FORMER army captain, Albert Matapo finally walked free Saturday morning, seven years after he was jailed for allegedly plotting a coup against President Robert Mugabe and, later, attempting a jailbreak.
Matapo was accused of plotting to topple Mugabe and replacing him with current justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, one of the leading contenders to replace the ageing Zanu PF leader.
But a defiant Matapo, 52, who still denies the offences, wasted no time in making his own allegations that former army boss, Brigadier-General Paul Armstrong Gunda, was assassinated by State security agents who falsely linked him to the alleged coup plot.
He said, after his arrest, he was surprised when his captors repeatedly asked him about his links to Gunda, whom he did not know, adding that “everything made sense” when he later learnt about the General’s mysterious death while still incarcerated.
Gunda, who was Commander of One Brigade in Bulawayo, and was declared a national hero, died in mysterious circumstances on June 20, 2007 after his car reportedly collided with a goods train at Watershed School outside Marondera.
His widow published advertisements insinuating that he had died in suspicious circumstances. She also said the damage to his car was not serious enough to have been caused by a train adding Gunda also had a mysterious back injury.
Before his death, the General was among the military officers involved in the alleged failed plot to topple Mugabe for which Matapo was jailed.
The alleged coup emerged at a time of high political tension and socio-economic strife in the country’s with top Zanu PF officials and the security services hierarchy in panic mode as the country’s economy was teetered near complete collapse with inflation hitting 66,000 percent in 2007 and 11.2 million percent in 2008.
In an exclusive interview with NewZimbabwe.com soon after he walked out of the Chikurubi Maximum Prison gates, Matapo, who was abducted by plain clothes men believed to be State security agents on May 29, 2007, narrated harrowing experiences at the hands of his captors.
Going home … Albert Matapo preparing to leave Chukurubi prison
He recalls how armed men numbering up to 40 swooped on his Nelson Mandela Avenue offices in the capital, took him blindfolded and drove him at high speed to a place he does not know up to now although it later turned out to be his torture chamber.
While at the facility, he was subjected to periods of intense interrogation. Among the questions which featured prominently during those four days, was his alleged involvement with Gunda.
Although he and his accomplices were tried for an attempt to oust Mugabe and replace him with the then rural affairs minister Mnangagwa, the latter’s name never featured at all during interrogation, Matapo says.
Although he was blindfolded all the time, Matapo could still feel that the torture chamber was a “pit” which was underneath a building.
He said he was routinely asked to incriminate Gunda in the envisaged formation of the United Democratic Front, a political party which Matapo was, then, planning to launch.
Despite the torture and inducement, Matapo vehemently denied any contact with both the late army boss and the slain MDC-T activist George Kawuzani, whose name also featured prominently during the torture spells.
Apart from Gunda, two more generals linked to that plot, Brigadier-General Fakazi Muleya and Retired Major-General Gideon Lifa, also died under mysterious circumstances.
MDC-T activist Kawuzani also died mysterious during intense State-sponsored abductions and summary killings in the same period.
Matapo, a Zanu PF activist who later turned MDC, was asked about the MDC and party leader’s strategies, which he denied any knowledge of.
“They went on to ask me about some generals whom l did not even know. They asked me ‘are you working with Gunda and what have you’. They never said anything to do with a coup.
“They said ‘are you are forming a party, the United Democratic Front’ and l said yes. They said this is not your party; it has other people. ‘We are aware that you are with people like Gunda. What can you say about that?’
“The exact questions were, ‘how many times a week do you meet Gunda?’ I said ‘no who is that?’ They said ‘how can you say who is that when you know him, he is part of you … What is his participation in UDF? What role does he have? What position did you give him?’ – those sort of questions. I said no l didn’t know him and, truly, l did not know him.”
Matapo said he later heard of the deaths the two Generals when he was in prison and everything began to make sense to him.
“I don’t think he (Gunda) died from an accident. Something fishy must have happened,” said the former army captain.
“It’s the usual thing in this country that fishy things happen and people die, especially when they are political gurus. In the case of Gunda, he may not have been a political guru but probably because of whatever differences at work then, they possibly did this.”