Harare – A top official of President Robert Mugabe’s party has issued an unprecedented condemnation of the massacres of up to 20 000 civilians of Zimbabwe’s minority Ndebele people three decades ago.
Jonathan Moyo, a member of the powerful politburo of the ZanuPF party that came to power in 1980, was quoted in the party-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper saying that the massacres were "a dark point in our history".
The comment was seen as a sign of deepening strife within the formerly monolithic ruling party
The killings were carried out by Mugabe’s security forces during a low-level insurgency during the early 1980s in the western province of Matabeleland, home of the Ndebele-speaking tribe.
The government’s reaction was "outrageously disproportionate" to the threat, Moyo said, although he stopped short of calling for an investigation.
There have been no reparations made to families of the victims and no apologies.
Mugabe, 87, once said the atrocities were "a moment of madness" but buried a government report on the affair.
Moyo is a controversial figure, a former academic and articulate critic of Mugabe who later joined ZanuPF, defected and then changed sides again.
Commentators say he stirred anger among Mugabe’s old guard last week by calling for "change" in the party.
His remarks about the massacres were seen as a direct challenge to long-term Mugabe loyalist and powerful defence minister Emmerson Munangagwa, who is seen as the most likely successor to Mugabe.
Munangagwa last week declared that the Matabeleland killings were "a closed chapter".
Opposition politicians have recently been arrested for pressing for open debate on the issue.
After three decades of running Zimbabwe as a virtual one-party state, ZanuPF is said to be deeply divided, particularly over elections expected in the next two years.
Mugabe loyalists demand he should be "president for life," but a large younger group – with Moyo as apparent spokesperson – insist that he will be too frail to undertake an election campaign.
Mugabe was forced by neighbouring states led by South Africa into a coalition in 2008 with pro-democracy leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who is thought likely to beat Mugabe in elections.
He won more votes than Mugabe in the last election earlier that year, but Mugabe effectively seized power after a national campaign of murder and torture targeting Tsvangirai’s supporters.