The chief European Union envoy in Zimbabwe has accused the state-controlled Sunday News of embarking on a strategy of defamation of the European Union and trying to create animosity between the EU and the people of Matabeleland.
The Sunday News reported on Sunday that Aldo Dell'Ariccia, EU mission chief, had told delegates at a Bulawayo conference that the Gukurahundi period of the 1980s in which thousands in the region died amid fighting between rival liberation forces, "has become so much of a tired song in Matabeleland," scene of many massacres.
The paper quoted him as saying it was now time for people to focus on developing the region instead of continuing to nurse an abiding anger at the 1980s atrocities.
Dell’Ariccia denied making these “insulting” and “absolutely inaccurate" statements.
“Absolutely not," Dell'Ariccia told reporter Violet Gonda. "I have never ever in my life used those words. On top of it it’s not even in my vocabulary."
He said the EU delegation had moved its senior staff to Bulawayo as part of a week-long program to engage with the local political, economic and social actors.
Dell’Ariccia said the visit was to give the EU envoys and staff an opportunity to have a first-hand impression on how present and painful the memory of Gukurahundi is in the mind and spirit of the people of Matabeleland.
“What I did say is that the people of Matabeleland have an installed capacity in terms of manpower and again with confidence look at the future and their contributions in the overall development of the region," Dell'Ariccia said. He said this message was repeated during the four roundtable discussions with members of the civil society, business community and politicians in Bulawayo.
More than 20,000 civilians died during the Gukurahundi purge of ZANU-PF opponents in Matabeleland and Midlands regions shortly after independence. ZANU-PF has in the past called the issue a closed chapter, much to the chagrin of the victims’ families.
Asked for his thoughts on this sensitive topic, Dell'Ariccia said Gukurahundi is an internal matter of the country that has to be solved nationally. But he said: “We indeed got the sensation of how present the memory is, and I think that just to forget about it is something that is, in my view, not healthy.”
The envoy said he has been misquoted before in his career but this is the first time that “something has absolutely been invented and twisted.”
“This is an intent to instrumentalize the European Union and an intent of creating disturbance between us and the people of Matabeleland, while the purpose of our visit was exactly the contrary,” Dell’Ariccia added.
Political analyst Nkululeko Sibanda, lecturer of Global and African Politics at the UK-based University of Huddersfield said the newspaper report was deliberate ZANU-PF propaganda as the reported statements were out of character for the European Union and for someone who as a career diplomat is by nature chooses his words.