GUKURAHUNDI GENOCIDE

Everyone and everything, including the law fell silent as the Mugabe regime slaughtered unarmed civilians in Matabeleland between 1983 and 1984. Just for being different, Ndebele people were stripped of their dignity, stripped of their liberty, stripped of their freedoms and deprived of all human rights by the presumptuous Mugabe government. Communities were physically and mentally tormented; people deliberately deprived of food, women raped, unborn babies ripped out of their mothers’ wombs and crushed to death, people forced to watch their loved ones killed in cold blood and some buried alive in mass graves. The satanic authors of the evil operation called it Gukurahundi.

In intent, scale and impact the Gukurahundi operation was a crime against humanity; it was a genocidal act against Ndebele people, and not [as described in 1999 by its chief architect President Robert Mugabe] ‘…a moment of madness…’. Contrary to that absurd and insensitive claim, Gukurahundi was more deeply, a hate-filled, hate-fuelled, deliberate and intentional political process executed by tribal supremacists with misplaced objectives to establish a utopia beyond politics – one people, one land, one truth and eliminate difference. And sadly, it lingers on.

THE RESEARCH HUB
The context: ZANU’s dream

Right from its formation in 1963, ZANU’s goals were tribal leaning; the party’s interests solely lay in protecting ethnic Shona interests, promoting Shona supremacy and zoning out or barring Matabeleland from the corridors of power at all cost.

Unlike PF ZAPU that was national in both agenda and form, ZANU’s political base was Mashonaland and ethnic Shona people. To the ZANU elite, Ndebeles were a sea of opposition that needed to be drained. The party’s widely quoted 1979 Grand Plan was unambiguous but clear in its intent to annihilate Ndebeles and turn Shona creed into law within an independent Zimbabwe state. To date, the party’s palpable unease with or hostility to multi-ethnicity, multicultural society and political plurality remains its central feature.

Defining Gukurahundi

The creator and enabler of the operation, Robert Mugabe, named it Gukurahundi – Shona term for “the rain that washes away the chaff (from the last harvest), before the spring rains”. Gukurahundi was in all intent a genocidal act, it was a deliberate attempt at exterminating Ndebele people and had nothing to do with the provision of national safety and security through the containment of some alleged dissenting armed ex-ZIPRA combatants and/ or armed criminals who went on a spree of committing crime, including killing white farmers in Matabeleland.

Fig. 1 Photo credit: Anonymous. Dead bodies of unarmed Matabeleland civilians in a trench.
Gukurahundi Past versus Gukurahundi History

There is no argument about the Gukurahundi past, it happened but the Gukurahundi history is highly contentious. Gukurahundi past is an ocean of brutal and evil events that once happened in Matabeleland and parts of Midlands between 1983 and 1984 with full government approval. These past events have been reconstructed by ZANU PF on the basis of its present experience and political interests – this is the Gukurahundi history as we know it today.

We must emphasise and not ignore the selectivity of the reconstruction of elements from the Gukurahundi past, since the infinite detail and totality of that past would never be wholly reconstructed. Like any history writing process, the writing of the Gukurahundi history was a process of highly selective reconstruction of features of the past through the lenses of ZANU PF leadership and its sympathisers in the academia.

Why it is important to tell the Gukurahundi horrendous story

Disconnecting us from our past is an essential and on-going political project of the ZANU PF-led government carefully carried out via the formal history education in schools and colleges. Without a knowledge of our past we are nothing but a leaf that does not appreciate it is part of a tree.

The ZANU 1979 Grand Plan clearly had an understanding that the most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their past hence the history being taught our children in the independent Zimbabwe. The education package is targeted at erasing the memories of that period. The history being taught tacitly minimises the Gukurahundi atrocities while exaggerating the value of the Unity Agreement of 1987.

Groups and individuals whose response to the Gukurahundi atrocities is the petulant ‘let bygones be bygones’ need to be challenged for displaying attitudes typifying low emotional intelligence and ignorance. Ignorance is the biggest roadblock to action on genocide and other crimes against humanity.

Notably, as the atrocities got out of control, a blanket of silence spread across the country and the World; nobody acknowledged them, Mashonaland and ethnic Shona people did not only fail to condemn the actions of an ethnic Shona dominated government, but condoned or even celebrated the killings of Matabeles.

To this day many ordinary people from Mashonaland profess ignorance of the atrocities while those with the knowhow maintain the falsehood that the state was conducting a legal security operation against armed malcontents or dissidents and justified. But, as reality stands, nothing could be further from the truth.

