Sunday 21 April 2019


VICTIMS of the 1980s Matabeleland and Midlands massacres, known as Gukurahundi, have challenged President Emmerson Mnangagwa to openly apologise for the killing of over 20 000 innocent civilians, saying half-hearted acknowledgement would not yield the desired results.

In March this year, Mnangagwa met the Matabeleland Collective (MC) — a grouping of the clergy and civic society groups in the region — at the Bulawayo State House where he was pressed to shed light on what his administration was doing to deal with mounting calls for closure to the emotive issue.

On April 8, Mnangagwa, through the MC and his Justice, Legal, and Parliamentary Affairs ministry’s permanent pecretary Virginia Mabhiza — pledged he would facilitate the exhumation and reburial of Gukurahundi victims, issue identity documents and provide post-physical and traumatic medical assistance to victims as government begins a process of finding redress to the mass killings. 

To Susan Sibanda, now 60, Mnangagwa’s initiative is not enough without an apology, acknowledgement and truth-telling process by the perpetrators.

“How do we take him seriously when he is avoiding us, the victims? Why is he and other perpetrators avoiding us, but are able to meet the MC? Are those MC members Gukurahundi victims? Did they suffer the physical torture? Did they witness the cutting of lips, noses, beatings and so forth?” queried Sibanda, who still vividly remembers the severe beatings, multiple rapes, extra-judicial killings and mutilated bodies as if it was yesterday.

Sibanda was in her mid-20s when the North Korean trained Fifth Brigade was deployed to Matabeleland to crack down on alleged armed dissents against former President Robert Mugabe’s rule.

Other than the emotional pain, Sibanda still nurses an ankle injury from the beatings she suffered from the Fifth Brigade and walks with a limp.

“I don’t want their money, but an apology, and an acknowledgement of the evil that visited us. It irritates me to hear him saying people are free to discuss Gukurahundi when he is not ‘free’ to come and meet us the victims, and tell us why this had to happen to us”

Sibanda is not alone in demanding an apology, and acknowledgment.

Arnold Mpofu, a Zimbabwe People’s Liberation Army (Zipra) ex-combatant, and activist Charles Thomas also nurse physical and emotional injuries.

“We were beaten severely. Our hands and legs were tied with barbed wire. The torture went on for days, without food and water, at Bhalagwe detention camp in Maphisa,” Thomas, who still has scars on his legs from the barbed wire, said.

Maphisa is one of the districts that bore the brunt of the Gukurahundi massacres. Today there are mass graves at Bhalagwe Mine where victims were killed and thrown. 

“I was saved by Dr Boyd who privately attended to us since victims were being dragged from the hospital by the soldiers to be killed. I lived to narrate my ordeal, and it is an ordeal I want to ask the perpetrators why they were tormenting and killing our people,” says Thomas.

Devee Boyd was an American missionary physician working in Mtshabezi, some kilometres from Gwanda, the Matabeleland South capital.

Boyd’s eyewitness testimony on the Bhalagwe tortures is included in the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace’s (CCJP) detailed report titled, Breaking the Silence: Building True Peace, a report on the disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands, 1980 – 1988.

The CCJP report exposes the extra-judicial killings, multiple rapes of women and people being burnt alive.

“My ever-aching head and the physical scars on my legs are a constant reminder of the torture. It is for that reason that I want to face the enforcers of Gukurahundi, why I want an apology and an acknowledgement of the atrocities, not this nonsense where measures to address this are announced to the MC,” Thomas said.

Mpofu added: “The perpetrators must come and meet us (victims), hear what we have to say and vice-versa, maybe we can forgive and move forward. They continue with their ‘hotel-and-conferences approach’, but without an apology to us, without a truth- telling process the emotional pain will not go away.

“The pain cannot be wished away. It cannot be bought also by state funds. Also, we don’t trust them on exhumations…they will destroy the evidence as they have done on discovered human remains.”

A visit by Bulawayo civic groups to Bhalagwe in January revealed that some mass graves had been tampered with by removing the “Mass Graves” inscription.

Bulawayo pressure group Ibhetshu LikaZulu on February 21 this year also mounted ‘Gukurahundi memorial plaques’ at Bhalagwe which were later destroyed by “unknown” people.

Government has also invited criticism after turning Bhalagwe into a district Heroes’ Acre, a move viewed as an attempt to tamper with the evidence of mass graves.

“Bhalagwe must remain a Gukurahundi memorial site to ensure there is no tampering with the evidence of the 1980s mass killings,” Mbuso Fuzwayo, the coordinator of the Ibhetshu LikaZuklu that has been vocal about Gukurahundi, said.

“Government must first of all acknowledge that this was genocide and encourage truth-telling. The brigade commanders who are still alive and security officers that carried out the annihilation of their fellow countrymen must come out in the open, apologise, show remorse and seek forgiveness from the survivors. This initiative without truth-telling is empty,” says Fuzwayo.

The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) last week announced plans to roll out public hearings on Gukurahundi and other post-independence disturbances, with one of the commissioners, Leslie Ncube, adding the process would assist in investigations of the atrocities.

“We are encouraging you to be honest and truthful because additions or subtractions will remove the aspect of accuracy and objectivity in the investigations,” Ncube said during a recent community hearing organised by the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance (ZCA).

“You can come to us as an individual and give us a detailed account of what happened. We capture them as they are and present them to the authorities. The testimonies should be given without fear.”

Justice ministry permanent secretary, Mabhiza at a press conference held in Bulawayo recently to announce Mnangagwa’s initiative to address Gukurahundi ducked a question when asked whether this meant an acknowledgement of the atrocities, preferring to say “what is important is that we have started this process”.

Mabhiza was also evasive on the issue of an apology, and a budget for the process.

Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi was quoted in the state media on Friday saying that Mnangagwa’s engagement with the MC on Gukurahundi showed government’s commitment to addressing the country’s worst post-independence conflict.

Government once initiated a probe into the Gukurahundi massacres, but the findings of the investigation by the Chihambakwe Commission of Inquiry were never made public.

Human rights groups argue that if Mnangagwa is sincere, he must ensure the release of the Chihambakwe Commission of Inquiry report containing findings of the probe into the Gukurahundi massacres. Latest reports, however, say the Chihambakwe report has now gone missing.

Like Mugabe, the President has not released the report, causing victims to cast aspersions on his sincerity to address the mass killings.

“It is such arrogance that makes me dismiss this (Mnangagwa) initiative. Only the truth will set him free, only the truth will set the perpetrators free, only an apology will set them free and see us moving forward,” Sibanda, a survivor, said. Standard


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