Bhalagwe is not a Heroes Acre, villagers fume

Communities in Matabeleland South have made it clear that they do not want the mass grave site in Bhalagwe turned into a Heroes Acre.

Bhalagwe was one of the areas that bore the brunt of the Fifth Brigade operations, with the elite force running a concentration camp in that area.

The mass graves are located at the foot of the disused Antelope Mine, located about 3kilometres west, where many people were killed and their remains thrown down the mine shaft.

When the mining company wanted to resuscitate their activities at the mine, they discovered human remains, which were reburied in mass graves at a site identified by villagers.

The disused Antelope Mine in Bhalagwe, where many people from Matabeleland were killed and their remains thrown down the mine shaft.

It has since emerged that the Matobo Rural District Council (RDC) declared the site a Heroes Acre about 20 years ago, a decision which did not go down well with survivors of the atrocities.

However, stakeholders at a consultative meeting held Thursday by the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) said they want that decision reversed as it was an insult to Gukurahundi victims.

Chief Mathema of Gwanda threw his weight against the decision by the Matobo RDC to designate the area, a Heroes Acre without consulting the traditional leadership.

“The issue of Bhalagwe has been dominating most of the conversation around Gukurahundi. To Matobo RDC, you did wrong. I want to call a spade a spade, you were not supposed to make a resolution as a council and declare Bhalagwe a Heroes Acre without even consulting people. You were supposed to consult us as the chiefs as well,” he fumed.

The chief queried why the local authority settled for Bhalagwe, which harbours painful reminders of how people were killed.

“Was there no other place where you could locate a Heroes Acre? There are many clean sites besides Bhalagwe where mass graves of innocent people are located. That place is a victims` area, as those people were buried there involuntary. I advise you that in everything you do, you need to consult the chiefs. Please reverse that decision,” he said to the members representing the RDC.m

A few members purporting to be war veterans attempted to explain the reasoning behind why Bhalagwe was chosen but the stakeholders were having none of it.

“As war veterans, we are one and the same with those people buried at Bhalagwe and opting for the site as a Heroes Acre was to show that we haven’t forgotten them. We request that we sit down with each other so that those in authority can explain why that place was chosen,” said one war veteran.

A member of Matobo RDC tried to explain but the stakeholders vehemently refused to accept any explanation.

They insisted Bhalagwe was a site for innocent victims, which was different from burying individuals from the army or those declared heroes.

“Bhalagwe affects the whole region of Matabeleland because people who were killed from Tsholotsho, Gwanda, Kezi, Beitbridge and other areas were laid there. It, therefore, becomes painful if Matobo closes the place off from other people who may want to honour their relatives. Bhalagwe is not for Matobo only,” said Matthew Sibanda, one of the stakeholders from Bulawayo.

One former employee of the council, who refused to be quoted claimed the decision was made innocently with no sinister intentions but acknowledged they might have made a mistake.

“Consultations were made with Chief Fuyana but now we realise the matter has serious political connotations but no harm was intended,” he said.

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