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Trying to muzzle Gukurahundi victims’ voices is inhumane

Photo courtesy: Nkululeko Sibanda via The Independent. Two Gukurahundi victims, a Tsholotsho couple, exhumed in 2019

Nothing haunts ZANU PF leadership, the Zimbabwe government, its allies and beneficiaries more than a mention of the Gukurahundi atrocities in Matabeleland. Gukurahundi has turned into a great source of inconvenience for the ZANU PF regime; it is a past the party and its band of sympathisers would rather was erased from public minds; Gukurahundi does serious harm to ZANU PF’s own projected image of ‘liberators’ keen to demonstrate to the outside world the benefits of independence, the reality is that any pretensions of ZANU PF’s sincerity vanished in the early 1980s.

The reality facing mainstream political parties of Zimbabwe is far from complex — if Matabeleland is not fully accommodated in the politics of Zimbabwe, freedom in the country will remain an illusion never to be attained.

Ignoring Matabeleland’s needs cannot be a solution; we need to look back into the past to comprehend the present. The 1983 to 1987 period set in train a framework for absolute tribal politics; tribal control of state institutions by ethnic Shona people was formalised with the oppression of Matabeles set firmly in place.

During the same period major political changes were effected; these saw people being exposed to a “new society” subject to an authoritarian form of government where the black wealthy and powerful elites can have and do whatever they want, while the poor and powerless are deprived and left in desperate need.

Ghastly tribalism saw black young men being trained by North Koreans (at the express invitation of a black leadership) and armed by a black government to literally exterminate black communities because of their tribe define black majority rule in Zimbabwe. Matabeles were persecuted, starved, humiliated, and denied legal and human rights and were ultimately the victims of mindless massacres of unimaginable magnitude.

Emotional blunting of that past is ZANU PF’s collective political objective as evidenced in the official history that exaggerates benefits of the 1987 Unity Accord while de-emphasising atrocities leading to that accord; one can argue these attempts are making inroads among the public. A small, but growing number of people in Matabeleland appear to have dissociated from the impact of Gukurahundi and no longer conceive the negative socio-political significance of Gukurahundi in the region.

When atrocities such as the Gukurahundi are committed they must be seen for what they are, and never to be minimised. And we call out the absurdity of some elements within our community and beyond telling us that they are tired of hearing about Gukurahundi and advising people to move on when they, and not the victims, are the beneficiaries of the ‘moving on’ intervention.  

Our message is simple: Victims are not tired and will not tire until justice for the dead, the living wounded and their communities is achieved; people have not healed and evidence gathering is on-going as a valuable part of the process of moving on towards the prosecution of all those who contributed, even in the slightest way, in the violation of human rights and breach of international law in Matabeleland.

Gukurahundi atrocities are ideological and institutional crimes, and ZANU PF tribal despotism and its advocates are responsible for them. While we do not believe ethnic Shona people as a social constituency have the entire responsibility, they certainly bear a large part of it through either wilful support or adopting a position of neutrality when the atrocities were committed or silence in the face of associated short, medium and long-term injustices emanating from the process.

In this day and age no one can justifiably hide behind the veil of ignorance, all adult people in Zimbabwe know about Gukurahundi atrocities. The silence among ethnic Shona people is a self-serving measure, people do not want to forgo the privileges the system accords them. We argue that to protect and enjoy privileges afforded by a system that also deliberately denies the same to other humans is being complicit in ZANU PF’s tribalism.

Pursuing a calculated official position of obstruction, diversion through deliberate suppression of information, disinformation and misinformation is not the solution; disingenuous, politically engineered expressions of sympathy and pretentious interest in dealing with the matters at stake will not address the source of the violation of rights and aggression in Matabeleland.

Attempts to purchase silence through acts of micro-aggression such as the recent veiled threats by President Mnangagwa against nationalists go on to show not only his arrogance but his emotional disconnection from victims of state sanctioned brutality; there is evident emotional poverty within government, thus the lack of urgency by the political elite and its sympathisers when it comes to addressing the Gukurahundi atrocities.  

The emotional detachment from the plight of Matabeles — easily achieved by simply looking the other way — will always favour the perpetrators rather than the victims who were reduced to being inconsequential nonentities.

In our fight for Gukurahundi to be globally acknowledged as a crime against humanity we are currently facing countless hurdles but we will never lose sight of infinite hope before us. It is important that we take control of the narrative and not let the aggressor tell us how much pain we are in and prescribe how we should respond.  

We advise those who are tired of hearing about Gukurahundi to work hard with us to resolve it sooner than later or their memories will one day be refreshed by fresh atrocities somewhere else in the country. Wilful killings of Mthwakazi civilians by Zimbabwe’s 5th Brigade cannot be brushed aside or they will not be the last. It is vital that all those responsible, including up the chain of command, are brought to justice. We will continue to document and bear witness to the Gukurahundi atrocities and we will petition international bodies — the UN system and the International Criminal Court and others to take our case serious enough to assess the criminal intent behind the brutality.



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