Victims of Gukurahundi have dared President Emmerson Mnangagwa to openly apologise for the massacre of approximately 20 000 innocent civilians, arguing that half-hearted approaches such as the issuance of identity documents would not redress the emotive issue.
Mnangagwa has pledged to facilitate the exhumation and reburial of Gukurahundi victims and issuance of identity documents to those affected by the 1980’s massacres.
Susan Sibanda, aged 60, argued Mnangagwa’s initiative to address the Gukurahundi mass killings using the Matabeleland Collective (MC) – a grouping of clergy and civic society groups in the region – is not enough without an apology, acknowledgement and truth telling process by perpetrators.
Sibanda was in her mid-20’s when a North Korean trained Fifth Brigade was deployed to Matabeleland to crack down on alleged dissent to former President Robert Mugabe’s government’s rule in the 1980’s, a period that led to the killing of thousands of civilians, an incident that still haunts her to date.
Other than emotional pain, Sibanda still nurses an ankle injury from beatings she suffered from the Fifth Brigade and walks with a limp.
“I don’t want their monetary or material compensation but an apology, and an acknowledgement of the evil that visited us. It irritates me to hear him saying people are free to discuss Gukurahundi when he is not ‘free’ to come and meet us the victims and tell us why this had to happen to us.”
Sibanda is not alone in demanding an apology and acknowledgement as Gukurahundi survivor Charles Thomas emphasised the same.
“We were beaten severely. Our hands and legs were tied with barbed wire. The torture went for days, without food and water, at Bhalagwe detention camp in Maphisa,” Thomas who still has scars on his legs from the barbed wire, said.
Maphisa is one of the districts that bore the brunt of Gukurahundi massacres. The district has mass graves at Bhalagwe Mine where victims were killed and thrown in.
“I was saved by Dr Boyd who privately attended to us since victims were being dragged from the hospital by the Brigade to be killed. I live to narrate my ordeal, and it is an ordeal I want to ask the perpetrator why they were tormenting and killing our people,” says Thomas.
Dr Devee Boyd was an American medical missionary physician working in Mtshabezi, some kilometres from Gwanda, the Matabeleland South capital.
Boyd’s eyewitness testimony on the Bhalagwe tortures is included in the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) detailed report entitled “Breaking the Silence: Building True Peace, a report on the disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands, 1980 – 1988”.
The CCJP report exposes the extra-judicial killings, multiple rapes of women, and people being burnt alive.
“My aching headache and physical scars on my legs are a constant reminder of the torture. It is for that reason why I want to face the enforcers of Gukurahundi, why I want an apology and an acknowledgement of the atrocities, not this nonsense where measures to address this are announced through the media?” Thomas noted.
He added: “The perpetrator must come and meet us (victims), hear what we have to say and vice-versa maybe we can forgive and move forward. They continue with their ‘hotel-and conferences’ approach’ but without an apology to us, without a truth telling process the emotional pain will not fade away.”
Ibhetshu LikaZulu corordinator Mbuso Fuzwayo argued “any initiative without truth telling is empty.”
“Government must acknowledge that this was genocide, encourage truth telling, the surviving brigade commanders, and security officers that implemented the annihilation of their fellow countrymen must come out in the open, apologise, show remorse and seek forgiveness from the survivors.”
The NPRC has held public hearings on Gukurahundi and other post-independence disturbances where demands of an apology, acknowledgment and truth telling processes have been topical.
Government once initiated a probe into Gukurahundi massacres but the findings of the investigation, detailed in the Chihambakwe Commission of Inquiry report were never made public.
Human rights groups argue if President Mnangagwa is sincere he must ensure the release of the Chihambakwe commission of inquiry report containing findings of a probe into Gukurahundi massacres.
Like Mugabe, the President has not released the report, causing victims to cast aspersions on his sincerity to address the mass killings.
“It is such arrogance that makes me dismiss this (Mnangagwa) initiative. Only the truth will set him free, only the truth will set the perpetrators free, only an apology will set them free and see us moving forward,” Sibanda, a survivor said.