On 17 February 1982, Zimbabwean Prime Minister Robert Mugabe fired his one-time comrade and junior coalition party leader Dr Joshua Nkomo and three senior party leaders for allegedly stock-piling arms to stage a coup.
Dr Joshua Nkomo
In a letter to Mugabe in exile a year later, Nkomo outlines the events that led to his termination of office.
1. I write to you as a citizen of Zimbabwe and one of the leaders of our country, to you not just as one of the leaders of Zimbabwe, but above all, as Prime Minister of the Government of Zimbabwe as provided for by the Constitution, that you and me, as well as other leaders signed in December 1979.
2. I write because I feel that our country is in danger of complete disintegration, to the detriment of all its citizens now living and of generations to come.
3. Not least, I write to you because I am convinced that you believe I am the main contributory factor to this dangerous situation.
4. You have stated publicly on several occasions that I have plotted, and continue to plot, to overthrow you and your government, that I have conspired, and continue to conspire, with South Africa to do that, that I have organized and continue to organize dissident groups for the purpose of destabilizing the country and finally to overthrow you.
5. You now say I have run to Britain, ostensibly because I thought my life was or is in danger, but that I have done so for the purpose of recruiting mercenaries and/or assassins to wrest power from you.
6.I also know that you and your party believe that because ZAPU lost in the last election we feel wounded, and therefore plan to wrest power from you by means, fair or foul.
7.You say we did all I have stated above despite the fact that we agreed to take part in your Government when you as Prime Minister, invited us to.
8. This whole series of accusations against me and ZAPU, which are false and without any foundation whatsoever started on the 6th February, 1982 when caches of arms were discovered at Escort Farm, and later at Hampton Farm, both of which were owned by Nitram, a private company, I assisted former ZIPRA combatants to form for occupation and use by those of them who were not incorporated into the (ZNA) Zimbabwe National Army and the (ZRP) Zimbabwe Republic Police.
9. The discovery of arms on the 6th February was followed by a number of categoric and definitive statements, by yourself, to the effect that arms were discovered in Nkomo and ZAPU owned properties and that the cache of arms were part of a plot to overthrow you and your government; and that all those properties were being used for subversive purposes.
You said in Marondera on the 14th February, 1982: “ZAPU had bought more than 25 farms and more than 30 business enterprises throughout the country. We have now established they were not genuine business enterprises, but places of hiding military weapons to start another war at an appropriate time”. You added, “Dr. Nkomo was trying to overthrow my government”. “ZAPU and its leader, Dr. Joshua Nkomo, were like a cobra in a house.
The only way to deal effectively with a snake is to strike and destroy its head”.
10. You will remember that you met me and three of my colleagues at your official residence on the 5th February to discuss a number of issues, and at the end of that meeting I mentioned to you that I had received a telephone message from Bulaway to the effect that two Nitram Farms, Ascot and Woody Glen Farm had been invaded by the police the previous night and you said, you had also got information and you would inform me later what it was all about.
11. That evening I traveled with two of your Ministers on a plane to Bulawayo, Emmerson Munangagwa and Sydney Sekeramai. Little did I know that you had sent these two men to Bulawayo to display to the press arms allegedly unearthed in one of those farms, namely Ascot Farm.
12. I would have expected that as Minister under you, you would, after finding arms in Nitram owned properties, to have summoned me to your office to find out from me as to whether I knew anything about the arms.
13. I would have expected further, that you would have instructed me to have joined Munangagwa and Sekeramai in an attempt to uncover information about those arms.
I am sure, you realize how important it was for me to have physically seen the location, the quantity and nature of the arms that was discovered, especially at a time when I was still Minister. While I do not dispute that arms were found on these farms, how else would I have been expected to believe the quantity, and nature of the arms unearthed and displayed to the press were authentic.
14. As it is now, I cannot be made to believe that the quantities, quality and nature of arms presented to the press were in fact all unearthed just in those two farms. It is quite clear for the discovery to make an impact on the people of Zimbabwe and the world in general, it was necessary for those who assisted you, to ferry arms from elsewhere so as to make this accusation of a plot to overthrow the government to appear real. To quote a statement made at a press briefing at Brady Barracks on the 8th February 1982: “Arms and ammunitions so far recovered in the joint police and army search operation in Matebeleland are sufficient to equip a force of 5,000 men”. Note, in ‘Matabeleland’ and not in Ascot and Hampton Farms. However, this is neither here nor there.
15. By Monday the 15th February 1982, the two properties owned by Nitram, the only properties on which arms were found, together with properties owned by ZAPU and those owned by companies whose members were ZAPU, including properties owned by me and my family, were confiscated under the notorious Unlawful Organisations Act, which was was enacted by settler regimes to suppress liberation organizations.
16. I would like to emphasise that no other property, even those others owned by Nitram, which were all confiscated, had any arms found on them.
17. Having reminded you that arms were discovered in only two Nitram owned farms, Ascot Farm near Bulawayo and Hampton Farm near Gweru, let me further remind you that in the course of your marathon speeches round the country, telling the story of having found caches of arms meant to perpetrate a plot to overthrow you and your government, you said among other things, “If all arms cached by ZIPRA were found in or near Assembly Camps only, my government and I would not have minded”. “But that”, you continued, “a large quantity of arms was found in ZAPU owned properties, it is clear they were intended for use against my government”. You said this because you knew that ZANLA had cached a lot of arms in and near their former Assembly Camps, and there was the question of a trainload of arms that had disappeared between the [Mozambiquean] border and Mutare.
18. It appears to me you have conveniently forgotten that Ntumbane in Bulawayo, was in fact an Assembly Point for both ZIPRA and ZANLA, that after the first Ntumbane disturbances every type of weapon not allowed there, was found in that assembly point.
The same happened after the second disturbances there; heavy weapons were found in both ZIPRA and ZANLA camps in Ntumbane. Why then did you find it surprising to have found arms at Ascot farm which is hardly seven miles from Ntumbane assembly point? 19. The same applies to Hampton Farm which is not far from Connemara Barracks where there were disturbances at the same time as there were disturbances in Ntumbane the second time. As a matter of fact, Comrade Munangagwa on 26th February, said, “Four caches of arms including 600 G3 rifles stolen during the mutiny in Connemara more than a year ago were discovered on a farm near Gweru”.
20. Over and above what I have stated regarding arms caches I quote a statement by (PF) ZAPU Central Committee held in Bulawayo on the 15 February, 1982, “The Central Committee is dismayed at the deliberate attempt to build a case on an issue whose background the Prime Minister very well knows emanates from a war situation. The Central Committee denies the allegation that ZAPU had any prior knowledge of the arms caches anywhere. The administration of the army and all military issues, including former combatants’ assembly camps, were placed under the responsibility of the Joint Military Command, thus removing ZAPU and ZANU of responsibility over military affairs. We wish to categorically deny the allegation of a plot to overthrow the government. On the contrary, PF ZAPU did everything, and still does for the consolidation and success of our independence” (Herald).
21. On Thursday, February 17, you announced at a press conference that I and three of my colleagues, J.M. Chinamano, J.W. Msika and J.G. Ntuta were dismissed from your government. You made your announcement at a press conference and we learnt of our dismissal from your government by press, television and radio. I was completely flabbergasted and astounded by your accusations, your actions and the manner in which they were made. What stunned and bemused me even more is that I was convinced that you knew in your heart of hearts that all accusations were false.