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Relatives Want Compensation in Zimbabwe's State-Sanctioned Massacres
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On Thursday, Zimbabwe marked the anniversary of its 1980 independence from Britain. The anniversary coincides with efforts to heal the wounds brought on by state-sanctioned massacres in the 1980s.

Some 20,000 people were massacred during the presidency of Robert Mugabe, human rights organizations say. One of the most affected areas is Tsholotsho, a rural district about 600 kilometers southwest of the capital, Harare. There, people are opening up about reburial efforts and requesting compensation from the government.

Melwa Ngwenya stands near a grave holding the remains of his son Sibangani, killed in February 1983 in Tsholotsho, Zimbabwe. Ngwenya seeks compensation for the state-sanctioned massacres known as Gukurahundi.
Melwa Ngwenya stands near a grave holding the remains of his son Sibangani, killed in February 1983 in Tsholotsho, Zimbabwe. Ngwenya seeks compensation for the state-sanctioned massacres known as Gukurahundi.

Local resident Melwa Ngwenya says a recent decision by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration – to allow victims in shallow or mass graves to be reburied – is not cause for celebration on this Independence Day. Ngwenya says his son was beaten to death during the massacres when Mnangagwa was state security minister. The killings were known as Gukurahundi.

According to Ngwenya, the army assaulted his son, Sibangani, who died along with eight others in February 1983. They were buried in a shallow grave about five kilometers from the family home.

“I don’t usually come to this place,” Ngwenya said, standing at Sibangani’s grave site. “… For the pain and sorrow to go, I have to be given something to console me. A two-bedroom house will console my spirit that, yes, my son died.”

Women wait to collect water at a borehole in Zimbabwe’s Tsholotsho District, April 18, 2019.
Women wait to collect water at a borehole in Zimbabwe’s Tsholotsho District, April 18, 2019.

Gukurahundi debate

Under Mugabe’s rule, people were persecuted for discussing the massacres, and reburial of the victims was prohibited. On the eve of Independence Day, his successor, Mnangagwa, said that citizens were now free to talk about Gukurahundi.

“The question of Gukurahundi – personally, I don’t see anything wrong [with] debating it in newspapers, on television,” the president said on state TV. “… Actually, it’s critical that we have that debate. Some of the issues could’ve been resolved a long time back. ... Gukurahundi has nothing to do with other people. It is an internal matter which has happened among us Zimbabweans, which we must discuss among ourselves.”

But Ngwenya, still grieving for his son, is skeptical. “He is not sincere,” the 80-year-old said of the president. “He is blindfolding us. He is trying to silence us because we want compensation.

“I want to have a place to mourn my son,” he said, saying it should be “a permanent structure, something to stay in.”

Calling for compensation, Ngwenya added, “If he {Mnangagwa] cares about our cries and if the government cares about us and has sympathy, it must build me at least a two-bedroom house.”

Mbuso Fuzwayo, of the rights group Ibhetshu Likazulu, says it’s not enough just to lift a ban on reburying Gukurahundi massacre victims.
Mbuso Fuzwayo, of the rights group Ibhetshu Likazulu, says it’s not enough just to lift a ban on reburying Gukurahundi massacre victims.

Only half of the issue

The rights organization Ibhetshu Likazulu has been vocal in calling for addressing the Gukurahundi issue. The group's secretary, Mbuso Fuzwayo, says Mnangagwa has to deal with more than just allowing people to discuss the massacres and reburials openly.

“It is not those who are in mass or shallow graves who are going to be buried. Everyone will have peace when he knows where his father, daughter, son is lying,” Fuzwayo said. Mnangagwa “doesn’t talk about women who were raped. He is talking about half of what happened. Gukurahundi is complex.”

Now it remains to be seen if the government has the will and funds to accommodate the people’s demands on Gukurahundi.

Zimbabwe celebrates 39 years of independence

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has accused business owners and other stakeholders of being inhumane and unpatriotic following recent price hikes of basic commodities amid serious economic decline in the southern African nation with crippling inflation.

