Some members of the public as well as civic society activists say they are concerned about the sincerity of government in dealing with atrocities like Gukurahundi massacres committed by the North Korean trained Five Brigade and help bring reconciliation in Zimbabwe.
The concerns came out at a recent meeting in Bulawayo, which discussed memorialization and reconciliation. Most of the participants said they were worried about the slow pace in the promulgation of a law that will enable the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission to start work.
They said they doubted the sincerity of the Zanu PF government’s efforts in bringing about national healing and reconciliation, particularly in regard to the Gukurahundi atrocities, which they said the government seems to be brushing aside.
A participant, who did not want to identify himself in fear of being victimized, said he doubts that President Robert Mugabe and his colleagues would do anything that could possibly result in their own prosecution.
“If you look at history you will discover that no sitting governmnet has ever prosecuted itself. For as long as Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF are in power there is no justice that is going to be done for the people of Matabeleland who were killed. So in other words, this is just a toothless bulldog which is being done for cosmetic purposes –to pretend that something is being done to solve this problem.”
An estimated 20,000 innocent civilians, mostly supporters of Zapu, then led by the late Joshua Nkomo, were killed in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces between 1983 and 1987.
They were accused of supporting dissidents that took up arms against the Mugabe government following the brutalization of Zapu activists by the ruling Zanu PF party.
COME CLEAN ON GUKURAHUNDI
Participants at the meeting agreed that there is need for government to come clean on the Five Brigade or Gukurahundi atrocities so that those affected, as well as the nation at large, can find closure.
Sari Eppel, a psychologist and one of the presenters at the meeting, said although it is always difficult to deal with a national violent past, the affected people must be allowed to remember publicly what
happened to them or their relatives.
Eppel said decrees of clemency by governments cannot erase gross abuses or violations done in the past, adding that government should not prescribe how the affected people should remember or memorialize victims of the atrocities.
She noted that if society is denied the right to mourn its dead, it suffers what is known as “ambiguous loss” whereby survivors will always feel there is something that has to be done about their missing loved ones and there is no closure.
She said, “You will hear governments, not just our own, but others as well, you will hear them saying ‘well it’s long ago and you must just move on,’ or ‘don’t reopen old wounds.’ But actually you can’t tell emotions, you can’t tell people’s psychology how to behave by decrees. And this is also universal -some families move on and others don’t and that’s just how it’s gonna be.
“If you look around the world, in Spain for example, the civil war there ended in 1939 but now you have the grandchildren of those who died in the civil war demanding to know the truth.”
NATIONAL TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE
Former National Healing Co-minister Moses Mzila Ndlovu, who was also a presenter at the meeting, also queried government's sincerity and said ordinary Zimbabweans should not expect those in power to accord them all the expected rights. He said it is everyone’s responsibility to fight for such rights.
Reverend Ray Motsi, a member of the National Transitional Justice Working Group, which convened the meeting, said he understood the concerns over government’s lack of commitment to national healing and reconciliation.
He, however, challenged participants to utilize every opportunity to raise such concerns and put pressure on government so that it deals with such issues.
“We’ve got a door that is halfway, or maybe a quarter open, let’s put our feet in it; let’s not allow it to close. Let’s walk in and salvage something out of it.”
The National Transitional Justice Working Group is a non-governmental organization that seeks to promote national healing and reconciliation by, among other issues, pushing for the telling of the truth about and acknowledgment of past atrocities.