from NDABENI MLOTSHWA in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
BULAWAYO, (CAJ News) – WHILE President Emmerson Mnangagwa was launching a community engagement and consultation process over the massacre of minorities soon after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, supporters of his party were unleashing violence at a district that was the epicentre of the atrocities.
Mnangagwa met the traditional leaders in the second largest city of Bulawayo this week, as 37 km to the west, in Matobo, suspected Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) supporters brutalised followers of the main opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).
Branded ZANU-PF vehicles transported the attackers. Shots were allegedly fired at opposition supporters. Some women were allegedly stripped of their yellow T-shirts and left half naked.
Opposition vehicles were damaged and some stores looted.
The attacks bore the hallmark of ZANU-PF ahead of polls. Matobo will this weekend hold by-elections and it is again anticipated to be a two-horse race between ZANU-PF and the CCC of Nelson Chamisa, which has won a majority of by-elections held since its launch, only in January this year.
It has emerged as the biggest threat to ZANU-PF’s grip on power, which dates back to independence in 1980. Matabeleland has largely rejected the ruling ZANU-PF party in every poll after freedom was attained from the British.
However, it is mere coincidence that the violence occurred as Mnangagwa was in the region. However, Matobo is a largely peaceful district hence the violence that preceded the upcoming poll evoked memories of the Gukurahundi.
It translates to “the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains” in the local majority language, Shona.
It refers to the massacre of an estimated 20, 000 civilians, mainly the Ndebele speaking, Zimbabwe’s largest minority group, after then-president Robert Mugabe in 1983 deployed a Korean trained 5th Brigade army unit to quash so-called dissidents in Matabeleland and some parts of Midlands provinces.
The dissidents were disgruntled ex-combatants of Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), which alongside ZANU, fought the liberation struggle from 1964 to 1979.
Over the following years of deployment, the Fifth Brigade, as the army unit was known, committed other violations including unlawful detention, torture and rape.
Figures by the International Association of Genocide Scholars indicate that more than 20 000 people were killed. It has classified the massacres as genocide.
The massacres would end after ZANU and ZAPU signed the Unity Accord, which culminated in the merger of the two to form ZANU-PF in 1987.
It is the darkest chapter in Zimbabwe’s history.
There has never been an apology by the government. Mugabe (now late) only called it “a moment of madness” in 1999 at Nkomo’s memorial service.
The launch of a community engagement and consultation process by Mnangagwa this week, which culminated in the chiefs handing over the “Gukurahundi manual” is seen as a step in the right direction towards national healing.
Therein lies the issue.
Mnangagwa’s efforts to lead a process to close this most sensitive episode in Zimbabwe’s tragic political history has lurched into a dilemma.
His involvement in the process has enraged some sections of Zimbabwean society, particularly in the affected regions, because he is denounced as one of the masterminds of the Gukurahundi.
That is because of his position as Minister of State Security at that time.
Mnangagwa (80), for years Mugabe’s right-handman, denies involvement.
His “new dispensation” or “Second Republic” since a coup forced Mugabe from power in 2017 offered expectation the government would publicly apologise for the atrocities but that has not happened.
“How can a chief perpetrator lead the healing process?” asked a Bulawayo-based activist.
Activist, Thandekile Moyo, criticized the involvement of traditional from Matabeleland for participating in the consultation process.
The two-volume Gukurahundi manual is a result of engagement between the chiefs and Mnangagwa. Chiefs are to organise public hearings in affected communities.
“For our chiefs to continue dancing to the tune of Mnangagwa, a Gukurahundi genocide perpetrator, especially considering the violence unleashed by ZANU-PF on our people in Matobo (in recent days) is completely unacceptable,” Moyo said.
Bhalagwe in Matobo was the largest and most notorious Gukurahundi detention centre. Civilians were tortured and killed there.
Outspoken chief, Nhlanhlayamangwe Felix Ndiweni, said the healing initiative led by Mnangagwa was “another attempt to white wash the Ndebele genocide and crimes against humanity.
“RG (Robert Gabriel) Mugabe is late,” he said.
“But we still have Mnangagwa, who must defend himself in a proper court of law for the charges of genocide and crimes against humanity,” Ndiweni said.
Government’s and the ruling party’s sincerity has been questioned by some survivors and families of deceased or those unaccounted for.
In recent months, suspected state security agents have destroyed some plaques erected by villagers and some pressure groups in memory of victims.
Some of these plaques have been bombed.
Other citizens in the region are willing to give the president and his administration a chance.
“I hope he is going to be genuine and sincere in his handling of this very delicate situation. The nation needs to heal,” Nyaladzani Tshuma said.
Speaking in Bulawayo, Mnangagwa, conceded to the divisions the genocide had brought to the Southern African country.
“For too long, we have let our differences hinder our collective development,” he said.
Mnangagwa said the ambition of the Gukurahundi manual was to “heal the wounds of our nation.”
“Zimbabwe has no room for division, tribalism or ethnic hostilities,” he said.
“We must move forward together as one nation, one Zimbabwe,” Mnangagwa concluded.
– CAJ News