For the record, we are not telling the Gukurahundi story and calling for the remembrance of the Gukurahundi victims because we love being victims or take comfort in living in the past. We want to take control of the narrative, capture and deliver the true emotions of the abuse for us to heal properly; we cannot delegate that role to others, certainly not our aggressors; ZANU will never fully comprehend the emotional impact of its actions upon its victims, let alone accept it. The principal objective of telling the story of the Matabeleland genocide and repeating those stories is to ensure it remains alive in our politics for generations to come.

History is always written by the victorious, and no surprise the Gukurahundi history represents the views of its master. Soon after the 1987 Unity Accord, the ZANU PF party through the government got down to its mission of recreating the past and depicting it in history books – books that glorified ZANLA forces and ZANU and totally shunned ZIPRA and PF ZAPU.

Quite simply, the Gukurahundi history narrated in academic books turns out to be a fable agreed upon in the ZANU PF headquarters and approved by an ethnic Shona dominated government; the history unsurprisingly favours and exonerates ZANU PF and its sympathisers.

Confronting the Gukurahundi misrepresentation: the voices of witnesses and victims.

Those who call the Gukurahundi brutality ‘a moment of madness’ bear responsibility to give the World a full list of names of the insane behind the planning and execution of the atrocities. Hiding behind the veil of insanity to avoid accountability is moral depravity. The Mthwakazi public need to know the trigger for the ‘madness’ and why an enquiry has not been opened to investigate how several people with a serious mental disorder were allowed to hold powerful positions in government. (Fig. 2 The video contains images that some viewers may find disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised).

Fig. 2 Video Credit: CITE. Victims of Gukurahundi atrocities describe the gruesome details of their experiences of the murderous operation that Mugabe has since nonchalantly referred to as ‘…a moment of madness…’

We are telling the story of Gukurahundi because we want to correct the misrepresentation of the past as told in history books written by ZANU PF and its sympathisers in the academia and tell the truth of that past from the Matabeleland victims’ experience.

We bear witness to the living and the dead and want to ensure the facts of the Gukurahundi genocide are coherently delivered, understood and acknowledged; we must be on hand to always be exposing the warning signs for what led up to it so that it is never repeated in this and the next generation.

Fig. 3 Video Credit: CITE. In the documentary, Mr Zenzele Ndebele interviews victims, ex-5th Brigade soldier, former Zipra guerrillas, PF ZAPU officials and leadership who explore the ideological context that was a significant factor in the creation of the 5th Brigade, a military unit outside the regular army, and the resulting Gukurahundi atrocities
The depth of State involvement

Although no one has officially claimed responsibility for the atrocities, available evidence suggests Gukurahundi was planned at the highest level of government and formed Zimbabwean government policy. On 7 March 1983 Roland ‘Tiny’ Rowland, a British businessman and chief executive of the Lonrho conglomerate with heavy economic commitments in Zimbabwe, met with Mugabe and then subsequently reported to the American ambassador in Harare that he was “absolutely convinced” that Mugabe knew about the atrocities and claimed that Mnangagwa, then secretary of state for security, was “fully aware”. Tiny described Mugabe as blunt and unyielding.

How the 5th Brigade was conceived

There is no doubt the 5th Brigade was a preconceived creation of then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe. In October 1980, Mugabe signed an agreement with the North Korean President, Kim II Sung for the Korean government to train a brigade for the Zimbabwean army. This agreement was signed soon after Mugabe had announced the need for a militia to “combat malcontents”. It is important to note that there were no security disturbances at the time.

We understand that an entourage of 106 Koreans arrived in August 1981 to train the new brigade which Mugabe pointed was to be used to “deal with dissidents and any other trouble in the country”; it would be interesting to know what he meant by “…any other trouble in the country”. It is worth noting though that even then, there had been very little internal unrest that warranted the intervention of a specialist armed force.

Rightly uncomfortable and suspicious of Mugabe’s ulterior motives, Joshua Nkomo, leader of PF ZAPU who was concerned the 5th Brigade would be used by Mugabe to suppress opposition and build a one-party state queried the necessity of this exclusive brigade arguing the country already had appropriate and adequate security provision to handle internal problems. Mugabe’s response was an arrogant retort warning that dissidents should “watch out”.

The 5th Brigade was mainly drawn from ex-ZANLA troops with a few Zipra troops drawn into the unit; the latter were withdrawn before the end of the training. There are unproven allegations of the presence of some foreigners in the unit. The training of the 5th Brigade lasted until September 1982, when Minister Sidney Sekeramayi announced training was complete. The first Commander of 5th Brigade was Colonel Perence Shiri.

We note that the 5th Brigade with its distinguishing red berets was an exceptional unit in that it was not integrated into the army and was answerable only to the Prime Minister, and not to the normal army command structures. Their codes, uniforms, radios and equipment were not compatible with other army units.

