Fresh Attempts to Address Gukurahundi Split Hairs

The emotive Gukurahundi issue is being revisited with a “victim-centred approach”, but long standing justice demanders say the government-sponsored approach is hollow and may not yield genuine redress.

Gukurahundi remains an emotive issue in the Matabeleland region and more often than not, “attempts” to deal with it raise suspicion and concern. A recent statement issued after President Emmerson Mnangagwa met the National Council of Chiefs (NC) at the State House in Bulawayo on August 21 to discuss a Gukurahundi resolution roadmap adds fuel to the fire. “The process will be victim-centred and will also involve key stakeholders engagement…The President made it clear that a one size fits all approach would be inappropriate for this programme,” the statement reads in part.

The pronouncements celebrated by State actors as a show of Mnangawa’s administration’s seriousness to resolve Gukurahundi have however put wedge between Matabeleland human rights defenders, activists and the State. Activists claim that the government is employing ‘dirty’ and intimidatory tactics to silence victims of the atrocities as they suspect that only a few brave victims will present themselves to chiefs handling the cases “as more people will fear being victimised”.

“The way it is structured has a possibility to scare away victims,” says Mbuso Fuzwayo, Ibhetshu LikaZulu coordinator. According to human rights groups, a North Korean trained army unit killed over 20 000 people from the Matabeleland and Midlands regions in the early 80s in what is commonly referred as Gukurahundi.

“A lot of issues are not coming out clearly. What was supposed to have happened is, when you now say we will proceed on a case-by-case basis, you must be clear on what you mean. I say so because there are many issues associated with Gukurahundi. [A] case by case approach might cover exhumation but outside of exhumation, there is need for a collective handling of it,” adds Fuzwayo, a long time Gukurahundi justice campaigner.

The government statement said exhumations and reburials will be resolved on a case by case basis and the relevant chief should give guidance and directions. At one time, exhumations and reburial of Gukurahundi victims were allowed to proceed as part of a process to find closure on the emotive issue. This resulted in the exhumation and reburial of Justin Tshuma and Thembi Ngwenya in Tsholotsho’s Enkwalini community in 2019 who were killed by the Fifth Brigade in March 1983. Bulawayo-based Ukuthula Trust, an independent body of forensic archaeologists and anthropologists conducted the exhumations. However, further exhumations were abruptly stopped after the government said an enabling legislation had to be put in place to guard the process.

At the time, the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) said it was laying the groundwork for exhumations to begin, but there has been no movement. “If Mnangagwa managed to destroy a constitutional body (NPRC), there is a lot that we need to interrogate, to say is this approach an executive led or it’s independent because it works against what people said in 2013 during the constitution making process,” says Fuzwayo.

“NPRC has its shortcomings. It was meant to get funding support from the State, and we have to scrutinise whether he (Mnangagwa) genuinely wants to solve the Gukurahundi issue or to destroy it and have everyone tainted and he emerges as a credible person,” adds Fuzwayo.

Alex Nxumalo, who says he lost his father and brother to the atrocities, is of the view that the “case by case” approach is a trap laid for civic organisations that have been vocal on the matter. “This is a perfect plan for the government to clear its name in terms of victim numbers. I foresee not many people showing up. If that happens, how will the civil society account for the more than 20 000 figure of victims they normally talk of? It’s a trap,” says Nxumalo.

Testimonies of the Bhalagwe tortures are contained in the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) report titled “Breaking the Silence: Building True Peace, a report on the massacres in Matabeleland and the Midlands, 1980 – 1988”. The detailed report exposes the extra-judicial killings, multiple rapes of women, and people who were burnt alive in detention centres manned by the Fifth Brigade.

The late Robert Mugabe’s administration once initiated a probe into the Gukurahundi massacres but the findings of the investigation by the Chihambakwe Commission of Inquiry were never published. Mugabe’s predecessor, Mnangagwa, has also kept the lid on the report tight.

Sinalisiwe Dlamini says solely tasking chiefs to handle Gukurahundi issues “is a burden to them” as other issues within their jurisdiction might be sidelined. “Chiefs will suffer burnout handling the matters. For instance, if the whole community of about 10 000 people say they lost relatives and chiefs are required to follow the case by case approach, how many years would that take? In the long run, burnout will creep in and affect the process,” Dlamini said.

As a way forward, chiefs were advised to go back to their respective areas to consult on the issues raised. “So, whichever chief is ready, the President will deploy resources to their area to support the resolution of issues in that area,” says the public statement, issued on August 21.

Source: The Citizen Bulletin

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