President Robert Mugabe once described the Five Brigade atrocities in Matabeleland and the Midlands provinces in the 1980s as a moment of madness.
In the late 1980s, he set up an inter-ministerial committee headed by the late Vice President John Nkomo to look into possibilities of bringing closure to the massacre of an estimated 20,000 innocent civilians. The committee never made any recommendations as it was disbanded without a public announcement.
Recently, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been strongly defending allegations that he was among top state officials, who were involved in the killings, which resulted in the setting up of the Simplicious Chihambakwe Commission of Inquiry to probe the massacres. The report was never made public.
Caught up in allegations over the massacres is former Education Minister David Coltart, who recently published a book, which alleges that Mnangagwa made disparaging remarks about so-called dissidents and their supporters, mostly aligned to PF Zapu then led by the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo. Mnangagwa has threatened to sue Coltart for defaming him.
What can Zimbabweans learn from the Five Brigade or Gukurahundi massacres? For perspective, we reached Reverand Ray Motsi of the Baptist Church, whose PHD thesis was on Five Brigade massacres, and Dr. Shepherd Mpofu of the University of Johannesburg.
Motsi says there is a lot that is needed before victims of the massacres get state compensation.
“First and foremost there must be an acknowledgement, acknowledgement of that happened and this acknowledgement can about if people explain what happened to themselves by being given the opportunity to talk and also there must be people that did this and we know them they must be still alive especially the commanding group …”
He said this is supposed to be a national agenda as state funds were used when the Five Brigade committed the atrocities in the two regions.
“Ndebeles are citizens like everybody else and so they must be accorded their rights to be able to be addressed as Zimbabweans and not just people who came from somewhere.”
He noted that an inclusive approach is needed in addressing this sensitive issue as relatives of victims want some kind of closure.
Dr. Mpofu echoed the same sentiments, noting that all people who are linked to the atrocities need to come out in the open and talk about the issue.
He said the Ministry of National Healing has over the years become a toothless entity. Moses Mzila Ndlovu, who once presided over the ministry, was arrested when he addressed a meeting on Five Brigade atrocities in Lupane, Matabeleland North, a place where some of the killings took place.
“It seems that was just done to put a blanket over our faces and not to face the real problems … Noone knows exactly what happened (during the Gukurahundi atrocities). We have three thesis that explain those things. One, it says is was a Shona versus Ndebele issue. Secondly, it was Mugabe wanted to exterminate Nkomo supporters and the third one there was a Super Zapu funded by South Africans to destabilize Zimbabwe. And what we really want to know now is what really happened.”
He further said, “The genocide has always affected Shona/Ndebele relations in Zimbabwe and even the national identify project that Zanu PF seeks to create it has always been affected by that.”
He said some people have even attributed Ndebeles position, mostly of deputies, in various institutions “via Gukurahundi”.
“If children in Matabeleland are to be swallowed by a river trying to cross to school … How do you explain that? Gukurahundi. Under-development in Matabeleland … How do you explain that? So, Gukurahundi has become an auto explainer to many things that go wrong in Matabeleland. And for you to stop that you need the government to explain those things and come out clean.”
Reverend Motsi echoed the same sentiments, noting that Zimbabweans should be free to discuss Gukurahundi atrocities.
“We must grant people who are victims an opportunity or whose relatives were victimized, and died and disappeared to talk about it. This whole idea of putting a lid on Gukurahundi continues to traumatize people. I kind of keep annoyed when people talk about reconciliation and forgiveness. What would you be forgiven for when you haven’t acknowledged what the problem is? So, for me this is a national agenda, this is a Zimbabwean problem.
“Shonas and Ndebeles must come together and address this issue. It’s not a tribal issue, it’s a national issue. I am saying this because I am Shona. I need everybody to know that.”
Dr. Mpofu said some Shonas have been victimized for the atrocities. “I think the Reverand (Motsi) has to also say those in power because it’s not Shonas who are responsible for this. Some Shonas have been victimized as responsible while there have nothing to do with it.”
He said Zimbabweans should pressurize the responsible people to answer for the atrocities through specific political parties or non-governmental entities.