President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s brief visit to South Africa last week attracted an unwanted sideshow.
A handful of people held a protest outside the Zimbabwean embassy in Pretoria demanding justice for victims of the country’s worst post-independence conflict code-named Gukurahundi.
Mnangagwa, in power for less than 30 days after taking over from his mentor Robert Mugabe who was toppled by the army last month, has been urging Zimbabweans to forget about the past and forge a new trajectory.
His special advisor Christopher Mutsvangwa went as far as describing those calling for redress as “simply unhelpful.”
However, those who bore the brunt of the atrocities where more than 20 000 civilians were murdered in cold blood in the Midlands and Matabeleland feel otherwise.
Gogo MaNcube, who relocated from Tsholotsho to Nkayi after the disappearance of her husband in 1983 at the peak of Gukurahundi, said she still hopes that she will get to know where he was buried before she dies.
MaNcube says her dream of a blissful marriage was cut short one afternoon when her husband left home for a regular errand at the nearby shops.
“He just got out and said he was going to the shops. That was the last time I saw him,” she said, looking into the air as if searching for answers.
“Later, as we looked for him, I was told by a friend that he could have been abducted by soldiers who were on a rampage in the area.
“I was forced to flee as I also now feared for my life,” she said, adding that the memories were still fresh in her mind.
“I just hope to see my husband again, or at least know where he is buried.”
Her story, just like that of many other witnesses and victims of Gukurahundi, is that life has never been the same since the day the then prime minister Mugabe ordered the deployment of the North Korean Fifth Brigade to Matabeleland and Midlands to deal with what he called “dissidents”.
As a result, 20 000 people were killed, with some of their remains still lying in unmarked graves, mass graves, or in the bush as Mugabe himself never got to take full responsibility for the massacres, only casually dismissing them as a “moment of madness”.
Because of this failure by government to own up, or at least institute a truth, reconciliation and healing process, parts of the affected Matabeleland regions, especially in the marginalised and underdeveloped Nkayi, Tsholotsho and Lupane, have, for over three decades, carried glaring scars of the atrocities.
The scars have been passed on from generation to another.
Neglected by the Zanu PF regime, the region has poor roads and erratic telecommunications network.
Somewhere between Nkayi and Lupane, 22-year-old Bongani sat alone on a shop front bench with a container of opaque beer between his legs
He was not keen to speak to our news crew when initially approached, but at the mention of the word Gukurahundi, he snapped and in a voice that betrayed his anger, he shouted, “Before he died, my father told me about my grandmother’s painful death.”
According to Bongani, his grandmother was one of over 20 women who were burnt alive in a hut in Tsholotsho and their remains now lie in a mass grave.
Without any healing process, the pain of Gukurahundi is getting passed from one generation to another. Mnangagwa was State Security minister at the time and many feel that he knows about what happened at the time and could be the right man to address the problem once and for all.
“He is equally complicit and must simply accept responsibility for the death of my grandmother and everyone else who died during Gukurahundi,” Bongani said.
“My father told me stories of the murders and I think someone must come out in the open and tell us the full story.”
In what further confirmed the generational passing on of the anger over the unresolved issue of Gukurahundi, a National University of Science and Technology student, who is from Tsholotsho, had no kind words for the current administration.
“Inasmuch as Mugabe was the bad guy, he was not alone in the execution of Gukurahundi, and if Mnangagwa is ushering a new era as he says, then he must come forth and apologise to all of us and at least compensate the affected families, or at the very least, say something about this because for us who grew up hearing the stories, it will remain a source of trauma,” she said.
“We cannot just forget or wish away the existence of such a significant part of our history.”
Sithabile Dewa of Heal Zimbabwe Trust, believes Mnangagwa must come clean on Gukurahundi.
“There can only be genuine unity and forgiveness if government, especially the president, comes out in the open and publicly apologises and acknowledges all wrongs and the president should fully operationalise the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) to deal with past injustices,” said Dewa.
The NPRC, a part of the 2013 constitution, culminated from the need to have Zimbabwe deal with the past injustices, but due to government dithering, it is yet to fully function, four years later.
Although Clever Nyathi, advisor to the president on national healing, could not give detailed information about the government’s plan on healing and reconciliation, he said, “We are fully in the planning phase. Healing and reconciliation is a very serious matter that needs to be dealt with, but this needs to be properly planned.”
Academic Bhekimpilo Sibanda, a victim of the atrocities, took to Twitter to lay out his expectations from the Mnangagwa presidency soon after the Midlands politician took over from Mugabe. One of the expectations was that Mnangagwa would help the victims of Gukurahundi to find closure.
“My home is 1km from an unrecognised mass grave, which is surrounded by three other graves,” he said.
The academic from Lupane said he could only judge the new president when he revealed his plans, especially on how he intends to atone for the Zanu PF government’s excesses.
“I believe that Mnangagwa has some choice to help me heal,” he said.
“I was with Joshua Nkomo in the afternoon before he fled to Botswana. I truly sympathise with Mnangagwa.”
Nkomo was forced to escape into exile after an attempt was made on his life by the fifth Brigade. He was instrumental in ending the conflict in 1987 after agreeing to join Zanu PF under Mugabe’s leadership.
In his presentation to the Zimbabweans in South Africa, Mnangagwa spoke of forgiveness and said: “we will never make the same mistakes again”. The Standard