he cajoled – all the time speaking with deep conviction and passion. That spirit and effort ensured the party was kept vibrant and forward looking,” he said.

Mugabe declared that national hero status would be conferred on Manyika; it is the highest award given to mostly ZANU-PF politicians closely linked to the war which won Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980.

Manyika’s death has forced the party to postpone its annual conference to December 16.

While it is indeed taboo in the African culture to talk ill of the dead or celebrate their demise, critics of ZANU-PF point to Manyika’s role as the party’s chief election agent. He was in charge of the National Youth Service Programme, which churned out heavily indoctrinated youths who reportedly killed opposition supporters with impunity.

According to reports from human rights defenders and monitors, the youths – derogatorily referred to as Green Bombers because of their military fatigues and notoriety – accounted for the bulk of the murders, rapes, assaults and destruction during the intensely violent period between the presidential elections in March, which the MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai narrowly won, and the run-off in June, in which Mugabe was the sole candidate.

Directly working under the command of the late Manyika, the Green Bombers created no-go areas in former ZANU-PF strongholds which the MDC had won during the first round of elections. Nearly a million people were internally displaced.

Recently, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a loose grouping of the country’s non-governmental organisations involved in human rights monitoring, released a report implicating Manyika in the abduction of three activists of the Restoration of Human Rights, ROHR, organisation in Harare’s central business after they attempted to demonstrate against the stalled power-sharing deal in October.

Manyika, charges the coalition, was seen directing his party supporters to break up the demonstrations. The three abducted activists were allegedly forcibly bundled into a truck driven by Manyika.

Two days after the first report, the coalition released a follow-up in which it announced the discovery of the body of one of the ROHR activists, identified as Osborne Kachuru, from the poor township of Mbare.

Jabu Shoko is the pseudonym of an IWPR reporter in Zimbabwe.