Will the victims of the Gukurahundi genocide perpetrated by the 1983 – 1987 Zimbabwe government to in Matabeleland and Midlands ever taste justice in their lifetime? Is the current government genuinely committed to genocide justice or just playing lip service? These and more have been the trending subjects of discussion in Zimbabwe in the past two weeks following eventuful developments characterized by policy inconsistency and unclear direction.
President Meeting with the Chiefs Saturday 21 August 2021
The maze began on Sartuday 21 August when Zimbabwean President met members of the National Council of Chiefs in Bulawayo’s State House to discuss Gukurahundi matters. Whilst that on its own is a commendable leadership action of finding lasting solution to Zimbabwe’s dark genocide past – it is the resolution of the meeting that created brouhaha. According to the Press Statememt released after the meeting some of the recommendations included:
- Each chief to spearhead the resolution opf the issue (Gukurahundi genocide)in his or her area of juroisdiction;
- The process to be victim centred , involve multiple stakeholders and not be tribalised in order to foster national building and national healing;
- A systematic approach to the resolution of Gukurahundi legacy issues will be adopted with each Chief giving feedback on issues needing attention in his or her jurisdiction;
- Exgumations to be done in a case by case basis custom centric and the relevant Chief should give guidance and direction;
- The issue (Gukurahundi genocide) is traditional and should be dealt with by traditional leaders;
- The process of Gukurahundi justice will be led by the chiefs and their affected communities.
Stakeholders and affected communities have raised concerns on the resolutions especially declaring a process that was led by a sectarian army as a traditional matter. Others have questioned how the chiefs will bring closure to Gukurahundi considering that some chiefs were direct victims themselves and others are children of victims. Some stakeholders have also questioned why government is reducing Gukurahundi justice to issuance of social benefits, civil documents, exhumations and development aid – renegating critical issues of acknowledgement, truth telling and apology which most victims have been demanding over the years. Some have even labelled the latest resolution as usurping the functions of the constitutional National Peace and Reconciliation which is mandated to deal with such matters. Others questioned the development considering that the President of the Chiefs’ Council has previously declared his partisan political affiliation with the ruling ZANUPF party.
Ibhetshu LikaZulu Secretary General Mr Mbuso Fuzwayo said this resolution is unjust because the chiefs are supposed to be sent by the affected victims and communities to engage the government and compel it to ensure justice because the government is the perpetrator of the genocide, not vice versa where the perpetrator sends the chiefs to go and solve the problem.
Gukurahundi Memorialization and Desecration in Midlands 30 August and 01 September 2021
On Monday 30 August 2021 in commemoration of the United Nations International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance and recognizing thousands that disappeared withiout trace during the Gukurahundi genocide era, Ibhetshu LikaZulu (a pro-Gukurahundi justice pressure group) commemorated the day by erecting a plaque in memory of 9 people that were abducted by Gukurahundi on 31 January 1985 in Silobela and have never been seen since. This plague was being erected for the second time following the erection of the first one on 06 June 2021 which was later stolen. Families of the victims were present and a daughter of Mr Clement Baleni (one of the disappeared victims) spoke during the day and said “I still wish I will one day see my father and talk to him. His absence has devastated the family and we are still in great loss and pain”. She further said her father was a headmaster but the family never got any benefits.
Two days later, on 01 September 2021, the plague woke up having been stolen again.
Pro-justice activists and organization from across Zimbabwe have come out on Twitter to condemn the stealing of the plague saying it casts doubts on the state’s sincerity to ensure Gukurahundi justice. Some have even demanded that the government of Zimbabwe pass a law criminalizing destruction of Gukurahundi memorialization.
“For years, the State overtly criminalised the memory of Gukurahundi, now there is actual desecration of that memory. The noble efforts to recover and preserve memory (through such memorialization) are being undermined. I am not saying it’s the State doing it but…” posted @MilayoNdou
“This makes no sense! It runs counter even to the proposal to have communities and chiefs address what is pressing to them. It sends the message that government is not genuine and serious at all about addressing Gukurahundi.” Posted @SiphoMalunga
“Erecting plaques is a form of memorialization & must not be criminalised. Memorialization provides a place of sanctuary for mourning and constantly remind survivors on the need to demand justice” posted Heal Zimbabwe
Gukurahundi Resolution 2 Twitter Space Thursday 02 September 2021
On the 2nd of September 2021, one Twitter account user @MzalaTom hosted a second Gukurahundi discussion on Twitter space focusing on the 21st of August Resolutions. The Space was attended by 582 people from across the country.
Speaking during the event acclaimed international human rights defender Mr Sipho Malunga reiterated the importance of an acknowledgement and a proper truth telling and reconciliation process. “We cannot move forward without a acknowledgement. If the president can’t apologize for himself atleast on behalf of that government of that time, he needs to apologize” said Malunga.
“He just needs to say ‘I as the President of Zimbabwe in 2021 acknowledges that the government of 1983 – 87 committed the Gukurahundi genocide and I am sorry’. An apology should not be to the victims and the people of Matabeleland and Midlands only but to the people of Zimbabwe because Gukurahundi genocide was a crime against the people of Zimbabwe as a whole and a crime against humanity” reiterated Malunga.
Malunga further said it is imperative to also address the Gukurahundi legacy issues through an impartial body that is not conflicted and through a process that respects the victims and is driven by their voice and aspirations.
Other participants from the Mashonaland side of the country spoke during the meeting and decried high levels of misinformation being peddled in their areas around Gukurahundi genocide which affects the solidarity of Mashonaland citizens in demanding justice for Gukurahundi genocide.
Gukurahundi genocide involved a series of massacres of Matabelelanbd and Lidlands civilians by the Zimbabwean government’s sectarian army – the 5th Brigade – which was trained in North Korea. The genocide occurred between 1983 and 1987 and is estimated to have killed over 20,000 people.