Harare - Zimbabwe’s former education minister David Coltart says he is ready to face vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa in court after the Zanu-PF strongman threatened to sue him.
Mnangagwa is tipped to succeed President Robert Mugabe, 92, when he retires or dies.
The row emerged in the wake of the recent publication in South Africa of Coltart’s autobiography, The Struggle Continues – 50 years of tyranny.
Coltart is Zimbabwe’s top human rights lawyer who began his legal career as state violence against civilians erupted in the Matabeleland provinces and parts of the Midlands from 1983 to 1987.
He was involved for more than 20 years in opposition politics and became education minister during the four-year unity government with the two Movement for Democratic Change parties which ended in 2013.
In his book, he publishes several remarks he says were made by Mnangagwa 33 years ago as head of the Central Intelligence Organisation.
Coltart and others interpreted the remarks as a contributory factor in the slaughter of about 20 000 people in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces from 1983 to 1987.
Mnangagwa claims he did not make the statements published in Bulawayo’s Chronicle newspaper at the time and reprinted by the same newspaper earlier this week.
The Chronicle is part of Zimbabwe Newspapers which is generally seen as state-controlled but some analysts say it is currently engaged in some of the intra-Zanu-PF faction fights about who will succeed Mugabe.
Coltart told The Daily News in Harare: “In the circumstances, Mnangagwa would be very poorly advised by his lawyers to institute legal proceedings… any action will be defended.”
Mnangagwa told another Harare newspaper that Coltart’s statements, linking him to the deaths of thousands of civilians, were a “fabrication” and were “malicious and false”.
Coltart has asked why Mnangagwa did not sue sooner or attempt to correct what the Chronicle published in 1983.
“These extracts (in the autobiography) confirm that what is recorded in my book accurately reflects what the Chronicle reported him as saying then,” Coltart said.
Mnangagwa’s lawyers issued a statement which said they were “perusing… Coltart’s autobiography… before considering appropriate action to be taken to address these false and malicious statements”.
He has always denied any responsibility for the murder of mostly Ndebele-speaking opposition supporters at that time.
Mugabe has never apologised for the slaughter, but remarked atrocities committed by a North Korean-trained army brigade were “a moment of madness”.
The Chronicle published the following remarks it said were made by Mnangagwa at a pro-Zanu-PF rally in April 1983: “The campaign against dissidents can only succeed if the infrastructure which nurtures them is destroyed.
“Blessed are they who will follow the path of the government laws, for their days on earth will be increased.
“But woe unto those who will choose the path of collaboration with dissidents, for we will certainly shorten their stay on earth.”
Independent Foreign Service