Ubumbulu and the noisy silence continue: We might continue forgetting to remember

By Professor Shepherd Mpofu

When President Mnangagwa came into power after disposing of his mentor, Robert Mugabe in a coup in 2017, he promised Zimbabweans a new Zimbabwe and the world a new partner.

A product of toxic politics, mentorship and systems, some of which he gladly created, most of us saw the end from the beginning. While Mugabe was smart and intelligent about certain decisions and the execution thereof, Mnangagwa has largely been unpolished. The barefoot type of backward politics and management style. One of the most shocking moves was the open dialogue about the Gukurahundi genocide where he was one of the main protagonists.

Shocking because nothing good could be expected from a person who took please in the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people referring them to insects that needed an insecticide to be exterminated. Shocking because he coldly declared that the 1987 Unity Accord was enough closure to any debates on the genocide when he could see what the victims were going through in his and Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

One might not be far off from thinking that he has sleepless nights for his role in the genocide hence he took the decision to open dialogue. While we might commend the move in that it attempts to officially put the genocide on record. In addition, there is a semblance of giving the victims and perpetrators an official platform to confront the past and imagine a future bereft of the genocide baggage. Some have not reburied their loved ones properly. Burial ceremonies are important in most African societies as failure to bury our dearly departed has a lot of identity implications.

The opening up of dialogue makes for peacebuilding and reconciliation that is localised and could potentially be owned by the people provided their expectations are centred in the process. Of course, it is not a given that once victims are involved everything will go smoothly and the outcome holy. For a long time, the Gukurahundi memory has been dis-membered from the victims and the open dialogue offers an opportunity to rehabilitate memory. An opportunity to remember.

Human beings are nothing without their memory that is why we have rituals and monuments littering the country such as the National Heroes Acre that has been abused by Zanu-Pf for selective and politically expedient re-membering memories that the colonialists and imagined enemies of the ‘people’ of Zimbabwe attempt to dismember. Even Christians have holy communion, a ritual in memory of Jesus. The Gukurahundi victims have not been afforded the same. Attempts at holding memorials and creating memorial sites and plaques have been met with violence, most of which is state-orchestrated and sanctioned. There has been a routine destruction of memorial sites, and this has not been condemned by the Mnangagwa regime. This partly makes some of us uneasy about the open dialogue and hearings proposed by Mnangagwa. One might dare suggest this is an attempt at self-cleansing, a very selfish move. Again, we should not forget that after being given platforms on international media Mnangagwa has failed to show and express any remorse for his role in the genocide. This is why his intervention should be seen as rich.

The Chiefs Council of Zimbabwe deputy president just announced that the media will not be allowed to report on the Gukurahundi genocide hearings. This is a classic case of ubumbulu lobugodoyi. I juxtapose imigodoyi with Mugabe’s concept of amadoda sibili. The concept of amadoda sibili should be extended further to everyone else, ubudoda, that is real manhood, suggests that these are men willing to call wrong by its rightful name. These are men prepared to do right regardless of consequences. The other side of the coin we find imigodoyi, as Mbeki labelled them. “There would be people who would want to exploit the conditions of our people and behave as Umgodoyi behaves. It would be very very important that we should be vigilant so that we don’t have imigodoyi taking charge of our lives,” said Mbeki. Imigodoyi are also Lipman-Blumen’s (2011) toxic leaders. She defines toxic leaders as those who have deliberately harmed their people, organizations and institutions. Should we let imigodoyi take charge of our lives and undermine the aspirations of millions, dead and alive through a shambolic process?

They might as well forget about the whole process because this move will likely lead to a controversial outcome just like the Chihambakwe and Dumbutshena Commissions that never saw the light of day. There are many reasons people have to be suspicious of a programme that is centred on and driven by perpetrators of the genocide like the current president and those around him. In addition, any right-thinking person has to have reasonable suspicion of any programme headed by the chiefs of Zimbabwe on behalf of the Zanu-Pf government. Chiefs from outside Matabeleland and the Midlands regions such as Charumbira who are married to the Zanu-Pf regime, something that should disqualify him as a chief, should, if anything take a back seat in the whole process and let chiefs from the affected areas handle the programme of this magnitude.

Charumbira once argued that chiefs are qualified to handle this programme. Yes, they are, but not all of them and indeed not him. Probably one of the most disastrous chiefs I have ever come across, Charumbira has even declared that the Gukurahundi genocide is not genocide. He claims that “it was not genocide, no. It was the army responding to dissidents and in the clashes, ended up victimising innocents. But not, it cannot be called genocide” (NewsDay 2024). These are the things that make experiencing and observing this process painful. I have to revere and respect our traditional leaders but when someone’s mind leaves him unattended then we have huge problems. Credibility problems.

 For instance, does Charumbira know what an army and Fifth Brigade are? What was their composition? What was the intention of the genocide? How many dissidents were there that required an ‘army’ to deal with them when the police could have easily done that? Who were dissidents in the context of the Fifth Brigade and other chiShona speaking people? How do people who appear on a BBC clip know that a dissident Mundeere and Nkomo is their father? What did Mnangagwa mean when he said the dissidents are “cockroaches and bugs” that needed DDT? And why were pregnant women bayonetted because they were carrying dissidents? Why were chiShona speaking people in the regions affected by the genocide largely left untouched? And, if one were to define the word Gukurahundi as the rain that washes the chaff away, who and what was chaff. I will not go to the Genocide Convention for the definition of the genocide?

The little we say about Charumbira’s removal and scandals at AU parliament the better. If Mnangagwa is serious about this project, then this Charumbira fellow must not be anywhere near it.

The Chiefs also suggest that the urban areas are not areas where they want to hold the hearing. In an age of mobility where people migrate not only regionally but internationally, this backward thinking is shocking and, for a lack of a better word, as barbaric as Gukurahundi itself. So, people who felt unsafe in rural areas and moved to the cities or as happened with some of my relatives who relocated to the USA and Botswana and started life there, they are not victims enough? Do we need barbarians to address barbaric acts? Then this is the process and outcome. For some people in Matabeleland and the Midlands region, Gukurahundi continues for them as they are routinely marginalised and denied health, employment and education opportunities.

Some left the country for South Africa where they could get ID documents and jobs because Zimbabwe made it difficult for them as Gukurahundi orphans. They have to be shut out from the process because of some thick-brained drivers of the process. My colleagues and I in the academy have studied protests, violence and genocide and one thing for certain is that for truth to be told, healing to be achieved and forgiveness to be given, there is a need for a transparent and all-inclusive process handled by credible and impartial people who understand humanity. The office of the Chief in Zimbabwe is soiled by Zanu PF hence people with wanting credibility like Charumbira lead the process without any shame. Also, transparency of processes in this day and age means that the media should be involved so that the world may know what is happening. Of course, there are instances where victims may want to give evidence in camera or away from the cameras of the media, making that option available to them. Otherwise, we now know the sordid and satanic things that happened during Gukurahundi as people like Zenzele Ndebele and other filmmakers and scholars have documented.

The Charumbira project risks, and this is where Mnangagwa wants this to go, being an official process, which leads to findings that absolve the perpetrators, officially dis-member the memory of the victims, and silence them forever. Otherwise, the Chihambakwe and Dumbutshena reports serve us better wherever they are.

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