39 years later, govt still dilly-dallying on Gukurahundi: Victims and observers

Almost 40 years later, the Zimbabwean government is still dilly-dallying over resolving the Gukurahundi genocide hiding behind policy technicalities and failing to deliver justice to victims, observers have said.

Gukurahundi began when the government on January 20, 1983 deployed a North Korean trained unit – the Fifth Brigade –to Matabeleland and the Midlands where it unleashed violence on civilians.

The results of what started on that fateful day and continued until 1987, included the killings of more than 20 000 people, rapes, tortures and forced disappearances in the two provinces.   

In addition to lack of justice, observers have highlighted how the genocide still continues today, evidenced by the systematic marginalisation of people in Matabeleland and how some want to wipe away Gukurahundi’s existence.

On its part, the government tasked the National Council of Chiefs to handle Gukurahundi last year in August when President Emmerson Mnangagwa met chiefs in Bulawayo, albeit taking that mandate away from the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC).


However when CITE tried to contact the President of the National Council of Chiefs, Chief Charumbira, and his deputy, Chief Mtshane, to understand how far their initiative had gone, their mobile numbers were unreachable.

In an interview with CITE, Chief Mathema of Gwanda, who is outspoken on Gukurahundi, said the government had done nothing concrete on resolving the genocide.

“I haven’t seen anything tangible as an individual. I don’t know about others. But for me there is nothing,” he said.

“Adopting the world’s best practices is the best way to deliver justice.”

Chief Mathema indicated he was the first person to suggest that chiefs handle Gukurahundi but his idea had been wrongly implemented.

“I am the one who suggested it to the Head of State, but I didn’t expect that it would be handled in this way. It’s unfortunate. The government never came to me to ask how to go about it. They are running with the idea but excluding the person who actually initiated it,” he said.

The chief said what worsens the pain and plight of Gukurahundi survivors, is the fact that some of the perpetrators are in government and adding from his interactions with genocide researchers, it would be hard to hold them to account.

“Researchers are very clear no genocide has been investigated with perpetrators still in power. They are saying world over, it has never happened,” he noted.

Critical studies scholar, Khanyile Mlotshwa, concurred it was “painful that absolutely nothing had been done to address the wound of Gukurahundi.”

He said “the victims have fallen short of begging for an apology, a starting point.”

Mlotshwa argued in the meantime, the genocide continues to mutate.

“In academic spaces we have academics whose lifelong commitment is to deny, justify Gukurahundi or mock those doing work to expose its evils” he lamented.

ZAPU Secretary General, Mthulisi Hanana, whose party members were targets of Gukurahundi at its height, said January 20 was a reminder that in Zimbabwe, there was a group of people who were “unwanted” and a government “unwilling to engage.”

“We have a government that is hiding behind the NPRC yet has no mechanisms for justice, transitional justice and truth telling. All these are signs we are led by people who know they are murderers but don’t want to own up and say, ‘We are sorry,’” he said.

“As ZAPU we still have our properties that were taken away at the height of genocide and the government is hiding behind weird technicalities simply because they don’t want to hand them over. This is the government we have, which has hidden findings of previous inquiries into Gukurahundi. We have a government in denial and is heartless.”

Hanana claimed the government was led by rogue individuals, who still killed with impunity, even outside the Gukurahundi era.

“Nothing has been done to the perpetrators. Even some of the Gukurahundi perpetrators are buried at the Heroes Acre with some of their victims, you wonder where we are going as a nation when we have a government that is still dilly dallying in these issues,” he said.

Voice of ZAPU Secretary General, Mthulisi Hanana

Freedom Alliance’s Deputy Secretary General for Media and Communications, Nhlanhla Moses Ncube said a victim-centred approach to the resolution of the genocide was needed adding truth and justice cannot be realised when Zanu PF is in power.

“We demand a consultative process of truth telling and justice for victims and survivors of the genocide,” he said, zeroing in on the vitriol by presidential spokesperson, George Charamba on the demolition of a memorial plaque that was erected at Bhalagwe Concentration Camp.


“This is typical of unrepentant perpetrators and their defenders. These are attempts by the state to prevent the truth from coming out and justice being delivered. The complete disregard of the pain of victims as displayed in the gukurahundist mentality and insensitivity by Charamba and ZANU-PF, and the ongoing ethnically engineered exclusion and marginalisation of the people of Matabeleland and Midlands, who are treated like second-class citizens (is worrying).”

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