“Gukurahundi after the [1970s] war had nothing to do with Mugabe, nothing,” the country’s new vice president Phelekezela Mphoko told the official Sunday Mail.
“That is a fact. People can say what they want but that was a Western conspiracy.”
Memories of the killings, carried out by Mugabe’s North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade in the south of the country, are strong among many in Zimbabwe’s Ndebele ethnic group and contribute to their distrust of the Mugabe-led government. Most of those killed were Ndebele.
Mugabe offered a part-apology for the killings in 1999, saying they were “a moment of madness”.
But Mphoko, who was named second vice president in December, said the US, UK and the apartheid government in South Africa created a “myth”, telling Mugabe’s government that ZAPU rebels “want to overthrow you”.
Zenzele Ndebele, editor of the independently-run Radio Dialogue in Bulawayo, tweeted in response: “Mphoko is being economic with the truth. Did the west force Mugabe to create the 5th Brigade.”