Mnangagwa made these remarks Thursday at the National Sports Stadium in Harare when he addressed thousands of people marking the country’s 39th independence anniversary.

He said, “The government is alarmed by the recent wanton and indiscriminate increases in prices which have brought about untold suffering to the people. This conduct by stakeholders in business, industry and commerce, is inhuman, unethical, unpatriotic, and goes against the grain of economic dialogue which the Second Republic has espoused.”

Bakers nearly doubled the price of bread a few days ago, citing high price increases of wheat and other inputs.

Zimbabwe’s Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa echoed the president’s attack on businesses, saying the government was not consulted on the price hikes and were equally caught by surprise.

“The government of the second republic believes in engaging people, but these people (business) unilaterally raised prices overnight without consulting government which is not in the spirit of the second republic,” said Mutsvangwa.

Mutsvangwa added that President Mnangagwa has been open to dialogue with the business community, and the surprise increases leaves a question of motive to possibly taint the government’s image.

She said the government has avoided imposing price controls on products, but will be compelled to do so, if business continue raising prices.

“Government does not want to impose price controls but at the same time it can’t stand by and watch people suffer like is happening, so the issue needs to be discussed … the president invited captains of industry to State House to share their challenges and come up with a common understanding, but what was done here, on the eve of independence, leads one to think if there’s an ulterior motive?” said Mutsvangwa.

Defending their decision to hike prices, some members of the business community blame the difficulty of doing business in Zimbabwe due to shortages of cash and the erratic exchange rates between the United States dollar and the local currency, Real Time Gross Settlements (RTGS), which they say is hurting their profit margin.

Businesswoman Alice Chisimo said the reason prices are erratic is due to cash shortages in the banks, which is fueling the black market and forcing prices hikes.

She said for things to normalize in the country, the government should address these two ills.

Chisimo said, “We need to be able to get money from the bank and they should also remove the street vendors who are setting the prices.

“What we have noticed is that the prices are being determined by the parallel market, the cash dealers on the streets, and we hear that the there’s an element of corruption in the market, involving high level officials.”

Mnangagwa and his government, however, have blamed the country’s economic hardships on targeted sanctions that they say have made it impossible for Zimbabwe to access credit, and also attract investors.

Picking on a common theme from his predecessor former president Robert Mugabe, who resigned under military pressure in 2017, Mnangagwa lashed out against western countries who have maintained targeted sanctions on him and top members of his administration, which he said is having adverse effects on the economy.

“We however, call for the unconditional removal of the illegal and unjustified economic sanctions imposed on us so that our nation can realize its full development potential, free from any hindrances,” said Mnangagwa.

While pressure is mounting on western countries that have imposed the sanctions on Zimbabwe, to drop them, citing their ineffectiveness and hardship it has brought to ordinary citizens, the United States, Britain and other countries in the European Union argue that the sanctions are working, and they will maintain them until the Zimbabwe government adopts recommended reforms, including respect for human and property rights. Mnangagwa and his government claim they are making the changes.

Opposition leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, Nelson Chamisa, however blamed the country’s poor economic state on the government’s mismanagement of resources, which he said have not helped uplift the life of ordinary citizens.

“We are living a life that is shocking,” said Chamisa. “We have diamonds, gold, lithium, mineral of various types, coal, that you can’t find in other countries. Almost 60 different kinds of minerals. But there’s nothing to show that Zimbabweans are liberated.”

In keeping with the 39th Independence anniversary theme, ‘Embracing Devolution for Vision 2030’, Mnangagwa committed to uplifting the lives of citizens by empowering provinces through devolution, which will enable them to have access to the resources in their respective regions.

Mnangagwa also applauded the international community for the assistance it provided to Zimbabwe to assist those affected by the recent floods caused by Cyclone Idai.

Zimbabwe attained its independence on April 18, 1980.

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