Veteran Zimbabwean nationalist Dumiso Dabengwa, jailed by Robert Mugabe on treason charges during army massacres that rights groups say killed thousands in his home region in the 1980s, has died aged 79, a state-owned newspaper said on Thursday.
Dabengwa was head of intelligence for the armed wing of the ZAPU liberation movement, which was led by the late Joshua Nkomo, Mugabe’s then political rival, in a struggle against white minority rule in the then Rhodesia.
The Herald newspaper said Dabengwa died in Kenya on his way to Zimbabwe from India where he sought medical treatment.
Nicknamed the “Black Russian” because of his military training in Russia, Dabengwa was accused of hiding arms of war, the pretext for the army crackdown in western Zimbabwe that rights groups say killed 20,000 most minority Ndebele.
In 1983 Dabengwa was charged with treason by Mugabe’s government. He was acquitted by the courts but remained in dentention until his release in 1986.
Dabengwa would in later years say that ZAPU’s armed wing included members from South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC), which was fighting the apartheid government and that some of the cached arms belonged to ANC’s military wing.
The 1982 to 1987 massacres have continued to haunt President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was Mugabe’s security minister during the period. Mnangagwa last month said Zimbabweans should openly talk about the massacres, known as “Gukurahundi”, as part of a national healing process.
Dabengwa became a government minister for eight years up to 2000 after ZAPU merged with the ruling ZANU-PF. After leaving government, Dabengwa became critical of Mugabe and ZANU-PF policies until his death.
In the run-up to the July 2018 presidential and parliamentary vote, Dabengwa supported opposition leader Nelson Chamisa for the presidency.