“They burnt my father”: Silent cries of Zimbabwe’s Gukurahundi victims

By Nyasha Chingono in Tsholotsho 

HER father’s haunting cries from the inferno and eventually a deafening silence from the billowing smoke, still linger in Mabina Ndlovu’s mind. 

At 57, Ndlovu vividly remembers how her father was burnt alive inside their family home in Tsholotsho by the youthful 5th Brigade army regiment that had stormed Matabeleland and some parts of Midlands in 1983. 

He had been accused of housing dissidents. 

 “They burnt father in the house, I was still in grade seven,” she tells The NewsReportLive. 

“Whenever I pass by our old home, those memories flood my mind. I have never been the same since then,” she weeps. 

Her story resonates with many here, whose scars have failed to heal nearly 40 years when an estimated 20 000 civilians were killed during Gukurahundi

“After my father had been burnt, we ran away from the house but met the soldiers in an ambush, we were beaten, my sister almost died. They let us go after their commander intervened,” she said. 

In fear, Ndlovu and her sister were forced to flee to their uncle, who would eventually help them escape to Bulawayo, a safer zone during that time. 

The bumpy road that leads to Tsholotsho, somewhat resonates with the rugged path that many here have travelled since Gukurahundi. 

Behind their warm faces, are endless cries, Patricia Nyoni 55 said. 

“I bear the bruises of one of Zimbabwe’s darkest moments,” she said.

Nyoni was also in primary school when she stared death in the face. 

She recounts brutal beatings at the hands of soldiers. 

“I am still hurt and traumatised. Whenever I meet soldiers, I get afraid,” she weeps. 

“We would get beaten by the soldiers, made to march for kilometres, shouting out Shona names. On our way back we would meet the soldiers and even Selous Scouts who would beat us until we get home. We were spending our days in the bush because of fear,” Nyoni added. 

A teary Nyoni shows The NewsReportLive scars on the back, she suffered during Gukurahundi. She said reparations will not heal her trauma.

“I still carry scars on my body and I have not been given anything to help me. Even if you ask me how I feel, I will not get anything out of it. I am always afraid, especially at night. I always think of committing suicide because this life is painful,” Nyoni said. 

From January 1983 a terror campaign was waged against the Ndebele people in Matabeleland and some parts of Midlands by the late Robert Mugabe. Decades later, locals say nothing had been done to ensure peace and reconciliation. 

What began as an attempt by Mugabe, who was then prime minister of Zimbabwe, to deal with about 500 dissidents, mainly followers of his rival, former vice president, Joshua Nkomo, became the butcher of innocent civilians.

The Fifth Brigade, a North Korean army and had a number of North Korean officers serving with it, to root them out. It soon turned into something much worse.

My visit to Tsholotsho unravelled the painful journey women have travelled since Gukurahundi.

From enduring rape, while others did not live to see the next day when soldiers slit open their bellies, describes how women were silent victims of the Zimbabwe’s darkest period.  

By the roadside of a rugged path that leads to Tsholotsho centre, are mass graves with names of victims engraved on the tombstone. 

Thousands of victims were buried in shallow graves, while others are interred in mine shafts. 

“The memory of Gukurahundi is all around us, we are never going to heal from what happened to us,” a clergyman said. 

For Nyoni, the memory of Gukurahundi is a haunting feeling which will take time to erase. 

“People come here to ask us how we feel. Will that change that we were abused, battered and bruised,” Nyoni said. 

Activists here have been demanding an apology and reparations to families who lose relatives and properties during Gukurahundi but government remains mum on the issue. 

With national figures, central to Gukurahundi like the late Mugabe who described the massacres as a:” Moment of Madness”, his successor President Emmerson Mnangagwa who served as the State Security Minister at that time has also no openly apologised. 

No one has accepted the blame for the violence, decades later. 

“Mnangagwa should come here and hear for himself,” Ndlovu said.   

She added: “It is now time for elections and we always think that those people who finished our parents will come and finish us too.” 

Nyoni weighed in: “Even if he apologises, it will not change anything.”

Although Mnangagwa has not offered a formal apology, he has set in motion meetings for chiefs, communities and the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC).

The NPRC, led by retired Justice Sello Nare, has somewhat failed to kickstart the process, while traditional chiefs say they are muzzled in their quest to bring up such issues.

Despite the efforts by the state to gag individuals and groups seen to be vocal on Gukurahundi, including Ibhetshu Likazulu who had their memorial placard destroyed at Bhalagwe in 2021, analysts say there is need for truth-telling while families who lost loved ones should be compensated.

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