Gukurahundi: Seeking truth and reconciliation

“I had tried to suggest to government that it was important to we have a parliamentary select committee in order to discover the extent of the problem,” Joshua Nkomo on the Gukurahundi (BBC Panorama interview).

Gukurahundi: Seeking truth and reconciliation

By Leopold Munhende

As the nation jostled to chew on the tiny bone Professor Jonathan Moyo had thrown us via BBC’s HardTalk last week, some were overwhelmed by a much more important matter which should by all right have been given the full attention it so deserves.

Dr. Ibbo Mandaza’s SAPES Trust played host to the first of the Gukurahundi Dialogues as Zimbabweans try to bring finality to the long unresolved 1980s atrocities in Matebeleland and Midlands provinces by former President Robert Mugabe.


Some 75 percent survivors of the Gukurahundi genocide which killed close to 20,000 innocent civilians have passed on according to Zapu president Dumiso Dabengwa (pictured) who was one of the panelists at SAPES Trust. He highlighted how Zimbabweans have become accustomed to believing the loudest voices and disregarding facts. Above all, he dismissed and substantiated a number of conspiracy theories which have been doing the rounds ever since the bloody period.

Although it is widely said civilians suffered collateral damage as the State went too far in attempts to track down armed army deserters who were causing terror in the provinces, some theories have emerged this could have been a Shona ploy to punish Ndebeles for 100-year-old atrocities committed by Kings Mzilikazi and Lobengula’s Impis.

Though the theory has been dismissed over and over again, Dr. Dabengwa’s statements in Bulawayo insinuate that the plan was indeed part and parcel of Mugabe’s agenda in the south-western parts of the country just after independence.

The Ndebele were ardent followers of then Zapu leader Dr. Joshua Nkomo and continue to reject Zanu PF in the region during successive national elections.

That Nkomo, seen as responsible for the dissident menace, had won most of the south-western provinces at Independence meant that he was a political threat, more like his ancestors and had to be dealt with ‘accordingly’.

“This was said in front of Mugabe, in front of Mnangagwa, in front of Mujuru, Masuku, Ken Flower and Peter Walls by one of the majors in the intelligence service of Zimbabwe.

“This is why I am saying Gukurahundi was planned as way back as 1979,” said the respectable Dabengwa (SAPES Trust dialogue, Bulawayo).

Of note however was the dismissal by Dabengwa and Nkomo that this was a tribal strife pitting the majority Shona against the Ndebele. That most of the populace has chosen to ignore reason and believe the loudest voices is ‘unfortunate’.

The Shona never voted for there to be a cleansing of the land by killing Ndebeles enmasse, most of them were as confused as was the case with an old man in Bvukumbwe was after being told that Mugabe was under house arrest last November.

At a time, treason charges and a likely death sentence hung over Nkomo’s head who sought sanctuary in London. He made it clear to the BBC that believing that the chaos was tribal in nature was not only erroneous but grossly unjust on the millions of peace-loving Shonas who were as confused as the average Ndebele during the period.

“Some people believe that the Fifth brigade is made up of Shona speaking young people and therefore its actions are actions of the Shona against the Ndebele. I think this is a misrepresentation. I do not think it is so,” said Nkomo.

This was to be supported last week by Dabengwa who made it clear that this was a political matter which has been trivialised by individuals for political gain.

Professor Moyo has done that, raising up the issue whenever his pear-shaped head tells him it is necessary. It is politicians of his calibre who have trivialised the emotive issue by choosing who to blame and who not to, as they engage in politics of the stomach.

Dabengwa narrated how South African Intelligence and some rogue former Zapu cadres chose to go against the coalition arrangement of 1980 and arm what were to be termed dissidents who operated under the name Super Zapu.

“And that gave more impetus to those who were in command of the Gukurahundi for more massacres in Matabeleland,” said Dabengwa.

“When the troops come, they force people into huts and burn and kill them with their children, then they force others to lie on each other to form a heap then they open fire on them until they all die in a bloody heap!” narrated one unnamed eye witness who lost two sons in the genocide.

Dismissing Context

Debates around Gukurahundi have often degenerated into arguments on the context surrounding the government sanctioned massacres.

However, that Zimbabwe was a promising new nation, that dissidents were killing, raping and abducting innocent civilians, white farmers and tourists is not enough an excuse to justify the brutality of the Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland.

Their exercise of excessive force in dealing with the masses is the sole reason Zimbabwe finds itself in this tribal standoff today.

We cannot deny the necessity of justice for some 20,000 people because of a few dissidents. Is it not true that the Shona distance themselves from the atrocities and put the blame on the shoulders of Mugabe and the Black Jesus (Retired Air Marshall Perence Shiri) who commanded this North Korean trained band of murderers? So why do we deny, why did they deny the Matabele people that?

Way Forward

When president Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa signed into law, the National Peace and Reconciliation Bill which operationalised the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, debate around Zimbabwe’s darkest post-liberation period inevitably arose.

It gave hope to those affected that the era of their suffering once described only as ‘a moment of madness’ by then President Mugabe with no chance of truth and reconciliation is over. Signing into law a bill which can easily implicate half of his once trusted allies is not mere bravery but the beginning of redressing wrongs and building a legacy.

Mnangagwa is at a make or break point of his political career which after having been broken by ‘Gucci Grace’ Mugabe, was eventually saved by the intervention of the army last year.

This is the time for the people of Matabeleland to come out with one voice to lay their demands during the initial stages of the much touted ‘New Order’ under ED. Already they have demanded a public apology. It starts there. It is the first step to reconcile battling tribes whose animosity was created by brutal dictatorships of men who are no longer in our contemporary discussions.

The time has come for the voiceless to be heard!

Asante sana!!

Gary Murambiwa
the authorGary Murambiwa