Gukurahundi classification as a genocide sparks debate

The debate on whether Gukurahundi should be classified as a genocide took centre stage at a civic society symposium held in Bulawayo on Tuesday.

The symposium, organised by the Public Policy and Research Institute of Zimbabwe (PPRIZ) and the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance (ZCA), was being held under the theme, Honouring the Dead, Healing the living and Reconciling for the future. 

In attendance were traditional leaders, CSOs, academics, human rights activists, and the media.

During one of the plenary sessions, the Former Minister of State Enterprises and Parastatals, currently a policy advisor at PPRIZ, Dr Gorden Moyo argued that there was a need to reconsider using the term genocide to define Gukurahundi, especially when engaging the international community. 

He contended that using the term ‘genocide’ imposed certain responsibilities on the international community, which may not be prepared to deal with the consequences of such. 

The government has not classified these atrocities a genocide but prefer using a watered-down phrase – “historical disturbances” but human rights experts have unreservedly pointed out Gukurahundi was a genocide. 

“There are the global powers in the United Nations Security Council. There are five powers and permanent members – China, Russia, the United States, France and the United Kingdom. China and Russia have been perpetuating genocides over the years in various areas or supporting genocides in various parts of the world. They shall never support anything which says to their friend is genocidal,” he said. 

“On the other hand, we have the liberal states, the United States, the United Kingdom and France, they’ve not said Zimbabwe has had a genocide. Even in Rwanda, it took them very long actually, after the genocide to say that because genocide bestows responsibilities.” 

Dr Moyo said that once genocide was declared, states were bestowed with certain responsibilities to deal with it. 

“That is why (former US) President Bill Clinton took long to say there was genocide in Rwanda because of that responsibility,” he said, adding four crimes were admissible in the International Court of Justice. 

“It’s your genocide, aggression we are seeing in Ukraine, war crimes and gross violation of human rights,” noting that “the US was not a member of the International Criminal Court and “very few countries would want to say there is a genocide, aggression, gross violation of human rights because it bestows …” 

Using Ukraine as an example, Dr Moyo stated countries now had a responsibility to commit resources, including lives, because they had accepted there was aggression. 

“In Zimbabwe, as small as we are, and in Matabeleland with Gukurahundi, we need to reflect on this, if we continue saying genocide. Those that can even support you, get a bit scared if you continue to say it’s a genocide. If they are supporting it, they are bestowing responsibilities, so they will not come out,” he said. 

“The more was say genocide, we have this problem of scaring all those that can support us and I am not saying we should not do it. All I’m doing is to throw some caution and think about how we package because if we use the language that can scare, we may lose the friends.” 

He stated his submission was intended to make people think whether there were advantages to calling Gukurahundi a genocide. 

“Let’s go and reflect on the advantages. Actually, if you say gross human rights, it’s even better than saying genocide but I think there was genocide because its killing people according to ethnicity, culture and region, that’s what happened. There was genocide but strategically how do we engage deal with it?” 

After Dr Moyo’s submissions, there were murmurs of disapproval in the room, as participants expressed their displeasure. 

Dr Ray Motsi of the Zimbabwe Theological College agreed Dr Moyo was correct, stating “the problem with Gukurahundi is a result of the global geopolitical situation that prevailed at the time.” 

He, however, mentioned that the International Civic Society’s Genocide Watch declared Gukurahundi a genocide in 2012. 

“It was Civic Society, not the United Nations and the global political powers, I just wanted to make it clear,” Dr Motsi said. 

Director of ZCA, Reverend Useni Sibanda said what Dr Moyo submitted was people could call Gukurahundi a genocide locally but questioned whether it can be taken to the UN for global recognition. 

“What would you gain if you called it genocide? What would you lose? What would you gain if you don’t call it genocide and call it another way? I think this is the critical thinking and rethinking we need to do. The problem is we don’t need to be emotional. We need to be strategic in our thinking,” he said. 

A participant Annahstacia Ndlovu flatly rejected Dr Moyo’s suggestion. 

“We know soldiers who were killing people called themselves Gukurahundi and it’s stated as that. Victims, and survivors know it as the Gukurahundi genocide,” she said. 

“We can have different opinions but one’s name will never change despite what others may call them.  Henceforth, it is the Gukurahundi genocide. If it means this meeting ends now, let it end.”  

A lecturer at a local university Dr Peter Nkala agreed with Ndlovu. 

“It’s not about strategies or objectives. It’s the facts.  If what happened fits as a genocide, it is a genocide,” he said. 

In October during the Asakhe film festival hosted by CITE, Chief Mathema of Gwanda revealed how authorities recommended changing the name ‘Gukurahundi’ during one meeting with President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the Bulawayo State House but that move was blocked.  

Dr. Moyo later apologised for his submission before the meeting concluded. 

“I apologise to anyone who felt offended by my submission. I meant well. I was truly seeking a debate that would help us to go through some of the stumbling blocks that we face. I didn’t mean to offend the already offended,” he said admitting as a convener he must not destroy the meeting outcome. 

“There was genocide in this country. But at a strategic level that’s where I was putting the debate: how do we engage other stakeholders, not that I was undermining it.” 

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