The trail of Gukurahundi brutality

Over a nine-month period the 5th Brigade killed, tortured and raped tens of thousands of unarmed civilians. Estimates put the figure of unarmed civilians who died as a direct result of the operation to at least 30 000 mostly Ndebele people, and many more suffered severe physical and/ or psychological harm, and more continue to bear the brunt of that illegal mission in various forms.

Fig. 4 Map credit: The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe (CCJPZ) and The Legal Resources Foundation (LRF) (1997). The map shows de facto torture zones in Matabeleland and the Midlands; these were planned, set up, authorised, secured and maintained by the Robert Mugabe regime using the 5th Brigade.

The first phase of the Gukurahundi atrocities took place in Matabeleland North (26 January – 4 April 1983), see Fig. 4, when state security forces enforced a curfew, and massacred, beat, mass raped, and tortured hundreds of thousands of civilians. Looting and burning of villages defined the operation that left entire communities emotionally, economically and physically devastated.

With the success of the first phase of the murderous operation, the unperturbed bloodthirsty Mugabe regime moved on to its second phase; this was marked by the launch of a strict curfew in parts of Matabeleland South (3 February – 10 April 1984), see Fig. 4. An exclusion zone was created in the communal areas within which the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), the Zimbabwean National Army (ZNA), and Fifth Brigade enforced a policy of food deprivation against the overwhelmingly Ndebele population; it is estimated that at least 350 000 Ndebele civilians were affected in the operation.

Vivid accounts of the Gukurahundi or Matabeleland genocide are narrated and events of the time recreated in the two videos below, credited to Memories of Rhodesia, are given by witnesses and victims of the heinous crimes committed by the Fifth Brigade with full knowledge of the Mugabe regime. Figs. 5 and 6, the videos contain images that some viewers may find disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.

Fig. 5 Video Credit: BBC Panorama via Memories of Rhodesia. The video gives a deep insight into post-independence horrendous crimes against humanity in Matabeleland and the Midlands by a Zimbabwean government that should have protected the people.
Fig. 6 Video Credit: BBC Panorama via Memories of Rhodesia. The video gives further details of heinous crimes against unarmed civilians in Matabeleland and the Midlands by a Zimbabwean government mandated to ensure their safety and security.
The British government wilful blindness to Gukurahundi massacres

The Gukurahundi genocide was undoubtedly a creation of the Mugabe government, but through a catalogue of misjudgements and inaction the British government was complicit; the British could not use their economic and political influence in Zimbabwe to help halt the massacres. British government authorities swallowed every word from Mugabe without questioning; quite literally, his views formed British evidence and informed its attitude and approach to the situation.

The established communication of British officials in London and Harare gives strong indication that the British government was aware of the Gukurahundi atrocities but consistently minimised their scale to preserve British relations with the Mugabe regime. Even at the height of the Gukurahundi atrocities, the British government’s authorities favoured a sympathetic and constructive advice strategy, rather than strong criticism of the Zimbabwean government.

Concluding a review of the thousands of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Dr Hazel Cameron – a lecturer in international relations at the University of St Andrews in Scotland – argues that the British government adopted a ‘wilful blindness’ policy to preserve its relations with Robert Mugabe and protect British economic and political interests in Zimbabwe.

Even more worrying is the openly racist component to the British approach to Gukurahundi atrocities; British officials were preoccupied with the security of white communities with one diplomat quoted as saying, “…the white farming community (a substantial portion of which is British or dual [nationality]) are being treated scrupulously correctly by the Fifth Brigade and, while they dislike the methods being used, are relieved that their own security has improved very considerably as a result of Fifth Brigade deployment”.

The apparent conflict of interest meant that the protection of black human lives in Matabeleland and parts of Midlands was secondary to the British agenda leading to US diplomats raising concerns that the British Foreign Office prioritised bilateral relations with Zimbabwe over human lives in Matabeleland; the US diplomats argued that British officials were excessively defensive about the Mugabe-orchestrated atrocities in Matabeleland and even intimated that some Foreign Office officials acted like Mugabe apologists.

Conclusion

If Gukurahundi is not fully addressed in this generation, it surely shall repeat itself in the next; we just do not know who the victims would be. Mass murders may have stopped in mid 1984 but the emotional trauma remains, our people retain scars and hurt. The murders have been forgotten about by everyone except the victims. Thousands of our people were butchered, the World looked away; Mugabe deceived the gullible; the British conveniently bought the lie, paid a blind eye seeing the safety of their main concern (the white farmers) was not compromised by the operation; the USA would not publicly criticise the brutality for the fear of jeopardising its diplomatic relations with the British [its most significant political ally] over Ndebele people’s human rights. That said, only Robert Mugabe and his ZANU PF colleagues in government bear total responsibility for the atrocities. We will not stop asking the questions and demanding for answers of that time; we cannot preach hope, while ignoring bones from the past.

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