CITIZENS Coalition for Change (CCC) Vice President Tendai Biti and Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi had a feisty exchange in Parliament this week over the exhumation and reburial of victims of the 1980s Gukurahundi atrocities.
Described as a genocide, a campaign of terror saw more than 20,000 civilians being killed in the Matebeleland and Midlands provinces after the government unleashed a specially trained army unit on the two regions in one of the darkest periods in the country’s post-independence history.
The emotive subject was raised by Binga North CCC legislator Prince Dubeko Sibanda who had asked the minister about government’s policy on allowing relatives to rebury victims of the 1980s killings.
“… we have heard a lot from Government about exhumations and reburials, some of the relatives of the victims are also getting aged at this stage and they would want to see their affairs sorted and having their matters brought to closure,” said Sibanda.
“What is Government’s policy with regards to ensuring that relatives of victims of Gukurahundi are given permission to exhume and bury their loved ones in terms of their culture in order to bring closure to their matters?”
He added; “The Honourable Minister might want to know that currently most chiefs have been referring the relatives of the victims to the NPRC (National Peace and Reconciliation Commission) which also refers the relatives of the victims to the President to an extent that last week, I had an opportunity to interact with three relatives that were travelling to Harare to handover their documents to the Office of the President.
“What it means is that the policy that the Hon. Minister refers to in the House is not existent on the ground. What is the Government doing to make sure that policy is actually implemented on the ground?”
In response, Ziyambi said chiefs should provide leadership and guidance on the issue; “If he can kindly furnish me the name of the Chief who indicated that he is not aware of what is supposed to happen, then I will be able to help him.
“It is now very specific … but if there are specific areas where a chief is feigning ignorance of what they are supposed to do, perhaps he can bring forward that so that the necessary deliberations can be done.
However, Biti said there was a need for a legal provision to guide the process.
“It is an offence in our law for anyone to simply dig up a grave,” he said.
“Therefore, the communities in Matebeleland that were victims of Gukurahundi, no chief or family has the power to simply dig up a grave.
“So, the logical thing for the authorities and the Government is to come up with an Act of Parliament that clarifies and deals with the issues once and for all and codify the policy that empowers traditional leaders and families to deal with the issue of exhuming and reburying Gukurahundi victims.”
Ziyambi insisted that the necessary statutory provision was already in place.
“It is not correct that we do not have an Act that allows exhumations. I put it to you that he is not saying the truth that we do not have an Act in that regard,” said the Minister.
“Mr. Speaker, the processes are ongoing. If he (Biti) wants me to show him the law he may come to my office and I will show him.”
Biti then rattled the minister by saying; “My point of order is that my learned friend Hon. Speaker, is as a lawyer, the major differences between lawyers and journalists is that we cite authority. Can my good friend cite the Act and Chapter he is referring to? I thank you.”
A flustered Ziyambi responded;
“When we come to Parliament, we interrogate policy. I am not in a court of law to be citing all the laws. We are not here to be regurgitating Acts of Parliament!”
The Gukurahundi killings had remained a taboo subject under former President Robert Mugabe who described the atrocities as a “moment of madness”.
Successor Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was security minister at the time of the killings, has encouraged public discussion of the issue and initiated moves to facilitate resolution of the conflict as well as address the grievances of affected communities and families of victims.
Critics are however sceptical that a man widely alleged to have masterminded the massacres can be the one to heal the still open wounds.