Former ZPRA fighters say there is a need for veterans of the African National Congress (ANC) military wing Umkhonto weSizwe to conduct propitiation ceremonies for their cadres who were killed and buried in Zimbabwe during the liberation struggle.
Propitiation is the act of appeasing spirits or persons.
ZPRA Veterans Association spokesperson Buster Magwizi confirmed there are ANC cadres who died in Zimbabwean soil whose relatives must come to conduct these rituals.
“This can be done working together because it is us who will identify those graves and say so and so fell there and he was South African.”
ZPRA, ZAPU’s military wing served with the African National Congress (ANC)’s Umkhonto weSizwe during the armed struggle where both parties had an alliance that dates back to 1967.
Reached for comment, Deputy Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet (Presidential Communications), George Charamba, said as long the propitiation ceremony had no bearing on the laws of the country, the government could not be involved.
Charamba warned that should ZPRA actions have a bearing on the law, then the state would be interested.
“There are laws that rule over the living and the dead. People don’t just exhume bodies as there are processes that are involved but when we talk of propitiation that is a ritual ceremony and if it has no bearing on the law, it can’t concern us as long as they are not defacing graves or conducting witchcraft,” he said.
The presidential spokesperson emphasized that the law had to be respected.
“People cannot just jump on merely the strength of an invite, they have to satisfy the immigration laws and that’s where the state comes in. Those who are invited into the country state the reasons why they are coming in, is it tourism or it’s an official visit. If it’s an official visit that means an official invite has to be made and they have to state if their representative here, the South African ambassador is aware, which is why I said as long as they comply with the laws of the country,” Charamba said.
Magwizi claimed South Africans had not yet come to propitiate their comrades, because Zimbabwean authorities were heavy handed on them.
“The country has been denying an opportunity to make us meet, link and share information for the progressive propitiation of fallen heroes. This is very critical to us,” he said.
The spokesperson added this heavy handedness of authorities was the reason they barred the ANC delegation from meeting them and other parties.
“I think it was very unfair for Zanu-PF to deny South Africa to meet various groups because I don’t see anything offensive in meeting them but rather we saw an opportunity to support each other in building a database to use in the history of the liberation struggle,” he said.
“This story about veterans coming out together was real, it is only ZPRA by the way that cooperated with the ANC. ZANLA (Zanu’s military wing) did not because they did not have form of relationship that brought them together as authentic liberation movements.”
ZPRA and Umkhonto weSizwe were part of the six authentic liberation movements in southern Africa alongside Frelimo of Mozambique, MPLA of Angola, SWAPO of Namibia and PAIGC of Guinea Bissau.
Magwizi described the actions of the government as a deliberate ploy to shut ZPRA out of its historical relationship.
“Right now the government is saying it’s Zanu PF and ANC in dialogue, how about us who operated with Umkhonto WeSiwe on the field? We are still maintaining their dead in our own country unofficially without blessings from our own government,” he said.
“So we want the door to be opened by the government so that ZPRA is able to talk to the ANC or Umkhonto WeSizwe envoys without interference and impediment, otherwise they are trying to block us out. We are not contesting government bilateral relations but we need that historical space because they can’t talk about us without us.”
An Archaeologist who has been conducting exhumations with her organisation, Ukuthula Trust, Shari Eppel said should this invite include exhumations, then processes such as a government to government communication and court orders had to be done.
“Actual witnesses would be required to state exactly where the graves are and ZPRA would have to take experts such as me to conduct field evaluations to study whether there are graves or not. When Rhodesian killed people they would bury them under a police station or in mass graves that makes identification a challenge, as thorough forensics such as DNA are needed. It is doable but has to be practical because first we need to know the precise location where the bodies are,” she said.