Chiefs block move to whitewash Gukurahundi

Chief Mathema of Gwanda has revealed how authorities recommended changing the name ‘Gukurahundi’ during a meeting with President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the Bulawayo State House, describing it as an attempt to ‘whitewash’ the State’s genocide.

Gukurahundi is the code-name for the Fifth Brigade, an elite unit of specially trained Zimbabwean soldiers which was deployed in Matabeleland and Midlands leaving over 20 000 dead.

According to the outspoken Chief Mathema, traditional elders in Matabeleland opposed this proposal.

President Mnangagwa has been engaging traditional leaders in a series of discussions on Gukurahundi since 2019, and he has appointed the chiefs to take the lead in resolving the genocide.

It is in one of those meetings that ‘someone’ suggested dropping the name Gukurahundi, said Chief Mathema, who was guest of honour at the ongoing Asakhe Film Festival hosted by CITE on Monday in Bulawayo.

“There was a situation we had in the meeting. We were told to change the name Gukurahundi. It was supposed to be given another name,” said the chief.

Someone even suggested a different title to use in place of Gukurahundi, according to Chief Mathema.

“As Matabeleland chiefs we rejected it. Someone provided another name; this divided the house and the rest of us chiefs rejected that. It is still Gukurahundi,” he said.

“We thank those who have escalated this matter so that it is recognised by the United Nations and I believe it must be handled by best practice in the world.”

Chiefs submitted a working manual to President Mnangagwa at a recent meeting held at the Bulawayo State House last week when President Mnangagwa inaugurated the Gukurahundi community participation processes.

The chief stated that while this was not the ideal method to handle Gukurahundi, it was the only option available.

“I know it’s not very sweet but that is what is available now. I believe we must help each other, Don’t rely too much on chiefs. My request is please let us assist the chiefs on this assignment,” he said.

Chief Mathema noted no timelines had been given so they were unsure when the engagements would start.

“There’s also the issue of resources. We haven’t heard if they are available for the work,” he said.

“We need your input and although we crafted the manual on our own. We believe consultations were supposed to lead to this then have the manual document after because Gukurahundi is not small. It was not only about eating but there is rape, disturbances in learning, as teachers particularly in Tsholotsho were killed.”

Chief Mathema expressed regret that the State had taken over the task from the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC), which was constitutionally mandated to resolve conflict.

“When I suggested that chiefs needed to be involved, I meant their participation will give confidence to their subjects because this issue has taken too long without a resolution but my idea was hijacked by the State,” he said.

The chief further stated it was unsuitable for the State to impose its terms and conditions on victims regarding how Gukurahundi should be handled.

“In our culture if I knock someone with my car and they die, I can’t impose my terms and conditions on how that person must be buried. That is done by the deceased family. The aggrieved must set conditions but what they are doing is dictating to us,” lamented Chief Mathema, noting the State was clever by dumping “this mess on chiefs.”

“They know that for some chiefs, their survival depends on government packages. Others are afraid of talking because if they open their mouths while eating it will fall out.”

Chief Mathema claimed some chiefs believed Gukurahundi had already been solved by the late nationalist and ZAPU leader, Joshua Nkomo.

“If Nkomo solved the matter, he did so for his family, not for the Mathema family because each family has their own customs,” he said.

“Fixing this is by asking people what they want unless you want to leave people out.”

The outspoken chief said he suggested that a mapping of the chieftainships affected by Gukurahundi be done but that was ignored.

 “When I asked why chiefs from Midlands were excluded from these meetings or whether they will have their own, Mnangagwa lifted his finger and pointed at me,” said Chief Mathema.

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