Book review: The Kevin Woods Story

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Kevin Woods is lucky to be alive. Somewhere in the 1980s he made a crucial mistake – to work for Colonel Joe Verster, at the time head of Project Barnacle, a South African Military Intelligence operation. Woods decided to work for the shady Civil Cooperation Bureau for moral reasons – “predominantly based on my conviction that the ANC’s policy of taking the war to the civilian population in South Africa was indefensible.”
But at the time he was a senior officer in Robert Mugabe`s Central Intelligence Organisation, Zimbabwe`s notorious secret police. The Kevin Woods Story – In The Shadow Of Mugabe`s Gallows chronicles the result – imprisonment for nearly 20 years, several of them naked on death row. As Woods put it himself: Bob does not take kindly to betrayal and always repays. Like George Orwell`s Big Brother, he will often leave those who have crossed him to stew in their own juice for years before settling a score.      
“I am perceived a traitor. I could debate this with anyone and maybe no definite conclusion would be reached. Often he who takes action against what he perceives to be immoral or wrong goes down in history as [treason]. Yet he who can take action and does not, will be a traitor to his conscience. If I didn`t do what I was in a position to do, would I have been able to look myself in the mirror, and more importantly, could I ever look the war widows and orphans in the eye? I convinced myself that there was a higher imperative than my oath to a leader whom I knew was evil and at the risk of being perceived a traitor in some men`s eyes, I betrayed that oath. However wrong my extremist action might be perceived, I did it, I hope, from the best possible personal conviction. And I paid for it, right or wrong, with nearly 20 years of my life.”              
A good portion of The Kevin Woods Story is indeed about his dreadful time on the Chikurubi and Harare Central death rows and the subsequent years among the general population in both prisons. But a better portion is devoted to his work as a CIO operative, mostly during Mugabe`s Gukurahundi, the Matebeleland genocide of the 1980s. Woods, in his telling, was often tasked with finding out where the bodies were –literally. Much of his time was spent establishing – independently – what the North Korean 5th Brigade was up to and briefing Mugabe, often in person.
“He obviously wanted to know exactly what 5th Brigade was doing – either to egg them on to greater effort or to try and wind them in – I just don`t know. There was certainly no evidence of 5th Brigade slackening off; rather, they simply became more circumspect with the disposal of their victims…”
Of interest, too, is that Woods does not hesitate to exonerate the CIO from blame where he believes it due. In connection with ZAPU`s arms cache`s and Joshua Nkomo`s renewed guerrilla war against Mugabe in the years before the Gukurahundi, he makes it clear Nkomo was at fault and that latter day claims that certain arms caches found by Zimbabwean police were “planted” by the CIO were false. “There have been stories over the years that the CIO planted the arms caches – these are totally without foundation. They were ZAPU arms caches,” Woods says.       
But let`s cut to the chase: This is a good read. Unlike most other books on post-1980 Zimbabwe this is a firsthand account of events from inside Mugabe`s murder machine. Once that ogre loses power and is held to account, reminisces like this one may help to secure his conviction. The people of Zimbabwe deserve no less. 
The Kevin Woods Story – in the shadow of Mugabe`s gallows.   
Kevin Woods
30 Degrees South Publishers
Newlands
Johannesburg
2007