HARARE – MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has filed a $2 million defamation suit against former vice president Phelekezela Mphoko.
The suit pertains to statements made by Mphoko claiming Tsvangirai had participated in the murder of at least 20 000 civilians in Matabeleland during the Gukurahundi era.
According to court papers filed on Monday before the High Court, Mphoko claimed Tsvangirai was involved in an attempt to assassinate the late former vice president Joshua Nkomo and that he had participated in the burning down of villages in Tsholotsho.
During the Gukurahundi era at least 20 000 civilians were butchered by the North Korea-trained fifth brigade that patrolled the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces.
Mphoko also alleged Tsvangirai had murdered a “member-in-charge” in Tsholotsho during the Gukurahundi era.
“These allegations were flighted on national television during the main news segment of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC)’s broadcast at 20:00 hours on the day the defendant (Mphoko) had addressed journalists in Bulawayo (4 February 2017). That news clip was re-played in subsequent bulletins on subsequent days on ZBC television broadcasts.
“Further, the defendant’s statements against the plaintiff (Tsvangirai) were published in print and electronic forms by various publications. ZBC went on to publish an article carrying defendant’s subject statement on its website in days following the broadcast,” Tsvangirai said.
Through his lawyers from Atherstone & Cook, Tsvangirai said the statements were completely false, adding that he never participated in the Gukurahundi massacres in any way.
“At no point in time did he try to assassinate the late vice president Joshua Nkomo and, he never set fire to any home or village, nor murder any ‘officer-in-charge’ or any person during the Gukurahundi genocide or at any other time,” the lawyers said.
They further said that Mphoko’s statements were defamatory and harmful to their client’s reputation, as they portrayed him as a cruel, murderous and evil person.
According to court papers, Mphoko’s statements also portrayed Tsvangirai as a dishonest politician, who has no respect for property rights and does not appreciate the sanctity of life.
“Defendant had no right to fabricate the above outlined defamatory and highly injurious allegations against the plaintiff. As a result of the subject defamation, the plaintiff’s reputation has been severely damaged, and plaintiff has suffered damages in the total amount of $2 million. The figure covers actual damages, assumed damages and punitive damages components of the claim,” the court heard.
It is claimed in court papers that despite demand, Mphoko failed to mitigate the harm caused by his “false statements”.
Mphoko, who is represented by lawyers from G.N Mlotshwa& Company Legal Practitioners, is yet to respond to the application.