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Zim massacre ‘a British cover-up’, claims academic

Africa
Harare – A British academic claims that Robert Mugabe received substantial support from former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s government to conceal and ignore massacres of opposition supporters in Zimbabwe shortly after the 1980 independence.

Hazel Cameron has produced a 20-page report in the latest edition of The International History Review, which she says is based on previously unpublished diplomatic communications from the British High Commission in Harare.

Her report: “The Matabeleland Massacres: Britain’s wilful blindness,” says Thatcher largely ignored the atrocities committed by a North Korean-trained brigade, which operated outside the command structure of the Zimbabwe National Army.

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Robert Mugabe

Mugabe would never re­lease the findings of a commission of inquiry he set up to investigate the shocking events mostly against Ndebele supporters of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union, Zapu, which was the official opposition at that time.

Cameron, who has previously investigated Rwanda’s massacres in 1994, says the UK ignored these shocking events which saw thousands die and an unknown number flee the country, mostly to South Africa. She says she secured access to the diplomatic cables via Freedom of Information requests to the British government and to the US Department of State.

She says Robin Byatt, the UK’s first post independence high commissioner to Zimbabwe, knew about the massacres shortly after they began in 1983 and says he then attempted to cover them up.

Cables were sent to London early that year from the high commission in Harare which said, as a form of explanation, that Zimbabwe had sent in extra security forces because of so-called “dissident” activity. Cameron claims that Major-General Colin Shortis, commander of the British Military Advisory Training Team (BMATT), which was training the new Zimbabwe army, was identified as another leading figure in the cover-up.

Byatt is accused of trying to stop the BBC from getting some information about the massacres. “I am sure that our best tactic is to continue to try to proffer sympathetic and constructive, rather than simply critical advice if we wish to influence Zimbabwean decisions,” according to one cable from the high commission in Harare to London.

Cameron says that Byatt did not share what he knew was happening with other Western diplomats in Harare and was only concerned about the white community in Zimbabwe. She claims that Prince Charles was convinced that the massacres were exaggerated when he visited in 1984. Britain continued to give Zimbabwe military aid and subsequently awarded Mugabe an honorary degree and a knighthood.

This report also names current vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa as playing a key role in the persecution.

According to The Standard newspaper in Harare, the British Embassy in Harare responded to Cameron’s report and said the massacres were “appalling crimes. The United Kingdom government supports the process of truth and reconciliation envisaged under the 2013 Constitution”.

The Argus Africa News Service, which was owned by previous owners of Independent Newspapers, and the BBC were the first media to report the massacres. Reporters from both organisations had to leave Zimbabwe shortly after.

“This is the first time this has been documented from the horse’s mouth, in other words from diplomatic cables,” said professor David Moore from the University of Johannesburg, who is a long-time Zimbabwe expert and historian.

“Cameron found a gold mine, mainly from the US.”

Independent Foreign Service

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