HARARE – The Gukurahundi mass murders of the early 1980s in Matabeleland and the Midlands continue to haunt President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF, with human rights activists and leading political figures raising fresh questions yesterday about whether the killings will ever be properly investigated and dealt with by the government.
The much-condemned killings are a very sensitive matter within Zanu PF, with Mugabe once describing the murders of an estimated 20 000 innocent civilians in the western parts of Zimbabwe, allegedly by the North Korean-trained 5th Brigade, as “a moment of madness”.
Analysts and opposition politicians told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday that the matter was so sensitive that it not only remained like “an albatross around the political legacy of Mugabe”, but it also threatened to destroy the political careers of his two newly-appointed party and State deputies, Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko.
And clearly alive to the difficulties associated with Gukurahundi, prominent State media columnist Manheru, widely believed to be Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba, attempted to lance thecancerous boil that the mass murders have become in his column yesterday — but in reality only managed to inflame emotions.
“A key handicapping taboo has been the whole issue of political disturbances which affected some parts of Matabeleland and Midlands in the early eighties, disturbances which dragged on until the 1987 Unity Accord which cured them.
“I have tackled this subject before, challenging those who consider themselves owners of the whole discourse on the so-called Gukurahundi, to come forward and debate the matter openly, candidly, using national platforms.
“Let’s admit it, Gukurahundi has become an investment of unfailing dividend, or so some think. It is owned.
“But they have all recoiled, slinking away in loud silence which is the exact opposite of golden. And when all is quiet, they rally back, steal forward all to pelt one or two officials they deem most guilty on the matter, most vulnerable at the time.
“As has just been done by Dumiso
Dabengwa, to the new Vice President Mphoko. As is beginning to happen to ED, the other new Vice President who is being challenged to explain his role in that sad chapter of our history,” Manheru wrote controversially in the Saturday edition of The Herald.
During the massacres, Mnangagwa was the minister of State Security, while critics of Mphoko allege that he was a Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) operative, who had allegedly deserted Zapu during the struggle.
The only comment that Mnangagwa has made on the massacres, at least in public, was in 2011 when he told State media that the issue was a “closed chapter”.
On his part, Mphoko has alleged that the killings were a result of a political conspiracy spun by apartheid South Africa and the West.
But victims and relatives of the Gukurahundi atrocities — many of whom still bear the scars of the horror — yearn for the truth behind the atrocities as well as closure.
However, observers and politicians, particularly those from the affected regions, say the make-up of the country’s current presidency meant that such wishes were highly unlikely.
Moses Mzila Ndlovu, a war veteran and former co-minister of National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration during the inclusive government, said the composition of the presidency meant that the Gukurahundi phase was now a closed chapter for real, as Mnangagwa had said in 2011.
“I do not know about Mphoko’s involvement in the cataclysmic genocide but the fact that he was a member of the CIO means he will always be a member of the intelligence.
“I view the appointment as a declaration to the people of this region who had relatives killed during the genocide that this is a closed chapter.
“Secondly, I see this deployment as a slap in the face of Matabeleland people who suffered during Gukurahundi. What Zanu PF is saying is that you can go hang with your Gukurahundi complaints because the same people are walking on dead bodies to get to the presidium,” Mzila said.
He charged that those implicated in the unresolved issues were unlikely to ever deliver justice.
“Putting people like Mnangagwa is the greatest insult to us. Zanu PF is against justice, reconciliation, national healing and national integration. The appointment of Mphoko is a window dressing gimmick meant to hoodwink people. We want people who partook in the Gukurahundi to be punished and can Mphoko or Mnangagwa punish themselves?
“This is a wake-up call to the people of Matabeleland that Zanu PF is not remorseful of the genocide and to them Gukurahundi is a closed chapter,” Mzila said.
According to the Dumiso Dabengwa-led Zapu, the conclusion that the Gukurahundi killings were a closed chapter, basing this on the Unity Accord signed by the late revered Zapu leader Joshua Nkomo and Mugabe’s Zanu PF, was wishful thinking. Zapu argues that Nkomo signed the Unity Accord of 1987 with Zanu PF to stop more killings of innocent civilians, as the 5th Brigade was allegedly hellbent on decimating the whole Matabeleland and Midlands regions.
Dabengwa’s Zapu, which pulled out of the Unity Accord in 2008, in protest against the political goings-on within Zanu PF, also argues that Nkomo signed the peace pact on behalf of PF-Zapu, and never on behalf of the Ndebele people. Witnesses also say that most of the people killed, maimed, raped and tortured during Gukurahundi were never members of Zapu, but were targeted simply because of their ethnicity.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also warned that the current composition of Mugabe’s Cabinet spells doom for human rights in the country.
Dewa Mavhinga, a senior researcher with HRW, said the brutal killings of civilians in the early 1980s stuck out like “a sore thumb”, with those in government “guilty by either participation or association”.
“Anyone serving in the presidium has collective government accountability for Gukurahundi unless they openly condemn Gukurahundi and refuse to serve under a government with blood on its hands.
“The Gukurahundi massacres resulted in serious human rights abuses including the killings of thousands of Ndebele people over several years in the 1980s.
“These State-sanctioned abuses that were committed by the 5th Brigade involved State collusion and collaboration at various government levels, putting Mugabe and Mnangagwa under pressure to bring a close to this sad period of our history.
“There has been no accountability for the heinous Gukurahundi abuses and no justice for the victims and therefore the Gukurahundi issue is not closed until there is justice and accountability,” Mavhinga said.
Maxwell Saungweme, a Harare-based political analyst, added that the presidency was tainted by a past that could not be wished away.
“We are in a fix as a nation and the team in the presidency does not bode well for human rights and the country’s soiled human rights record.
“Mnangagwa did try as Justice minister not to sign death warrants for prisoners on death roll, but that cannot right his (allegedly) tainted past.
“Zanu PF is itself a very violent party with a president who publicly claimed to hold degrees in violence. Such a party with people with blood on their hands is not good for human rights.
“You cannot expect our human rights record to improve with such people,” Saungwema said.Dailynews